University of Minnesota MFA Reading

In an event that showcased fiction, nonfiction, poetry, performance, and, um, “found art,” several of the Twin Cities’s youngest and most promising writers stood before an unexpectedly large audience and gave a taste of what’s to come. In all, eight candidates for the degree of Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota presented a reading of works in progress at Magers & Quinn Booksellers on Friday, November 16, 2012.

The evening began with a healthy spread of wine and fingerfoods, and the anticipatory buzz was steady and pleasant enough to delay the start time by about fifteen minutes. As people settled into their seats, it became clear that there were not enough seats. How many people stand in the aisles between bookshelves has become a metric for how “successful” a reading is at M&Q. As we’ve noted here before, the designated reading space frequently can’t accommodate its  crowds, and people often have to stand without a sightline. For a fan of literature and a supporter of the local literary community, this is a good problem–but still one that seems to plague readings all over town. (Please read into  this criticism a call to all you business owners out there: here lies a clear market need, which, unfortunately, offers no financial justification.)

The seating situation, though chronic, did not disrupt the evening in any way, though, and those who were in attendance to support the readers were congenital and enthusiastic.  Most in the audience appeared to be in support of someone or other in particular, a friend or colleague.  This was a community reading in the best sense: people showing up in support of each other and witnessing talent on display, rather than showing up merely  to be entertained.  Which is not to say that this event wasn’t entertaining–it was, and how.

The evening was hosted by the charming and voluble duo of Isaac Butler and Nasir Sakandar. Each brought a distinctive but engaging persona to the task of author introductions. The first reader was Kerry Voigt, who’s manuscript excerpt included a sequence of increasingly panicked and misinformed text messages that cranked up both the tension and hilarity of her piece, as well as primed the crowd for a great night of readings.

I’m not sure how to classify the piece by Kate Petersen that followed. Composed of  a series of incorrectly received emails, Petersen (with an “e”–there’s a Kate Peterson, with an “o,” in the UMN system as well) created an amalgam of queries and pleas, pairing disparate phrases with absurd effects.

Kate Petersen reads from misdirected emails.

Co-host Nasir Sakandar followed Petersen with a series of poems–the lone poet of the night, in fact. His work revealed a more serious side than his host-persona, even prompting him to assure the audience, “My work’s really funny.”

Sally Franson, known for many worthy achievements in addition to being runner-up at this year’s Ultimate Master of Words competition, read an excerpt from her manuscript which is “on pace to be published in 2084.” Franson’s work stood out for its vitality and quality, but also for her ability to perform. Her stage presence swept the audience into her narrative in a way that is entirely different from experiencing the words on their own accord.

Lalinne Suon then picked up the thread and demolished the audience with her nonfiction work about her family in Cambodia in the 1970s. Harrowing and incisive, Suon’s prose struck a chord that left the audience humbled.

Perhaps seeing the need for a slight pick-me-up, Adriane Quinlan and Chrissy Friedlander stepped up to the mic wearing stylish hats and costumes. Their co-written piece, titled “What I Imagine Tim Gunn Thinks of the Manuscript I’m Currently Writing,” culled quotes from the fashion/reality TV icon’s critiques and organized them by theme. Quinlan and Friedlander alternated lines, adding Tim Gunn-esque flair and inflection whenever the opportunity arose.

Chrissy Friedlander and Adriane Quinlan make it work.

The last reader of the night was our other co-host, Isaac Butler. In Nasir Sakandar’s introduction, he mentioned that Butler had a theater background, which explained his bombast as a host, but also the skill with which he performed his piece. A highly stylized memoir about his first movie theater experience (Fantasia), Butler had crafted the piece in second person, guiding the reader through the perspectives. “Now, imagine you are no longer my father, but a three-year-old me,” Butler read, his voice booming like a radio man, his arms wagging in the air. It was a joy to watch, and he is a performer I’ll surely watch out for.

Butler thanked the oversized crowd after his reading concluded, begged people to buy books from Magers & Quinn who graciously offered their space, and reminded everyone that the next University of Minnesota MFA reading will be in March–an event that shouldn’t be missed by anyone invested in this literary community.

–RHM

Were you There? Have something to add, or a different take on this event?  Chime in on the comments below, or send us an email at LitSeen.Mpls@gmail.com! Be sure to check the schedule to the right and the Twin Cities Literary Calendar to be at the next LitSeen.org attended event. See you around!

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