There is a tradition in the writing workshop, that once a month, we head down to a dive bar and do live readings of our work for each other. Poetry, fiction, and non-fiction are all accepted. The screenwriters and playwrights are typically out of luck, but since each student needs to take at least one seminar outside our genre, even the dramatists should have a piece and can try their hand at some point.
I read last night; I didn’t have a new piece, but I read my story on Guantanamo Bay. After we are finished, we talk and congratulate each other. It’s a nice ego boost to be a reader, and it’s good practice to be in front of a crowd that’s appreciative – even if your work isn’t their cup of tea, they know what it’s like work in the trenches of literature (so to speak).
The bar has a front area for drinks and music and an outside patio for warm nights, of which there are many in New Orleans. Our arrangement is that we get the patio on reading nights, and the bar is kind enough to put the music on hold during the 45 minutes or so that we’re reading out loud.
I got a special treat last night, when, ducking back into the bar for a whiskey after my segment, the DJ tapped my arm and told me that he had liked my story. I was gratified, and thanked him naturally, but I was also struck by how special that seemed. Here was someone not affiliated with the writers workshop, and in fact, we’re kind of interrupting his gig, but he was taking the time to listen to the poems and stories rather than planning his set, switching attention to whatever video was on, playing with his phone or any of the 10,00 other things he could have done.
It made me feel connected to everyone who takes time to set aside whatever they’re doing and listen to a story. And it was good.