: What was the inspiration to start the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series?
: Our original inspiration was to maintain and foster the sense of community we had in the New School writing program, and that is still the case. Now more than ever (in an era of Trump and fake news and concern about freedom of speech) we need a supportive community for writers and artists. The reading series was born in the era of Bush and the never-ending global war on terror. We’re not a political reading series, but there is an underlying combative current in our name, our logo, and how we think about the voices we bring together.
: What is the background of the founders & how did you come together?
: We all met in 2004 in the New School’s MFA program. The founders of the series were Marco Rafalá, Reinhardt Suarez, Lee Matthew Goldberg, and Dani Grammerstorf. When Reinhardt moved back to the midwest, Nicole Audrey Spector stepped in. Sadly, Nicole and Dani have both since left the city. Today, the series is still run by founding co-curators Marco and Lee, along with new co-curator Camellia Phillips.
: How many years have you been doing the series and how has the format evolved over that time?
: The series was founded in 2007. We’ve always been open to prose, poetry, and all genres of writing. For the first several years, the reading was monthly and we had up to six readers a night. That was insane to manage. Over time, that evolved to what we’re doing now, which is six readings a year divided into spring and fall seasons. We now have three readers a night, which we’ve found is a great length for a weeknight event.
: What have been some of the most memorable readings? (or writers you’ve hosted) & why did their work standout?
: One of our favorite readings this last year was with Lev Grossman, Ryan Britt, and Sam J. Miller. The lineup really spoke to our aim of having emerging and established writers on the same stage. All three also read some fantastic science fiction/fantasy pieces and together they really complemented each other. As curators, we’re always striving to be better at curating and to come up with a night that makes sense or is surprising in unexpected ways. And that night just made sense.
Another great reading this year was with Kaitlyn Greenidge, Leland Cheuk, and Jackie Corley. In that case, while the authors were all very different substantively and stylistically, it was exciting to see some important emerging voices come together on the same stage.
: What distinguishes the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series from other reading series?
: We see our series as a complement to the wider community of readings and literary events around the city. We’re a pretty traditional reading series — we don’t have a novel or thematic structure, though we love those kinds of series. We keep it simple and spare — no muss, no fuss. It’s just three writers on the stage putting themselves out there and sharing their work in a friendly, supportive environment.
: What are some of the biggest challenges involved with putting on a show like this and keeping up your following?
: Frankly, the biggest challenge is setting aside time to schedule and run the series. We all have day jobs and are working on our own fiction — so finding that balance can be hard. We lean on one another; when one of us is overwhelmed or on a deadline, the others pick up the slack. It’s nice in that way to be a member of a team of co-curators.
The thing we’d most like to improve is our social media presence (and our social skills in general). None of us are big social media users on our own, though we know we should be. We’re still figuring that out.
: How did you connect with the folks at Dixon Place?
: Marco has always coveted Dixon Place as a venue for the series. We love the space and the people there. The atmosphere is very warm and welcoming, like a good friend’s living room. When we needed to move from Jimmy’s No. 43 shortly after the East Village explosion, Marco reached out to a fellow curator who ran a series there and he connected us to the folks at Dixon Place.
: What makes for a successful reading? (do you have advice for writers when it comes to reading their work?)
: You can always tell when someone has practiced and read their work aloud, whether to themselves, friends, family, or their dog. The stories really come alive then, and the audience connects with the work in a way they might not just reading it on the page.
To be honest though, as curators, we don’t always have what we’d consider a successful reading. Sometimes the lineup just doesn’t gel, through no fault of the authors. It’s a little like online dating. We’re throwing these people together who might not know each other, but who we think could be complementary in some way. And sometimes we’re wrong and there’s just no chemistry between their work.
: Is the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series a New York phenomenon or do you think it could be successful in other cities?
: We wouldn’t call the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series a phenomenon, but thank you. The series could certainly be successful in other cities as long as the curators have the same desire to build and support a community of writers and readers.
: What’s next for the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series? Do you plan to expand your vision to include music or multimedia presentations?
: Because we only do six readings a year now, we’ve moved toward an even more intentional curating process. We’re excited to continue exploring what makes a great lineup.
: How has the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series influenced / inspired your own writing?
: It has really driven home how important it is to read your own work aloud as part of the writing and revision process. One of the great parts of curating the series, besides hearing so much good poetry and fiction, is getting to chat with the authors before and after. Sometimes you get great advice from the trenches — such as Kaitlyn Greenidge and Leland Cheuk comparing notes on how many years it took to write and revise their debut novels.
: What’s in it for the audience? What can be conveyed live at a reading that we will otherwise miss when we read in private?
: First, you get to hear the author’s own voice. You also get to experience the writing in a different way. There’s a spell that’s cast at a reading between the audience and the writer. It’s a different spell than the one cast when a book is read privately. When you’re reading a book to yourself, it’s just you and the author. It’s a personal, intimate experience. Whereas at a public reading, it becomes a shared experience with everyone else in the room and the author onstage. You really get a sense and appreciate how a book is a living, breathing thing.