Introducing New Writers Series – Kansas- Ad Astra Per Aspera

Those of you who have attended more than one One Story reading in New York know that a heretofore sunny day will erupt into rain and thunder as soon as our reading begins.  Rain loves us.  With that in mind, I found the crazy storms Kansas experienced in the week leading up to our Introducing New Writers Reading in Lawrence fitting.  Charming, even.  Because it was a big reading, God unleashed the big guns, and Kansas experienced not only rain but tornado warnings.  After it was explained to me that a tornado warning is not as serious as someone who did not grow up with tornadoes would automatically believe, I found it even more fitting considering the integral role a tornado siren plays in Cote Smith’s “Hurt People,” the story I was heading to Kansas to celebrate. 

However, Midwest rains don’t play.  They damaged our intended venue so badly we had to scramble to find another.  And upon arriving at the airport I found out my flight was canceled due to the inclement weather and I’d have to wait 24 hours for the next one.  Less charming.  Weather: 2.  One Story: 0.   

Yet, Kansas’ state motto is Ad Astra per Aspera: To the stars through difficulties.  This motto not only inspired a righteous beer, it seemed also to inspire a few angels who flew in to help.  Greg Dobbins stepped up mere days before the reading and offered his space, Wonder Fair Art Gallery in the basement of The Casbah Organic Grocery.  And Ted S. at The Philly airport, who winked at me and stapled a huge priority sticker on the suitcase that held the One Story parephrenalia for the reading. 

So on Saturday, May 2nd (sunny, hot, not a tornado in the sky) I hosted One Story’s first Emerging Writers reading at Wonder Fair gallery, a hip, pretty space that sells the work of local artists and writers. Sponsored by a grant from the NEA, The Emerging Writers Reading Series hosts events in the hometowns of authors making their fiction debuts in One Story. “Thanks for coming to watch me emerge,” Cote said before reading the first half of “Hurt People” to a large, supportive crowd.

Lawrence is a college town (University of Kansas), described to me as a Blue oasis in an otherwise Red state.  In and around its main street (Massachusetts), you can find several coffee shops, book stores, yoga centers, an antique mall, a great pizza place, an Urban Outfitters and lots of local boutiques where a girl can get her shop on (even a girl who uses phrases like “get her shop on”).  KU’s campus, arranged on “the only hill in town,” is massive and beautiful, the kind of campus that can and does inspire devout loyalty to its sports teams.  My only regret is that in The Sunflower State I did not see one sunflower.

An example of a sunflower I did not see while in Kansas.

An example of a sunflower I did not see while in Kansas.

More than anything else, it was touching to see Cote Smith read to a packed gallery. Cote teaches undergraduate English at KU so in addition to his friends and family, his students showed up to support him. Chatting with people afterward, I was able to see first hand the work a story can do, and how first publication makes a difference in a writer’s life.  Several people came up to thank me for coming “all the way out” to Kansas.  Even for a literary magazine known for going the distance for its writers.  I left Kansas hoping this can be a regular thing.  I can travel to different towns like Anthony Bourdain, meeting authors and their people, eating great food and making wry, sarcastic comments.  Maybe not the last one.  Because the hippie blood in me that hasn’t yet been sucked dry by New York was engaged by this experience.  And my feeling is, a story at its best does what a holiday does, or a good meal.  It gathers people.  So in closing, I’ll say what I said to the people I chatted with in Lawrence: This is my pleasure.  Thanks for welcoming me to your town.

Stay tuned for our next Emerging Writers reading.  Weather permitting.

Cote Smith reads at Wonder Fair in Lawrence, KS.

Cote Smith reads at Wonder Fair in Lawrence, KS.

The town had only one siren with only one sound that it used for all its warnings.

The town had only one siren with only one sound that it used for all its warnings.

The writer, like a butterfly, emerges.

The two boys wanted in the pool.

The crowd at Wonder Fair Art Gallery

The crowd at Wonder Fair Art Gallery

Cote and his girlfriend, Nicole.

Cote and his girlfriend, Nicole.

Eric Dobbins guards One Story's merch table

Eric Dobbins guards One Story's merch table

Wonder Fair's in-house zine

Wonder Fair's in-house zine

Members of KU's MFA program, Chloe and Nate

Members of KU's MFA program, Chloe and Nate

 

Wonder Fair Art

Wonder Fair Art

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  1. Pingback: Boston Book Festival 2009 in Pictures « One Story blog

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