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Monday, February 3, 2014

The New York Literary Scene

On a frigid (though less cold than it had been the past few days) night in the East Village (a place I'd never been before in my life despite a few jaunts to Manhattan), we approached a bar (which is not something my husband and I would normally do) that held the promise of a fine literary evening (which it delivered).

When my friend and (now long-distance) critique group co-founder Reneé Bibby mentioned that she would be in New York City doing a reading, I was still living in North Carolina, but I planned and hoped that I would be at least somewhat established in New England by January 26, the night the reading happened. And I was! My husband and I had to drive for a while and then take a train for quite a while, and as it turned out, we didn't get home until 2 a.m., but it was a small effort to attend such a momentous event.

I'm sure it's going to be far from one of a kind, however. Reneé is so talented, there will be many more publications and many more readings. This first one was in honor of the branch sites of the Writers Studio, an institution that promotes the craft of writing and produces award winners like so many snowflakes. Reneé teaches lucky students at the Tucson branch. (See an excerpt and a link to her first publication at her site.)

My husband and I were wearing all the layers of clothes we could manage to sit down in, and it was a good thing, because the KGB Bar is a little walk from a subway stop The breeze wasn't warm enough to have anything gentle about it, but we were aided by a new app called Street View, suggested by my brother, another talented writer. I had heard of this bar before, but would later learn why we were headed there: it's often the host to cozy, classy literary events. In the gloom of 6:30 pm, we found the KGB Bar by its neon lights and ascended the outer stairs.

From there, the only real choice was to follow the urging arrow up more stairs. Already I was put in mind of that percolating atmosphere I encountered at college readings and in many parts of Iowa City — a sort of shabby chic irony fueled by burgeoning creativity, posters, and peeling paint. The bar itself is smaller than my new apartment and crowded with tables and USSR paraphernalia, most importantly, perhaps, a statue of Leon Trotsky behind the bar. The walls are painted thickly red with black accents. Reneé was perceptive enough to compare it to being inside a heart.

After a happy reunion with Reneé, my husband and I sat with some of the many Tucson writers who showed up to support her. I knew some of them, so it was an unexpectedly comprehensive and fun blast from the past. I'm so impressed with the enthusiastic set of supporters Reneé has! Even when I gave readings in college I only ever had one or two people cheering and whooping, but here it seemed like 75% of the audience was there for one special person, and I know I was one of them.

Five people read at a podium with a circle of red Christmas lights behind them. It seemed as if Reneé was the only one tall enough to make a proper halo out of it. All the readings were stellar excerpts from each author's opus, but Reneé's story was the most achingly beautiful, the most painstakingly perfect. I know firsthand that every line had been labored over in draft after draft for about two years, and that effort of love resulted in something deceptively seamless, smooth, and surprising.

I'm definitely a city girl. That day, I felt energized and creative in spite of a draining journey that required three days to recover from. You just don't get that spark from anywhere but a good city. Or I don't, anyway. What a wonderful welcome back to the Northeast!