Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Progressive Readings Rock

By Cindy Bailey 8.14.06

Wow. What an electric evening at the Progressive Reading Series Monday night at the Make-Out Room. Hosted by local author, Stephen Elliott , this monthly series is a literary fundraiser to help support Democratic house candidates running in 2006. And it is popular!

You can see why. For a contribution of between $10 and $20, you get to see five or six outstanding authors—local and national—read from their work in an intimate nightclub setting, complete with cocktails from the bar and a disco ball overhead. Past series have featured the likes of Pam Houston, Jonathan Franzen, and Jane Smiley, to name just a few.

This month's reading, the eighth one in the series, lit the packed house. Featured authors included Ann Packer, Bucky Sinister, Susan Steinberg, Justin Chin, and Glen David Gold, with special guest, comedian Will Durst. Not only did they read, at turns, entertaining, interesting, funny, rich, absorbing prose, but most had commanding stage presence. Everyone at the bar—even those in the back—kept hushed and quiet throughout, trying to capture it all.

After much hanging out and cocktailing, Stephen Elliott took to the stage to make some announcements before introducing the first reader. He let us know that the opponents of two of the congressmen they had been supporting dropped out. Cheers from all!

First reader up was Ann Packer , author of The Dive from Clausen Pier , who read a personal essay on politics. Following the presidents from the time of her birth to the present, she shared how her attitude transformed from a-political to involved. It was Reagan, she said, “who cured me of any indifference I had.”

Bucky Sinister , author of Whiskey and Robots, jumped on the stage in his usual energetic way. His readings are typically lively, all-out performances, and this one proved to be no less. He first read about his hilarious “date with Wonder woman,” cautioning us that craigslist is great for a lot of things, but not for dating. Apparently, he would soon learn, the plane this woman owned was invisible except to her. “There had to be something,” he said.

He read a second piece about a donut shop in the Mission that no longer exists, and kept us in stitches throughout.

How appropriate, then, to follow-up with Will Durst , the political comedian, who kept our laughter going. He gave us a few famous stupid Bush quotes, such as, “… they will stop at nothing to harm America, and neither will we.” If Bush doesn't read, he joked, “then what? Do they use puppets to teach him about foreign dignitaries?”

During the break, author and co-host, Andrew Altschul , introduced Stephen Elliott's latest book, My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up , of which advanced copies were available to us for a donation to the event's cause. Other authors also donated books to sell for donations.

Altschul then introduced Susan Steinberg , author of Hydroplane and co-chair of the Department of English at USF. Apparently admired by her students, one of them in the audience shouted, “We love Susan!”

“This is not political in any way,” she warned of the piece she chose to read, an excerpt from a novel in progress. She then proceeded to mesmerize the audience with powerful language and full characters. And what a provocative story! I felt as though I were swirling in the main character's head, dizzy right along with her.

Poet and author of Gutted , Justin Chin , explained that he cut and pastes his poems to create new ones, “So this one is for this reading.” Out poured thick, rich language and imagery that continued for pages. We leaned in to catch every word, trying to absorb the onslaught of images and ideas before the next ones came. Just beautiful.

Last, but certainly not least, author of Carter Beats the Devil , Glen David Gold , started by telling a humorous anecdote about L.A., where he had been living just before moving back to the Bay Area. He then read a fun, humorous essay about, well, let's just call it being a little obsessed with his standing as a writer. With perfect expression and humorous timing, he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, [pause] I Google myself.” He went on to talk about his obsession with a website that reviews books in sandwiches. “Did I get five sandwiches?” he wondered. About his Google recovery, he reported, “Oh, it's one day at a time.”

Stephen Elliott closed by announcing the special 9/11 show that will happen next month, encouraging us to come. “It's a patriotic thing to do.”

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