READING ACROSS AMERICA: HOW TO CREATE ‘LIVE LITERARY JOURNALS’

WENDY C. ORTIZ ON LESSONS LEARNED PROGRAMMING THE SERIES RHAPSODOMANCY
By Wendy C. Ortiz
From: Lithub.com

reading-seriesBetween 2004 and 2015, I was the curator and host of the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series in Los Angeles. For the first two years I shared this role with Andrea Quaid, until she moved away; after that, I counted on my romantic partner-turned-roadie and the loyal audience members I had to keep the series afloat.

Rhapsodomancy was first conceived by us as the alternative to the bookstore reading. We wanted alcohol and a darker atmosphere, to put it bluntly. We found our venue, the Good Luck Bar in East Hollywood/Los Feliz (from 2004 to 2014), and began the work of programming.

For the first ten years, Rhapsodomancy operated in a more or less predictable manner. Lineups were limited to four readers—two emerging writers and two established ones—since, in our experience, any more could overwhelm the audience. Our readings were held on Sunday nights, every other month, and we asked for a donation at the door that would benefit both local and national social justice organizations. Though we faced obstacles in location and scheduling—in the geographic morass of Los Angeles, people from one part of town were unwilling to travel to our venue because it would require more than one freeway, and, for some, Sunday nights are the nights spent at home, getting ready for work on Monday—it felt like we had found some footing among the literary community.

One of my chief concerns was offering spots to writers we loved who weren’t already reading in various places around Los Angeles. Our initial approach to programming began as a “wish list of writers you’d love to host” and it was how we brought Chris Abani, Eileen Myles, Amy Gerstler, Maggie Nelson, and many others to the series in its early years. There were times when we booked an established writer first and a constellation was built around them; other times, an emerging writer was booked first and the lineup evolved around them.

My approach to programming was very similar to how I edited 4th Street, the hundred-print run of the small, hand-bound literary journal I edited (and sewed, and distributed) in Olympia, Washington. When choosing the work from submissions, I was conscious of what I’d chosen first and how that developed into a thread I wanted to follow, with an eye toward matching a theme, subtly commenting on a theme, or troubling a theme. I never began with a theme—I allowed it to emerge as I read through submissions. What resulted was a journal I was proud of, and one that featured writers who had found this little literary journal and trusted us with their work. I wasn’t as concerned that readers would see the thread among the writing chosen for each issue; I just felt, aesthetically, that the work I selected hung together well, even in the ordering of it, with the few pages I had to work with (usually no more than 16). Read Rest of Article Here

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