WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE! Electric Lit at Franklin Park
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Monday night featured two of my favorite things, represented together in one room: The Franklin Park Reading Series and Electric Literature. To celebrate this joyous union, there were movies (screenings of each authors’ single sentence animation)! There was music (mixes made by authors for our blog)! And there were readers from EL (Steve Edwards, Matt Sumell, Ben Greenman, Colson Whitehead, and Jim Shepard)! All of this made Franklin Park obnoxiously crowded, or, as Twitter user Courtney Maum said: “@ElectricLit reading. It is indeed electric. Fire-hasard conditions it’s so crowded.”
1. Chris “The Ghost” (woshwoooo ←that’s a ghost noise), reader Matt Sumell (Issues #3 & 6), Catherine Steindler, a nonfiction writer, & Kate Bolick, whose article, “All the Single Ladies,” appears in this month’s The Atlantic. 2. Elyssa Goodman, who is a contributing writer and photographer for Art Faccia; Jamie E. Reich, who is the managing editor and fiction editor for Art Faccia, as well as an intern for the Franklin Park Reading Series; Josh Furst, who wrote The Sabotage Cafe and Short People; & reader Ben Greenman (Issue #5).
Penina Roth, the series’ curator, said a few words to open the night, and then graciously turned the hosting duty over to EL co-founders, Scott Lindenbaum and Andy Hunter. Lindenbaum introduced the first reader, Steve Edwards, by saying that he edited his story while in a “strange hotel room” near the beach, and yet there was nothing he would have rather done at the time, despite his close proximity to the ocean. The story Edwards read was from EL no. 6, so I encourage you to read it there, but I will say that it was about starvation, and managed to turn something tragic into something that was quite funny, without losing the situation’s gravity.
Matt Sumell told us that his story was inspired by Jim Shepard (which caused Shepard to mumble, “Oh boy.”), who had said, at a talk at UC Irvine, something along the lines of “Follow your weird.” He continued, saying that no one liked this particular story, and no one would publish it, “So thanks, Jim.” The story followed the decline of a relationship, from the protagonist boyfriend’s treating his girlfriend like a horse due to the fact that she always wore clompy high heels — he said things to her like “Giddy the fuck up” — to an anal sex-induced “turd baby” named Francis. Yes, the anal sex came after the horse insults, which makes sense, because all anal sex should be tinged with spite. Sumell went well over his allotted time, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind: When he asked us if he should finish the story or not, the audience responded with a resounding YES.
1. Mr. Whitehead (Issue #2), dispensing the tips of a literary genius. 2. Jim Shepard (Issue #1) reading.
Ben Greenman was third, and is, according to Lindenbaum, the “nicest person in publishing.” Greenman said that Lindenbaum clearly needed to meet more people, but I’ll err on the side of Lindenbaum — Greenman really is a nice guy. He read a selection from Celebrity Chekhov, “Death of a Red-Haired Man,” in which Conan O’Brian sneezes on Larry King, laments, and then dies, as well as a story from What He’s Poised to Do called “Her Hand,” which takes place in Atlanta in 2015. The stories were absurd and funny, and then poignant and sad, earning him the prize of Best Range for the evening (decided and awarded by me).
Colson Whitehead went up first after the break. Are you aware of what an amazing reader he is? He is an amazing reader. Eye contact, clear diction, well-chosen hand gestures… it’s all there. Come to think of it, all of these gentlemen were rather fabulous readers. What can I say? Clearly both EL and FP have excellent taste (I mean, EL has me working for them, after all). Anyway. Whitehead read us two selections from the “anthology” on writing that he is “editing.” The first was by “Mark Phillips” and told us eleven different rules for writing, which included Show and Tell and Keep a Dream Diary. Phillips also told us that Writer’s Block is a blessing, not a curse, and can be used in life similarly to “We couldn’t get a babysitter” or “I ate some bad shrimp.” “Brenda Dribble” was the double Pulitzer Prize-winning “author” of the second selection; this was a transcript of her class, which consisted of much berating and some explanation of the C.R.A.F.T. method of teaching writing. A truly enlightening experience, indeed.
1. The audience during the screening of Whitehead’s single-sentence animation.
Hunter introduced the final reader of the evening, Jim Shepard, by telling us that rather than begging him by e-mail for a story for the inaugural issue of EL, he decided to do it in person, driving up to Williamsburg, Mass. Shepard agreed, and let EL have “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You,” which some well-established literary magazine with a city in their title may or may not have previously been sitting on. Bummer for them: the story later won a PEN/O. Henry Prize. Shepard read us two short short stories, “Proto-Scorpions of the Silurian,” and a brand new one (finished three days ago!), “Cretin Love Song.” Shepard told us that if we didn’t like the new one, he would be “totally fucking depressed.” Well, no need to worry, Jim: The usual happened to me when you read both. Meaning that I was deeply, utterly impressed by his ability to tell a story.
The reading portion ended, and then it was “dance party” time. Except by the time that I left, I had yet to see anybody dance. I guess no one was drunk enough. Next time, you Franklin Park party people need to take some shots or something, okay? Watching lit types dance is a joy to behold. Still, I’d like to hope that even without my bias, it was still a great night. Thanks so much, Franklin Park Bar, Penina Roth, and Jamie E. Reich! You guys are awesome.
–Julia Jackson is the editor of Electric Dish. She writes fiction and has an MFA from Brooklyn College.