Better Off Dead: Coffin Factory’s Issue Two Launch Party at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe

1. Michael Signorelli, Adam’s editor and beer rest; Adam Wilson, writer, Faster Times editor, mean-mugger; Sarah Rapp, Adam’s girlfriend and community manager at Behance; and Amanda Bullock, the Housing Works events director who brought these lit-loving beer-drinkers together. 2. Joe, Penguin representative, Tiffany, book blogger, and Robert, tie-wearing MTA employee who couldn’t tell me when I’ll be able to trust the Q train again. Between Tiffany and Robert: grade-A photo bomb.

Somehow, I managed to be an English major in New York without visiting Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. I fixed that last night around seven. Two hours and a few $5-suggested-donation beers later and Amanda, the events director, had to remove me from under the store’s sloping staircase, where I figured I’d hide forever and live among the books. In between I’d attended the launch party for Issue Two of The Coffin Factory, a new literary magazine that I’ve fallen for as suddenly and unconditionally as Housing Works. Contributors Adam Wilson, Carlos Labbé, Jeannie Vanasco, and Justin Taylor read excerpts from their Factory pieces to celebrate the launch before the evening flowed into beery schmoozing.

1. The ever-lively Coffin crew. Randy Rosenthal; co-founder, editor, and party animal; Laura Isaacman, co-founder and editor; Brendan Kiely, self-proclaimed ’90s guy and managing editor; and Jessie Chaffee, managing editor. 2. Jeannie Vanasco, poetess-in-residence, reading about marital strife and backyard jungles.

Housing Works is a great place for a reading. Its large, open room was outfitted in dark wood, from the reader’s podium and chairs to the floor-to-ceiling bookcases displaying the colorful spines of used books. I thought I was in the library of an ancient, wealthy man of letters. Still, I wanted to tear the books down and stick my nose in their pages, huffing their musty smell. Everything I saw was donated: the labor, the used books, the new books by Adam and Justin, the copies of The Coffin Factory, the beer from Six Point (“It’s for a good cause, so everyone drink four!” Amanda suggested).

1. Carlos Labbé dwarfed by enormous window, reading about a massacre.

Adam Wilson began the reading with an apologia for the sullen narrator of his story, “That Underlying Want.” “Don’t judge him,”Wilson said, “He means well.” The story was a darkly comic account of a man who leaves his stagnant relationship in New York to visit a dying friend at home. “He’s confronting death for the first time,” Wilson offered to explain why his narrator discussed sluts at the dinner table. Or in his own words: “Proximity to death does funny things to people, like make them horny. I’d seen it in the movies.” And who can argue with the movies?

Next to read was Carlos Labbé, who Granta named one of its best young Spanish-language novelists last year. Looking the part with his goatee and tufts of moustache, Labbé read The Coffin Factory’s English translation of his story, “The Organ Operation of Fuenteovejuna Street.” It’s the story of a man whose dreams are haunted by childhood memories of political violence. Labbé guided the audience through shock, fear, and uneasy laughter (the narrator asks: “Mom, what’s a barricade?”) in one sweeping, Faulknerian sentence.

1. Why so glum, guys? It’s a lit party! Matthew, writer and cell phone photo blogger, and Justin Taylor, hilarious writer and enthusiastic reader. 2. The hungry masses, yearning for their literary fix.

Jeannie Vanasco broke up the fiction-and-dude-fest with her prose poem cycle, “Nothing Unusual to Report.” She read her poems like they were a lost mythology where the real melted into the surreal, only to set again as the ordinary. Get a load of this place: “Forget the water tower made entirely of light, the burning mermaid fountain encrusted with diamonds, the golf course on ancient burial grounds, my store is the most magical place in town.” The audience was enchanted. Vanasco tried to skip over a longer poem, but her editor protested: “No, read the whole thing, it’s so good!” I’m glad Vanasco listened.

Justin Taylor ended the evening with “A Talking Cure,” a story about a pair of engaged grad students. The narrator’s boyfriend searches for Stonewall Jackson’s arm while she searches for a witch in a WoW-style RPG, until they make the mutual mistake of engaging in a drunken “truth session.” Opening up about their sexual pasts leads to hurt feelings and awkward polyamory. Sounds like grad school to me.

I have many recommendations from last night, and here are a few: Go to Housing Works as often as possible (they have a Friday happy hour!), maybe apologize to Amanda for me. Check out Adam Wilson’s debut novel, Flatscreen. Read both issues of The Coffin Factory, preferably over a Sixpoint. And finally — don’t go to grad school.


— Sam Gold is in grad school. He lives in Brooklyn and is writing his thesis on theories of symbolic exchange between his fist and your face.

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