Campus Pollyeye’s stuffed breadsticks—Bowling Green, Ohio’s, second-best thing
Today’s post is the second of a three-part series. You can see the first part, on how reading factors into literary citizenship, here.
I really didn’t know at the time I resided in Bowling Green, Ohio, that I was living in a writer’s paradise.
It’s a town of 30,000, and the second-best thing about it is the stuffed breadsticks at Campus Pollyeye’s, but the first best thing is the literary community fostered by the Creative Writing Program at Bowling Green State University—and touching the entire region and beyond.
One of the best things the program does is host a Thursday night reading series. Every Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. when school is in session, students in the MFA and BFA programs go to a reading together. Often the readers are visiting writers who were invited in by the program. Sometimes the readers are faculty. And sometimes the readers are graduate students (every one of them gives a reading in each of the two years of the program) or undergraduate majors (who get a chance to read once before they graduate). Returning alumni are frequently featured as well.
Undergraduate creative writing majors and minors are required to attend the reading series as a for-credit class, which ensures a nice crowd. (And they seem to like it—they’re majoring in the field, after all.) Graduate students go to support one another, and they quickly adopt it s a key part of their culture. And, most beautifully, townspeople and writers from the region also attend, mainly because the weekly event is the cornerstone of a broad community of writers.
The BGSU Creative Writing Program is a university entity, obviously, but I also know of many similar cornerstone programs that are not sponsored by universities, and they are equally magical. Plenty of regular reading series are set in coffeehouses, bars, galleries, and libraries, as well as other kinds of institutions (a very incomplete list appears at the end of this post). University affiliation is not at all necessary for fostering a literary community, but the regular rhythms of an academic calendar or a set-aside day and time (Thursdays, first Mondays, etc.) help communities to cement. In my experience, there are a lot of lone-wolf writers, but these are vastly outnumbered by writers who love an occasion to get together over words.
I moved away from Bowling Green nearly five years ago, and I now live in a city without a regularly gathering literary community. My new city has a very strong visual arts community, with a monthly Art Walk serving the role I’m describing, but for visual artists instead of writers. (I should note that this monthly celebration of the arts is a very welcoming venue, and it often includes performances, including readings, as part of the mix.) I find that I miss having a place to be once a week, though, to enjoy the community of writers. When I had this, I didn’t know how lucky I was.
That’s not to say that my town is without opportunities for writing fun. There is a writers guild, a university reading series hosting occasional visiting writers, a vibrant slam scene, and intimate writing groups here and there. A writer looking to commune with fellow scribblers doesn’t have to wait long or look far to find something exciting happening, and the people involved with all of these organizations are very welcoming.
A literary community is especially enjoyable for me when I can participate face to face. A weekly or monthly reading series makes that very easy to do—and it also helps to build audiences for new writing. I encourage all writers and literary enthusiasts to check to see if there is a regular reading series near them, and if so, to try showing up once. Writers tend to be a welcoming bunch, and those who try out a local reading series will almost certainly want to go again.
I asked for recommendations from friends of their favorite reading series, and here’s a partial (randomly ordered) list, including towns both big and small. Some info here is unverified:
- New York, NY (population: 8.491 million): Too many to list! I’ve read at the wonderful KGB Bar series, and there are longstanding reading series at the 92nd Street and West Side YMCAs, as well as myriad other outlets.
- Tecumseh, MO (population: 586): The only writing show in town is darned impressive: The River Pretty Writers Retreat, which offers readings and workshops in an idyllic setting twice a year. Lee Busby, Ian Bodkin, and Jen Murvin are the people I know who are the engines of this terrific event.
- Syracuse, NY: The terrific Downtown Writers Center has a vigorous reading series directed by the poet Phil Memmer.
- Provincetown, MA: Almost every night in the summer, the public can catch readings at the Fine Arts Work Center.
- Shelburne Falls, MA: Marie Gauthier curates the Collected Poets Series, featuring two poets a month.
- Washington, D.C.: Among many other offerings are the ultra-relaxed Inner Loop monthly reading series and the stately PEN/Faulkner Reading Series at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
- Chicago: The Poetry Center of Chicago has a great reading series at the Chicago Cultural Center, and I’m very fond of the series at the Women Made Gallery, too (I read there once at the invitation of the lovely curator, Nina Corwin. Also: Danny’s Reading Series; Pabula Pura bilingual series; Waiting 4 the Bus.
- Aurora, IL: Lit by the Bridge reading series.
- Batavia, IL: Waterline Writers hosts a regular reading series.
