Three months ago, I began to toy with an idea: Wouldn’t it be nice to find a place in New Haven where one could hear short stories read on a regular basis? Several sources contributed to this notion: author talks I had been booking at the Mitchell branch of the New Haven Public Library, reading to my children once upon a time (and sometimes still) before bedtime, catching once in a blue moon the Saturday radio program Selected Shorts, a “poetry crawl” that I organized in my neighborhood. By coincidence, I received a note from David Brensilver, author and director of communications for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, asking if New Haven Review would be interested in organizing weekly or monthly readings by local authors of their work. I responded right away that I was interested in a weekly reading series, but not of authors and their work, first because there are already very successful monthly reading programs organized by local writers of just this nature in the basement of the Anchor Bar and Restaurant and at the Institute Library respectively, and second, there is no way to maintain a weekly flow of new work without a lot of legwork finding local writers with material ready to read—and that much legwork was something I could not afford.
Since my role with New Haven Review is voluntary—like the rest of the team's—I was looking for something that bridged efficacy and efficiency. Fortunately, in David, I found a soul perfectly amenable to the plan I was concocting, which went something like this. On a weekly basis, actors would read already published short stories at a rotating group of local coffeehouses. Here’s how I put it to him:
Why already published short stories?
Simple efficiency. With already published short stories, the New Haven Review team can build reading schedules far in advance. That meant, among other things, that when it was time to publicize the event, instead of dipping into the New Haven Independent’s Community Calendar each time the next reading was ready, we could load three or four months' worth in one fell swoop. Reading original works or works in progress would require a constant hunt for new material with no guarantee of successful booking.
Why have actors read?
I’ll grant that we New Haven Reviewers are reasonably good readers. We’ve already shown our mettle at public readings in which we’ve participated. But let’s face facts: when you want a great short story to really sing, there is no substitute for a good actor taking the stage—or podium. Having heard my share of writers serve as the readers for audiobook editions of their work, I can assure you ‘tis the better part of wisdom to let actors do well what writers often only do fairly, at best.
Why read at coffeehouses?
Coffeehouses provide space at no charge since they receive added business in exchange. Since this is not a money-making endeavor for us, renting halls and charging for tickets were non-starters. Moreover, since this is an after-hours affair—translation: not for kids—we especially needed coffeehouses that either stayed open at night regularly or were willing to do so for the readings. Finally, the decision to go with several coffeehouses rather than one was based on the idea of spreading the wealth among the neighborhoods of New Haven and coffeehouse schedules. (At present, each coffeehouse is responsible for roughly one reading a month.)
So, will it work?
Beats the shit out of me. I have no idea if New Haven is hungry enough for this kind of thing. I think it is, but it’s primarily a question of getting the word out as aggressively as possible. We figure that with food for thought and stomach in one place, how can you go wrong?