Starts Here! Reading Series
By: Laura Walker
“Take responsibility by stopping and making art,” – Tracy Dimond
This line is from a poem Dimond read at a recent monthly reading series called Starts Here, which I attended at Artifact Coffee in Hampden, hosted by Ivy Bookshop.
Artifact Coffee is a refurbished mill, hidden down a side street lined with row homes. The ambience is artsy, industrial chic (as the name suggests), with décor that includes a working record player, antique tables, chairs, and utensils, and has a warm, trendy feel to it.
I’ve been to Artifact before, though never at night. Walking in after dark, the atmosphere was warm and inclusive. I had arrived to the event early and grabbed a seat at a large community table, which seated about 10 people, for the sole purpose of chatting with other listeners.
I ordered a hot tea and a cookie, but most everyone else ordered an actual meal and either a glass of wine or beer. As a writer myself, I was interested to listen and talk with other writers and listeners who were sitting at the table with me.
Suddenly, the coffee house was jam-packed with about forty to fifty people who all seemed to know each other. Most were writers who had taken classes together, peers who read each other’s works, and friends who were there to support the readers: Melissa Gerr, Tracy Dimond, and Amber Sparks. Everyone who sat at the table dove into conversation about the readers, the work they’ve been doing, and about the other readings they’ve gone to in the past month around the city. It was interesting to listen how they spoke about their own work and how they supported each other.
Feeling absorbed during a slight lull in the conversation, I asked where some of the other readings were that they had gone to, in hopes that they would be willing to share a bit more about these reading series. No one answered at first and I thought they might not have heard me in the loud atmosphere. With a quick glance around the table, the women sitting directly across from me gave an awkward and curt smile before answering, “We usually just attend the ‘Starts Here!’ reading series.” Ignoring the iciness I undoubtedly picked up on, I asked her if the readings were usually this packed and, once again, she gave a curt nod.
The other members of the table then began talking amongst themselves again about how Style Magazine promoted the reading and that’s “probably why it’s so crowded.” Between that and the woman standing behind me in a conversation, practically pressed against my back and elbowing me, I felt like I was at a dinner party I wasn’t invited to.
Shutting out my discomfort and realizing how much of a stranger I was to their world of local readings, I scribbled down notes of what I was seeing and hearing while feeling like I was being watched.
The readers themselves were very entertaining. It was a bit of relief hearing them so conversational and enthusiastic while reading and connecting with the audience. Each author was as diverse as the previous one who spoke and it kept me, and the audience engaged and captivated. They read for about thirty minutes each and I could’ve listened for thirty more.
The people in the room would clap, shake hands, and congratulate each writer when they sat back down after a reading. I, then, understood that this as much of a family as it is a community of authors. It’s quite possible my being there alone, asking questions, and writing down in a notebook, they felt violated.
However, the awkward and unwelcoming atmosphere really did take away from the experience as a whole. The irony of Artifact’s trendy and inviting atmosphere was not lost on me. And my feeling of being out of place made me thankful I hadn’t brought a friend.