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.
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.