Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Miming memories and signing Kindles

It has begun... Readings galore! Two weeks ago, I read at Virginia Tech's creative writing program, at the invitation of Fred D'Aguiar. Then, last week, I read at Susquehanna University, where I work as a professor. Last Saturday I read at the beautiful, excellent Midtown Scholar bookstore in Harrisburg.

Many of the visiting authors we get at SU seem to struggle with performing their poems, essays, and stories. They write exquisite sentences, but struggle to voice them with the same feeling that went into them. I've always thought this had to do with writers being generally shy and introspective individuals, more comfortable alone with words than in front of a crowd.

Perhaps I missed my true vocation as an actor/performer, like my partner, Peterson Toscano? I doubt I have a shy bone in my body. This is probably an essential character trait for someone like me--an exhibitionist, er, I mean, memoirist! For whatever reason, though, I've always intensely enjoyed reading my work.

On stage I forget myself and get into acting out my story. At the SU reading, at one point I knocked on the podium to imitate a friend in the story knocking on my window. At another I mimed hunting through an invisible garbage can for tuna cans. I've always felt a bit self-conscious about how crazy I can get doing a reading. I feel clownish. Somehow serious literature should be more subdued, more dignified, shouldn't it? And I feel a bit like a fake. I won't say I prefer reading my sentences to struggling with them in my solitary study. Yet I do find reading much easier than writing, which is often an intensely pleasurable-painful struggle.

Do I lose points as a writer for laying it on thick from the podium? For not suffering from social anxiety disorder?

Then again, I love listening to audiobooks, and I have to say there's nothing like a skilled reader to bring out the beauty of, say, Eliot's Middlemarch. Also, according to my editor Elizabeth Beier, writers need to learn how to become better performers if they want to sell books through readings. Most authors sell very few books at such events.

The thing that most amused me at the three readings I did this week, though, is how apologetic several people were about me to sign their books. Are you kidding me? You shelled out $16 or more for my book, and you're embarrassed to ask for a signature? To me, being able to sign books is a tremendous privilege.

At the Harrisburg reading, I even signed a Kindle, using a special kind of glo-pen... it was "virtually" as good as signing a hard copy, with the smell of ink and paper and the heft of pages in one's hands.

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