Electric Lit @ Symphony Space

1. Our own Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum, just chillin’ backstage with Mike Birbiglia, Aya Cash, & John Lithgow. 2. Animator Stephanie Wuertz & animator/musician Alice Cohen. Cohen did the Single Sentence Animation (and the music too!) for Joy Williams’ story. The last time she came to an EL event was at KGB, so the spaciousness of Symphony Space was a surprise for her.

Last night was a big night for us at Electric Literature. Symphony Space hosted “An Evening with Electric Literature” at Selected Shorts. Actors read stories from various issues of EL, accompanying Single Sentence Animations were played, and the winner of the Rick Moody Electric Shorts contest was announced.

Back stage before the show, EL’s editors Andy Hunter and Scott Lindenbaum were a bit nervous — apparently they weren’t aware that they were actually hosting the show until that evening. We sat around with the actors, talking about old movies and how horrible a first date movie Blue Valentine is. (Better first date suggestion: Going to see Selected Shorts.) Let me tell you: John Lithgow acts nothing like Dick from 3rd Rock from the Sun or Arthur from Dexter in person (thank god). Instead, he’s funny (of course), sharp, and smart.

1. Juliana, a poet and photographer, & Lina, a vegan chef. 2. Melissa & Tom, who came because it sounded like a fun thing to do on a Wednesday night.

Isaiah Sheffer opened the night by telling us how the evening came about after a lunch with Symphony Space’s Director of Literary Programs Katherine Minton, Hunter, and Lindenbaum about a year ago. They decided to have an Electric Literature night in Spring of ’11, which seemed like a distant time in the future. Hunter added that way back then, he and Lindenbaum weren’t even sure if EL would still be around.

John Lithgow read the first story, “Sir Henry” by Lydia Millet, which first appeared in issue#1. Apparently the story, which is about dogs, was thematically similar to Lithgow’s own work: he wrote a children’s book called I Got Two Dogs. He breathed new life into the already-wonderful story, managing to portray both the violinist and David Hasselhoff perfectly (his voice kind of reminded me of Paul Reuben’s when he was playing the Austrian Prince in 30 Rock, minus the yelling).

1. Everybody clamoring to buy issues of Electric Literature. Our sexy employees Ben, Sarah, & Molly are in there somewhere, hawking good fiction. 2. Agnes, Celina, & William. Agnes and William teach kids with autism, and Celina is a student.

Lindenbaum told us about how the next story, “Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child” by Joy Williams, came to be published in EL (issue #4). Apparently, Ms. Williams is an old-fashioned kind of woman: She lives in Tucson, and doesn’t use e-mail. Or a computer. If you want to communicate with her, you have to send her a letter or leave a message on her voicemail. She writes with a typewriter, so apparently someone had to re-type the story into a word processor so she could submit it to the magazine. David Rakoff, of This American Life among others, read the story. I’m not sure how Selected Shorts does it, but somehow they manage to consistently pick the perfect reader for every story — his reading was glorious.

After the break, the winner of the Electric Shorts contest was announced. Molly Tolsky, who works at Kveller.com and is also currently working on an MFA at Sarah Lawrence College, read her story “Gullet,” and with its sharp imagery and crisp language, it was easy to see why it won.

1. Artist Adam Thompson, who did the Single Sentence Animation for Rick Moody’s story, & writer Helen Phillips, whose first book, And Yet They Were Happy, comes out in May. 2. Poet Will & digital retoucher Gal, practicing their “Literary Face.”

Rick Moody’s “Some Contemporary Characters” was the last story performed (issue #3). Lindenbaum explained that he had originally established a relationship with Moody through stalking (which he justified by saying it was due to the bowler hats that Moody frequently wears): Moody and Lindenbaum used to live in the same neighborhood, and Lindenbaum would see him around all the time. One day, Lindenbaum approached him by saying that he was reading Beckett, and Did Moody have any suggestions for what he should read next? Moody said, “Let’s take a walk,” and recommended Sebald and Thomas Bernhard. Fast forward to a few years later, and Moody told EL that he wanted to write a story using Twitter. EL said Great! and the “sensation/fiasco” of “Some Contemporary Characters” was born.

1. Zebediah & Erin, who are both poets and artists. 2. Symphony Space!

Sheffer introduced actress Aya Cash and comedian, writer, and actor Mike Birbiglia, who read the story. Sheffer misspoke when he said the name of Birbiglia’s book, calling it Sleep With Me. “WOOO!” the crowd yelled, apparently eager to get Sheffer in between the sheets. Once again, both actors seemed perfect for their roles in this OKCupid-born May-December romance.

The last time I was at Symphony Space was for their Best American Short Stories night, and the crowd was different this time around. Then, most of the audience had silver hair. Last night, the crowd was split: half older, half younger. Back then, when the show ended, people were tired. Last night, it seemed like the party was just getting started. I enjoyed creepily eavesdropping on others as the crowd dispersed. Favorite overheard convo? Two girls talking about how hot Birbiglia was. “What’s wrong with us?!” one girl said. “He’s not even remotely attractive!”

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.

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