Freerange Nonfiction finale (for now) at Pianos

1. Mira Ptacin: Freerange Nonfiction founder, Lady in Red. 2. Lilah, who’s building up the courage to read her work in public; Clare, a graduate film studies student at Columbia; Stephanie, who works at a literary agency.

Pianos, June 6: Downstairs, the bar was filled with beautiful, toned, tattooed people. Music blared. Someone brandished an iPhone and yelled loudly to someone else, “Did you see my latest Facebook status?” Upstairs, New York’s nicest literary enthusiasts gathered to toast the Freerange Nonfiction Reading Series, which is shifting down a gear — founder Mira Ptacin and husband Andrew are moving to Maine. (“Stephen King’s gonna weep,” she proclaimed.) It’s farewell for now, but definitely not forever: a Maine chapter is in the works.

1. John Fischer with friend and former co-worker, Mindy. (They were both wearing white button-down shirts, but Mindy assured me they did not deliberately co-ordinate.) 2. Phillip Giambri, raconteur.

The charming John Fischer kicked off the evening with a piece about hoarders, followed by Katherine Dykstra (sadly not pictured due to fleeting camera malfunction), who read about her solo travels in Sienna. Soon after arriving, she was almost run over — then hit on — by an aviator-wearing, convertible-driving, charming-but-creepy Italian chef. He took her to a winery in the middle of nowhere, but happily she survived to tell the tale. Dykstra’s descriptions of the Piazza del Campo (“a shallow bowl open to the sky… [where] people flocked like pigeons”) and her pensione (“tombstone doors”) were absolutely lovely.

Next up was Phillip Giambri. Giambri was introduced with one of the those long, meandering, many-profession bios that usually make me suspicious (I guess because they tend to be written by 27-year-old wannabe novelists who nanny and work in coffeehouses? NOT THAT I KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT), but Phillip has actually done all this amazing stuff, like been a an actor and a photographer and served in the military. He read a hilarious, gruff-but-tender piece about an affair he had with a Scottish woman called Rosie (“she wore wool knickers even in the summertime… wool’s cheap in Scotland”) who also happened to be a prostitute.

1. Mira Ptacin; June, an editor and freelance writer; Sabina Ptacin, who runs a small business community by day and cheers sister Mira on by night; Tara Clancy, writer and Freerange alum. 2. Heather Aimee O’Neill.

After a brief intermission (and raffle-drawing by Molly Rose Quinn), Sackett Street assistant director Heather Aimee O’Neill read an exquisite list-story about love and trust (“15 Attempts at You and Her”). Carla Sosenko wins the award for funniest, best ever take-down of the Five Towns, with her tale of adolescent angst, plastic surgery (“the nose jobs started in seventh grade”), eating disorders, and semen calorie count (FYI, not fat free!). But the heart of Sosenko’s reading was in her candid description of life with Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome — including a particularly memorable flight of fancy in which she imagined her pregnant mother falling. Someone publish this lady’s memoir, stat.

1. Carla Sosenko (wearing a fabulous butterfly neckpiece). 2. Leigh Stein.

Last up was Leigh Stein, author of The Fallback Plan. “I’m going to read as loud as possible to reward you for sticking around,” she said, and her reading was indeed a reward. Wry, lovely, and very, very sad, “Bury the Dead” explores what happens when death, grieving and social media collide. Stein recalled her friend Julian and ex-boyfriend Jason, both mourned on Facebook after their deaths, and her sense of isolation from this intimate but public process. Interspersed between tough emotional questions (How much are you allowed to mourn someone who wasn’t always good to you? What do you do if you don’t have any photos of you together?) were moments of humor and poignancy, including some good advice from Stein’s psychologist mom. (“Don’t cry in front of the mirror, you only cry harder.”)

Ptacin ended the evening with a round of grateful thanks and praise for the city’s “welcoming, supportive, literary community.” Keep supporting each other, she urged the audience. Love the non-artists in your life. (“Just because someone is not an artist doesn’t mean they’re our enemy! They’re our readers!”) Also, we are all invited to Maine.

I say yes to all that.


Elissa Goldstein was born and raised in Melbourne. She currently resides in Brooklyn, where she is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. You can find her here.

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