Literary Happenings: Gabriel Brownstein, Meredith Walters, and Sam Beebe at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Friday 10/16/2009

2 Nov

Teachers & Writers is where I volunteer, so when I heard about their first reading of the season, I knew I had to be there.  Especially since one of the readers, Gabriel Brownstein, was a man who had actually participated in the T&W program as a child growing up in 1970’s Manhattan.

T&W has a nice set-up, which is what drew me to volunteer there in the first place.  Their readings are relaxed, almost like a family gathering, with wine & nibbles and a dedicated group of writers who are either teaching in the program or are friends of said writers, with the odd lit lover thrown into the crew.

Sam Beebe, a former T&W teaching artist and MFA candidate in fiction at NYU, started off the reading with a short story he’d written about a man building his house on the banks of a river and the ex-lover he sees occasionally as he’s working.  It was a fine effort, well-paced and quietly interesting, from the first person perspective.  The only thing that troubled me was constant reference to “my ex-lover” in the story.  The woman is never called by name or even by the impersonal pronoun “she” and the repetition of “my ex-lover” this and “my ex-lover” that was too distracting for me.

The next reader was Meredith Walters, who won the Anhinga Prize for her book All you have to do is ask.  Although I liked the way she read her poems, in a forceful but straightforward manner, I could not for the life of me tell you what any of them were about.  I look for narrative clearness, and what always gets me is a compelling story with strong imagery.  However, it’s starting to seem as that allegiance to a narrative thread is not as much in favor here in NYC as it is in Long Beach.  I appreciate unusual, playful language, but in the greater scheme of a story that makes at least some literal sense.  I guess I should blame Charles Webb for that.  [I googled Walters’ work later and found a few of her poems on the Anhinga Press site (http://www.anhinga.org/books/book_info.cfm?title=All%20you%20have%20to%20do%20is%20ask). I quite liked the three featured there, but they definitely required visual reading to really get all of her interesting wordplay and imagery.]

Brownstein was the closer, in every theatrical and entertaining sense of that word.  He’s clearly a man in command of his voice, both on the page and in performance.  His short story, about a Jewish kid who follows a girl he likes to Jewish camp and is constantly comically berated by his dead father to “man up,” is hilarious, well-written and well-paced, engineered by someone who understands comic timing and the particular neurosis of a New York Jew.  Brownstein even did the voices of the poor sap’s dead father and his rival for the girl’s affections, a cigarette-smoking ex-Israeli military macho man named Moeshe.

I’ve got Brownstein’s first book, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W, on my Goodreads to-read list; let’s hope it lives up to my now-high expectations.

Happy reading!

Jho

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