Franklin Park Reading Series gets Electric (Literature)

1. These flasks are actually designed to hold apple juice. 2. Crowded, yo.

I usually get to Crown Heights’ Franklin Park absurdly early to snag a seat for the Franklin Park Reading Series because this shit fills up fast. Monday night, I got there especially early to ensure that none of the line-up’s star-studded heads would be obstructed (an extra reward: walking into the bar with Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” playing). Electric Literature, in its second collaboration with the reading series, brought EL Mag and Recommended Reading alums Seth Fried, Stephen O’Connor, J. Robert Lennon, and Lynne Tillman to read stories of cognizant software, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, poignant revelations whilst stoned, and MTV hump dancing. Uh. Yeah. If you missed it, you’re bummed.

1. Recommended Reading co-editor Benjamin Samuel, angelically illuminated. 2. Seth Fried: “Ford Maddox Ford wrote the first draft of The Good Soldier by repeatedly shooting a bow and arrow at a typewriter, whereas John Dos Passos completed his U.S.A. trilogy while he was high on owl urine.”

First up was Seth Fried (whose story “The Adventure of the Space Traveler” appeared in the fifth issue of Recommended Reading) with “Adventures of the Computer Program”: “An immeasurable amount of time elapsed where nothing happened. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing… Just as quickly, it became in possession of hope and anxiety.” As the program receives inputs, its awareness increases; it develops memories, or “mountain ranges,” of old inputs. The detached and slightly wry voice, ironically, only helped to humanize our infantilized program. Next was “The Importance of Being Affected.” For Fried, it’s important that writers today reclaim writerly affectation. I second this. Just read these: “If someone points a finger at you, slide an onion ring onto it.” “Polygamy: Few writers have had the courage to engage in this controversial practice, except of course for Shel Silverstein, who had upwards of 30 wives by the time federal agents finally raided his compound.”

1. Stephen O’Connor, channelling Thomas Jefferson: “I will make it good.” 2. Tiffany Gibert, who works at Penguin, with Lina Zoo, graphic designer.

Next up was Stephen O’Connor (EL #2), who has a fantastic head of hair and an equally fantastic imagination. O’Connor read three short excerpts from a novel-in-progress that concerns this guy Thomas Jefferson and a lady named Sally Hemmings. After an incredibly sad though oddly sensual sex scene, TJ and Sally visit a museum with an entire wing dedicated to the 38-year relationship of, um, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. There, they encounter the “comically inaccurate faces of the mannequins” and Sally realizes that Jefferson is a selfish hypocrite. The couple strip the mannequins and play dress-up, and Jefferson “[feels] so many different kinds of sorrow.”

1. J. Robert Lennon, thanking the 4 train, before reading about plastic baggies. 2. Brian Russ, who plays in a band called Backwords, with Laura Belski, a writer.

After the break, J. Robert Lennon (RR Vol. 6, No.4) came to finish out his tour for his new book, Familiar. Lennon opted to read a new, unpublished story, much to my delight: “They were either going to break up or buy this enormous house in the country.” Our couple opts to to buy this enormous house, which portends relationship disaster. “They were both 30 when the following things happened: His wife left him and the firewood arrived.” The wife leaves for a very handsome Vietnamese man, resulting in the husband drinking to excess and “[smoking] the entire contents of his plastic baggy of weed. Historically, this had not been a wise combination.” Lennon’s might be the best narrative of weed paranoia I’ve ever heard: convinced he could hear his wife screaming underneath the giant pile of wood, he sets out to save her. “Suddenly his hands were lacerated, covered in splinters. His wife was wailing now.”

1. Recommended Reading co-editor Halimah Marcus introducing Her Ladyship, Lynne Tillman. 2. Tillman reads: “They were intrigued dogs sniffing each other’s tempting genitals and asses.”

Halimah Marcus introduced the night’s final reader, Lynne Tillman (EL #5), with the following line from A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven: “What would Lynne Tillman do?” Lynne Tillman would read “The Substitute,” a story from her collection Someday This Will Be Funny, which concerns a woman named Helen balancing lustful, unconsummated relationships with her analyst and a man named Rex. Of course, the audience was rapt. “[Dr. Kaye] was gobbling me up, taking me inside him. I liked that. Why did I like that? Because I hate myself, you know that. Then she laughed.” Tillman’s style hangs somewhere between fantasy and reality, Freud’s Unconscious and our conscious, to wonderful and fantastic effects. There’s comedy, tragedy, helplessness, and empathy. Tillman also might be one of a few writers who can make this sentence poignant, funny, and sad: “In a commuter bar they did MTV humpy dancing, wet-kissed, put their hands on each other, and got thrown out.”

If I’m allowed to say, EL and Franklin Park make a spectacular team. Lennon praised the audience as the best of his tour — and indeed, the crowd was especially engaged with these four writers. This Thursday, Franklin Park hosts the My Bookstore event with WORD, Greenlight, Community bookstores. On 12/6, Penina and crew host a special triple-threat with The Milan Review and New York Tyrant, bringing Blake Butler, Clancy Martin, Sam Michel, Noy Holland, and Kendra Grant Malone. The regular series returns on 12/10, with Christine Schutt, Paula Bomer, Dan Josefson, Mitchell Jackson and Sonja Sholklapper. BE THERE.


— Ryan Chang is a writer from Orange County, CA living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Everyday Genius, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets here and tumbles here.

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