L.A. DISPATCH: Nine Innovative L.A. Reading Series
Despite assertions that Los Angelenos only read scripts, the city that birthed contemporary noir and inspired Joan Didion to reach sublimely apocalyptic levels of scenic description does indeed have a rich literary tradition. But in the world of book publishing, Los Angeles is one of the most difficult locales for booking author readings, and this isn’t for lack of bookstores or reading series. Like most of the city’s treasures, many of these reading series aren’t publicized outside of a small sphere. Why? They don’t really have to. Each draws a crowd, and each prizes an intimate moment with the author. By “intimate,” I mean around 30–35 attendees, with others at capacity in standing room only, which is none too shabby a number for a reading. Below is a short list of LA’s most innovative and entertaining reading series.
Griffith Park Storytelling Series
Co-hosts Sara Finnerty and Anne-Marie Kinney were fascinated by the sprawling nature of Griffith Park, located smack-center in the city. When they found an empty stone amphitheater, the pair called up the local ranger, who was ecstatic when he learned they wanted to use it for readings. Each event takes place at a different location in the park, from the Bird Sanctuary to the abandoned zoo.
Wendy C. Ortiz read in a bat cave earlier this year
and said of the “most excellent location” that she “really needed time in that darkened cave with breezes continually blowing past me.” Bring a dog. Bring a kid. It’ll be your daily exercise getting up to the location and a memorable literary experience. www.griffithparklit.com
Diana Arterian, poetry editor of Noemi Press and managing editor of Ricochet, started Sumarr in her backyard in 2010. (People do have backyards in LA.) From those humble beginnings, she’s built it into a seven-event summer reading series hosted by The Pop-Hop in Highland Park, where you’re likely to see everyone from Aaron Kunin and Brent Armendinger to Courtney Maum and Emily Kiernan. Performances are punctuated by local music acts like Bloody Death Skull (not as crazy as it sounds…or maybe it is.) It’s a casual reading series situated in a walking area close to bars and vegan donuts, so imagine this one as a little slice of Portland in Los Angeles, though Portland will vehemently deny it. www.facebook.com/Sumarr.Reading.Series
Founded by Andrea Quaid and Wendy C. Ortiz (who’s clearly a staple in our LA lit scene), Rhapsodomancy is run like a “19th-century Paris salon” in the Good Luck Bar in Los Feliz. It’s posh without the gaudy LA style. It’s just bright enough for the reader to see the words in her book, and while you’ll see some familiar faces like Antonia Crane, Eileen Myles, and Edan Lepucki, you’ll also see some fresh new writers who’ve emerged through one of many culturally significant writing programs in SoCal. There are cocktails, and you can actually take the Red Line train home. There is everything to love. www.rhapsodomancy.org
ENTER>text photo by Jason Gutierrez
Co-creator Henry Hoke calls ENTER>text a “living literary journal.” Feeling less than inspired by traditional readings, Hoke and his co-creator Marco Franco Di Domenico hatched this immersive series as a way for writers to actively engage with their audiences. Some readers have given performances in tents or by candlelight, while other readers were staked out in a stranger’s bedroom, or even in a bathroom, where one reader gave her performance to only one audience member at a time. With their original location shutting down last year, Hoke is branching out into whatever private or public residence will have him. “As we look into mounting the show in wild new locations, Los Angeles feels even more fitting, with its tacky castles and sprawl.” A truly “LA” series. enter-text.com
Poetic Research Bureau
Before LA’s recent literary reinvention, PRB was already hosting Tom Raworth, Barbara Guest, Katie Degentesh, and every other new best voice crawling out of dark holes in the sunshine state. Described as “the most active reading/performance series for formally adventurous/autonomous/outsider literature, with a heavy emphasis on poetry or experimental prose,” Poetic Research Bureau in Chinatown is both now a physical space (shared with Public School) and a series co-founded by Andrew Maxwell, Joseph Mosconi, and Ara Shirinyan. Maxwell was the ringleader of the original series in 1995 (then as Poetic Research Bloc), but “research” is the word that sums up the whole idea of PRB, because it’s constantly delving/reimagining. Readings have been known to be packed; arrive early. www.poeticresearch.com
Dirty Laundry Lit
Los Angeles isn’t shy about sex. If you’ve ever walked along Hollywood Boulevard, then you’ve definitely smelled the acrid genitalia stink floating on the Santa Ana winds, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the city…in a good way. Dirty Laundry Lit, created by Natashia Deón, embraces that sexy, tragic magick and spits it out as memorable performances on the subjects of “secrets, indulgences, and lies.” Hosted at The Virgil in East Hollywood, the event privileges readers who are also performers, which is not that difficult to find here, as it’s required for all citizens to take at least one improv class in order to vote for local elections. While the subject matter can get into darker or subversive territory depending on the theme, the series is full of thoughtful writers looking for new ways to inspire a love of literature. It’s earnest as hell, and you might laugh. dirtylaundrylit.com
For more on the LA lit happenings, check out http://www.lalitscene.com.