To mark the end of our first semester at the CUNY Writers’ Institute, a reading was organized at the KGB Bar. The most entertaining part of the reading at KGB Bar & Lit Journal last night was that some of the brown folk read towards the end of the night, and two other writers used the word “sisterfucker” in their pieces, after I had initially used it in my novel excerpt for Jonathan Galassi’s workshop. I’m not saying I own the copyright to this rough translation of a popular colloquial expression, but I’m going to have to find something equally as awesome next semester and can only hope to start another trend! Here’s a video of me reading from my rough draft below:
The venue was really nice. KGB Bar is all the way in the Lower East Side, which takes some commitment to get to, but I love all the old school Soviet propaganda posters plastered all over the place, and a really steep and narrow staircase that is definitely not conducive to the amount of imported Russian vodkas and beers they serve. The room we were in was a great space. It was a nice size, with several tables and chairs, seating near the bar, a podium in the corner and red mood lighting that dimly painted the entire room. You could hear the sounds of New York from outside: fire trucks, police sirens, people arguing, car alarms, and some sounds I couldn’t make out. But the crowd was dead silent when all of us were speaking. I felt like we should be snapping our fingers like beatniks instead of clapping, which is so bourgeoisie. But I also felt like a plonker being the only one. So, I clapped.
It was a really lovely way to end the semester, although the last classes with Jonathan Galassi and Matt Weiland were pretty epic. The MC for the night – Don – has become quite a good friend. We tweet at each other and I take any opportunity to start a twitter war with him. To say I’ve had an intense few months at the CUNY Writers’ Institute is putting it mildly. It’s been quite a shock to the system having not just deadlines, but deadlines to people like Jonathan Galassi, President of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and Matt Weiland of Norton, as well as meeting with Patrick Ryan at Granta, who introduced me to the term “Post-Gay.” I’ll save my thoughts on the program so far for another post though. This post is about the reading and the culmination of an intense six months where things just fell into motion. Over the summer, I attended Sidak and learned a ton about Sikhism that I would never, ever, have learned anywhere else. I attended an amazing playwriting workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown with Melinda Lopez. And since September, I have been immersed in taking all of the information and research for my novel over the past few years and weaving an actual narrative around it. Not my usual, let me give this outlining thing a go, or let me do some more research, character sketches, then get bogged down with anything else and end up changing the entire story anyway. Actual deadlines that are adhered to and honest, but very encouraging feedback from both the “instructors” and fellow writers.
For all of us, this was a pouring of soul into the writing. This reading at the Soviet themed literary KGB Bar & Lit Journal in NYC –thanks to Andre Aciman, an author himself and the director of the CUNY Writers’ Institute –was quite a momentus occasion for all of us in the fiction program at the Writers’ Institute. But for me, this was an especially moving moment because it actually feels like I’ve completed something real this semester. An actual chapter. Even if I significantly revise it, just the fact that I have it completed is a huge deal. And all those in the room at the reading were those I shared this very special moment with. The video above has the technical aspects in that the words were spoken by me. It’s the difference between the smell of a new book and downloading the same e-book on your iPad. There’s just a feeling that is missing.
The most important person there was hands down, my wife Sona, who has always supported my writing no matter how illogical the circumstances. And some of her friends from the New School MFA program she graduated from last year (2012) were also there, as were my CUNY classmates, who have seen me as I have seen them: at their most vulnerable during workshops, and have given me such a wonderful sense of community and feedback. And it was lovely seeing Erin Harris, an agent at Folio, who did an amazing job at a query letter clinic and opening lines workshop at the CLMP Literary Conference me and Sona went to in November. She also introduced me to gingerale and whiskey. My brother-in-law, Tarun and his girlfriend, Lisa, who skipped an exciting lecture on leeches in Brooklyn (That’s really what they had planned), and a special shoutout to a close friend who had a ton of stuff going on that night, but made a special effort to stay and hear me read –Hitha Prabhakar, author of “Blackmarket Billions,” who writes about two subjects you would think could not be fused: fashion and terrorism! She has an app for that.
And just because Kavya didn’t come to this one reading in no way diminishes her contribution. She was busy threatening people to come hear her Papa read, completely unprompted of course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cns5c5C3h8.
The experience of being at the Writers’ Institute has been really transformative and is also part of the reason I even applied to the Seven Month Writing Fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. If I didn’t have deadlines and such great feedback, I would still be dawdling about. Fingers crossed I get the fellowship! Stay tuned for the next reading . . . .