Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reflections on Building a Reading Series

50º ~ bright, clean sun after a squall line of thunderstorms ushered in a cold front last evening, a bit of wind leftover yet

Last night was our third and final event in the Big Rock Reading Series for the semester.  We had a smallish crowd, but a wonderful event.  I'll spend the next few weeks mulling over some of the information gathered and lessons learned, but I wanted to share a bit that's surfaced already.

It's all about the audience.  Of course, I want to hear the readers no matter how many people are in the audience, but now that I'm in charge of planning the events, I feel an extra pressure to be sure there are others there to share the joy.

In particular, since we are a community college, we are trying to reach a group of students who often don't even know what a reading is before we bring it up in class.  We do an audience survey at each event, and the participants identify whether they are students, faculty, staff, from another college/university, or from the community at large.  In this way, we can zero in on responses from our students.  Overwhelmingly, the students who do attend have wonderful things to say, often including a comment about this being their first time at such an event and their desire to hear more.

When I began planning the series, I scheduled each of the events for this fall on a Tuesday night, the second Tuesday of each month to be exact.  I was following the footsteps of a lot of other monthly activities in the area, thinking to build a sort of muscle memory.  However, this backfired a bit last night.  You see, we have had classes come and attend the two previous readings, and that was great.  However, it is hard for any instructor to give up three evening classes (or parts of them) over the course of one semester.  I'm pretty sure using a Tuesday and a Thursday next spring will serve us better.  We are also considering doing one daytime event, which will draw in participation from those daytime classes. This kind of shifting of the schedule goes against my experience with other reading series, but it is important to be flexible and adaptable, as is the case with most things in life.

Of course, we are also striving to build a relationship with our community, central Arkansas, and the lovers of literature living here.  I know they are out there.  Here is where our location hurts us a bit, I think.  We are not hard to find, but we are a bit isolated perhaps, surrounded almost entirely by homes and apartments.  It is not like going to a reading at a bookstore or at one of the other colleges in the area, where there are restaurants, shops, and bars in abundance within a stone's throw.  One suggestion has already been made to form a partnership with either the local library, which is more centrally located, or another business and do one of the readings per semester off campus.  That is something to think about as a way to bridge the gap.

Overall, while the series requires time, sweat, and a lot of help from a lot of other people, I'm so happy that we have launched ours to such success, and I hope we can grow and improve in the coming months.

Finally, here is a shot from last night.  The reading featured two current MFA candidates from the U of Arkansas MFA program.  We are hoping to do one reading per year with the program as a way of offering a reading experience to the writers and to educate our students about the ways they can make writing a part of their lives.  Corrie Williamson read some amazing poems that left the crowd breathless.  Then, Kaj Anderson-Bauer kept us enthralled with a story about an imagined afterlife set in a place a lot like North Dakota.  Ben Nickol, a recent fiction graduate from the U of A came along to cheer on Corrie & Kaj.  I love my people!

L to R: Ben Nickol, Corrie Williamson, & Kaj Anderson-Bauer


Tawnysha Greene said...

Sounds like a lot of fun! Wish I lived closer, so that I could come to one of these!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Oh, T. isn't this so often the case! Thanks for stopping by the blog.

Kristin said...

Thanks for your reflections--it's valuable, and I'm looking forward to the rest--and if you're looking for blog pieces to transform into articles, (say for Poet's Market or writing magazines), I'm sure you'll end up with good material!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the tip, Kristin. I hadn't even thought about using blog material as something more. :)