- Sausalito, CA (and coming to New York, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Portland, and Austin): The literary force Peg Alford Pursell coordinates the Why There Are Words monthly reading series, based in a gallery.
- Knoxville, TN: Sundress Publications always has something going on, notably its Sundress Academy for the Arts Reading Series at Bar Marley, and its occasional Holler Salon, based at SAFTA’s Firefly Farms. Knoxville also hosts The Only Tenn-I-See reading series.
- Online: SAFTA also does a pretty rad Poets in Pajamas Reading Series on the intertubes, curated by Sam Slaughter.
- Memphis, TN: The Impossible Language reading series happens regularly at Crosstown Arts.
- Arlington, VA: The Iota Poetry Series hosts invited readers and an open mic that follows at the Iota Club and Cafe.
- Houston: The Margarett Root Brown Series, sponsored by Inprint Houston.
- Lawrence, KS: The Taproom Poetry Series, coordinated by Megan Kaminski.
- Cleveland, OH: Brews + Prose at Market Garden Brewery; Mac’s Backs on Coventry; Monday at Mahali’s Poetry and Prose Series.
- Lexington, KY: Kentucky Great Writers Series at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.
- Marin County, CA: Book Passage, an independent bookstore featuring numerous readings and events.
- Most cities: That guy who stands under the clock downtown and yells at teenagers on Friday nights.
- Portland, OR: Unchaste Readers Series, curated by Jenny Forrester.
- San Diego, CA: Non-Standard Lit: A Reading Series and Now That’s What I Call Poetry.
- Flagstaff, AZ: Narrow Chimney Reading Series.
- Philadelphia, PA: Tire Fire reading series.
- Minneapolis, MN: The Loft Literary Center; Poets & Pints; Maeve’s Seassions (the Maeve's Cafe reading series).
- New Orleans, LA: The Maple Leaf Reading Series; the Dogfish Reading Series, curated by Jessica Kinnison.
- Lincoln, NE: No Name Reading Series.
- Baltimore, MD: Starts Here!, curated by Jen Michalski.
- Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures at the Carnegie Library; Autumn House Press readings in the parks; TNY (a series combining readers and singer-songwriters, along with homemade baked goods); White Whale Bookstore’s frequent readings.
- Nashville, TN: The Porch reading series, curated by Susannah Felts; East Side Storytellin at East Side Story bookstore.
- Olympia, WA: Gray Skies Reading Series.
- Seattle, WA: Elliott Bay Book Company’s frequent readings.
- Portsmouth, NH: RiverRun Bookstore’s frequent readings.
- Boston, MA: Porter Square Bookstore’s frequent readings.
- Rochester, NY: Writers & Books reading series.
- Northampton, MA: Straw Dog.
- Roslindale, MA: Chapter and Verse.
- Storrs, CT: ROAR Reading Series.
- Davis, CA: Stories on Stage Davis.
- Sacramento, CA: Stories on Stage Sacramento.
- Salt Lake City, UT: Salt Lake City Art and the Art Barn.
- Berkeley, CA: Lyrics & Dirges by Mk Chavez and Sharon Coleman; Moe’s Books.
- Dublin, NH: Del Rossi’s Trattoria reading series.
- Akron, OH: Big Big Mess.
- Brooklyn, NY: Franklin Park Reading Series; Flapperhouse Reading Series.
- Albuquerque, NM: Bad Mouth reading series, curated by Erin Adair-Hodges and Rebecca Aronson.
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Harbourfront Reading Series.
- Erie, PA: Poets’ Hall: The International Family of Poets and Spoken Word Artists.
- Various cities: Festival of Language, sort of a Chautauqua of literary writers.
- Oak Park, IL: Traveling Mollys Reading Series and Open Mic.
- Columbus, OH: The Poetry Forum, Rose M. Smith, Nathan Moore, and Steve Abbott, coordinators.
- Cambridge, MA: The Blacksmith House Poetry Series.
- Madison, WI: Arts + Literature Laboratory, curated by Rita Mae Reese.
- Youngstown, OH: Lit Youngstown.
- Denver, CO: FBomb Flash Fiction Reading Series.
- Charleston, SC: Monday Night Poetry & Music.
- Buffalo, NY: BABEL: Buffalo Hosts World-Famous Authors.
- Cincinnati, OH: Chase Public Reading Series.
- Eugene, OR: Poetry for the People.
- San Francisco Bay Area, CA: Poetry Flash reading series.
- Montclair, NJ: Halfway There reading series.