It was an evening of giant squids, seizure-inducing clouds, and unusual adoptions at the Powerhouse Arena last night, where an eager audience packed in to hear Hannah Tinti and Joe Meno read their work and riff on the art of writing. As listeners sat on large stone steps and the two writers took their turns in the spotlight, I couldn’t help but think of a night at a comedy club. Though Joe started the evening by comparing reading events in 2009 to a 19th century chimney sweep symposium, I can’t imagine that being half as entertaining.
Joe kicked things off by reading the opening section of his new novel The Great Perhaps. Before beginning, he encouraged his audience not to hold back their laughter, and as family patriarch Jonathan, a paleontologist, grew more and more frustrated with the protestations of his teenage daughters, one an aspiring Marxist, the other newly religious, listeners responded with knowing chuckles and grins. “Enjoy what you write,” Joe later advised, citing such personal heroes as Vonnegut and Pynchon. “And your readers will enjoy it, too.”
Next up was Hannah Tinti reading, on a dare from Joe, her short story “Adoption,” published in issue 4 of the Avery Anthology. Originally written with the specifications of another magazine in mind – that it had to be short, dialogue heavy, in first person, and fall into the category of “chick lit” – the story tells the sharp and giddily sardonic tale of a single woman who adopts a grown man. I encourage any curious fans of Hannah to seek this story out, especially those who have only read The Good Thief. It’s a remarkable display of the range of Hannah’s talents.
Finally the evening ended with Joe and Hannah in conversation and taking questions. Joe marveled at the continued devotion of the scientific community to tracking down the giant squid, a creature that has never been seen and for which his main character Jonathan is desperately searching. Hannah spoke of her childhood adoration of authors like Robert Louis Stevenson and how one phrase, “resurrection men,” inspired an entire narrative. Audience members quick on the draw received gifts from Hannah, including a wishing stone (a Tinti reading tradition), a St. Anthony medal, and copies of One Story. Wrapping things up, Joe championed the continued importance of venues like Powerhouse to the literary community and implored listeners to give their support. We thank everyone who was able to come out. For photos of the event go here.