We gather at The Richard Hugo House in Seattle, chairs scattered around small tables, a simple podium up front on a platform. New City Theatre inhabited the space before it became a venue for the literary arts. What was once a stage for cabaret performances now hosts readings. There is a lot of energy between these walls and we tap into it.
Writers trickle in from as far as Portland. Students and alum of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Goddard, we try to do this sort of thing often because, as far as we are concerned, we have found our tribe. Except that it is smokeless, the room resembles a café scene in Greenwich Village back in the Beat Generation. A man and his poems, a woman and a piece from her memoir. Someone refers to “all the love in the room….” And I feel a nostalgia for that era of acoustical guitars and ballads, before everything in the arts became so heavily produced.
The long lost art of readings, where writings are offered as gifts. I come away from each one knowing I am holding and have been entrusted with an enormous bouquet. Readings reintroduce each one of us to the primal importance of story. At a reading we are in that heaven again and wonder why it ever stopped? Why that gap between childhood and graduate school without having been read to regularly? Parents get busy or children run off or everyone tells themselves, “oh well, she can read now on her own.” But it’s not the same.
I run a weekly writing workshop for seniors and start each session by reading a story aloud. The story suggests a prompt, and the participants bow their heads and write on that for an hour. And in that time I see so much joy on their faces. How often writing out an experience enhances it. While mining for memories, present aches and pains fall away. We bring ourselves home with stories, and give value to our lives. At the end of each session we all read what we have written. In listening to each other’s stories, we experience common human values. Lives link with the storyteller. The personal becomes universal, and another “tribe” is formed.
My father tells me he is fond of reading a book to my mother in bed. His voice is soothing, and she often falls asleep. At which point he keeps going, I think, reading aloud into the darkened room, giving the gift of story.