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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
Late Night LIbrary
Late Night Library is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting talented writers early in their careers. Their programs include a series of podcasts about debut titles, podcast conversations with cultural innovators, events that connect diverse literary communities, and a virtual network of writers and readers. Tonight they host Leni Zumas, author of The Listeners at the Angry Pigeon, with a special guest introduction from (another great Tin House debut novelist) Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers.
Here Paul Martone, Executive Director of Late Night Library, talks with Tin House intern (and Professional Mixologist and Master Johnnycake Maker) Jack Mahaffy about bicoastal recordings, upcoming writers, local bookstores, and finding time to write.
Jack Mahaffy: Portland and Brooklyn are both home to vibrant literary scenes, each playing host to multiple readings and book-related events every week, and are so like-minded in terms of music and tacos and falafel and bourbon and bikes that regular writerly house-swaps are all but inevitable. How does a connection like this translate in an online space?
Paul Martone: Erin Hoover and I founded Late Night Library in Brooklyn and Portland, because that’s where we lived in 2010 (Erin was in Brooklyn, and I was here in Portland). We had no intention of capitalizing on the Portland/Brooklyn hype when we began to record podcasts, but the online connection between Brooklyn and Portland has been inspiring. We’ve facilitated conversations between writers in each city by connecting them through Skype and recording their conversations on two tracks. We’ve also hosted interactive bi-coastal events for book-loving Brooklynites and Portlanders. During our anniversary event last April, the Brooklyn audience asked the Portland authors questions, and the Portland audience asked the Brooklyn authors questions—we all felt connected. Late Night Library is now broadening its focus to serve every community, big and small. We don’t care how “hip” the location is; Late Night Library was founded for everyone interested in books.
JM: I was hoping you could recommend books by people living in each community—four writers as yet unheralded on the show or the site, and deserving of a wider audience.
PM: Three writers in Portland we intend to contact soon: Vanessa Veselka, James Bernard Frost, and Natalie Serber. Three writers in Brooklyn: Cathy Che, Greg Gerke, and Laren McClung. All six of these poets and writers have recently published debut books, with the exception of Cathy Che, whose debut poetry collection Split is forthcoming from Alice James Books.
JM: Late Night Library’s focus is rooted in promoting debut fiction and poetry by way of discussions based on attentive, careful reading: eschewing rehashes of plot in the former or obtuse generalities in the latter. Why the decision to focus on elements of the craft itself—individual sentences, images, and so on—effectively using a focus that is both passionate and academic, when showcasing debut works?
PM: The discussions result from our excitement as readers. Every co-host is a writer, but not every co-host has studied writing formerly. Some episodes sound more academic than others. Our format is designed for inclusion. Every month, our listeners hear a new pair of writers discuss a debut book; as a result, no two episodes sound the same.
JM: You’re so dedicated to the cultivation of a supportive community to showcase and analyze the work of other writers that your own work is only mentioned, if at all, in passing, and even then only in monologues that bookend an episode, and even then intimating that it might only be found, Xeroxed and hand-bound, in the trunk of a car in Mississippi. How has the Late Night Library project impacted your own writing?
PM: I started writing a novel in November, 2010 and completed a revised, full-length manuscript a few weeks ago. If anyone in Mississippi is interested in reading it, or storing a copy in the trunk of a car, please let me know! I’ve also been writing non-fiction. One article appeared at The Skanner in March, another will appear at Propeller later this month. I’d write more, but I’m employed as the English/Humanities Department Chair at Northwest Academy, a performing arts school (6-12) in downtown Portland. Northwest Academy demands more time than Late Night Library, but I love our community and cherish our mission—everyone involved is deeply engaged in arts education. Writers often worry about protecting their time, which is natural and to some extent necessary, but many of us make time for multiple projects and work full-time jobs. The most essential factor for me is my wife, Karma. She tolerates my Type A personality, consistently cares for our dog, Ingrid, and reads even more books than I do.
JM: Pre-Internet models of book recommendation, from long form literary reviews to bookseller suggestions, seems to have been replaced largely by the more flickering, keep-clicking approach of the five star user review and whatever titles an algorithm spits out following the fragment You might also like. Sites like The Rumpus and The Nervous Breakdown offer book club subscriptions while Late Night Library links directly to WORD, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn. Is the hope to intertwine independent bookstores with online literary communities? How would you like to see that relationship evolve?
PM: Late Night Library partners with indie and “Big Six” publishers by promoting authors and distributing books. We love independent bookstores, and we refuse to support large corporate retailers like Amazon.com, which engage in predatory pricing (i.e. selling books, e-books, and e-book devices at a loss to eliminate competition). As a nonprofit organization, Late Night Library’s revenue is chiefly devoted to program services, and as the Executive Director, I report to a Board of Directors. It’s a high level of accountability that fosters a civic-minded approach to literary arts. It also enables us to promote independent bookstores without requesting much in return. Here’s what’s intertwined: our mission to promote early career writers and our desire to help independent publishers and bookstores thrive in the twenty-first century.
JM: You’ve referred to the work you do as “literary activism” and seem very interested in bringing something vibrant and new to the traditional format of an author reading event, as seen at the Skype + MacBooks + actively engaged audience bi-coastal reading earlier this year, as well as during the Late Night Conversation with Robyn Tenenbaum and Courtenay Hameister of Portland’s (fantastic) radio variety show, Live Wire!. Are there plans for further explorations of what an author reading can be?
PM: Absolutely. We recently initiated a new series called “In and Out of Town.” We pair one local author with a visiting author for a live event. In addition to the readings, each event features live music, improv, and other performing arts. The series is free to the public with a five-dollar suggested donation. I’d also like to clarify that Late Night Library doesn’t aspire to become a radio variety show! We have enormous respect for Robyn and Courtenay, and I encourage your listeners to listen to their podcasts and attend a live show.
JM: A recent debut series podcast featured Dorianne Laux reading her poem Kissing. And recent episodes of Late Night Conversation feature the two leading mayoral candidates in Portland. As a subscriber to the show, I appreciated these deviations from the expected format, its expansiveness and inclusion, much in the way I did when the first Late Night Conversation with Brad Listi of the Other People podcast showed up. Such natural outgrowths of the show’s principals seem to make it more library-like than ever. What, if any, future such extensions does Late Night Library have in store?
PM: First of all, thanks for listening, Jack! Late Night Conversation is released on the 15th of every month. It’s a podcast that features writers, editors, publishers, activists, educators, and other innovators who influence art culture. Essentially, we record an unscripted conversation with someone who is changing the way we think about the arts. Late Night Conversation furthers our mission by attracting casual book readers as listeners, demystifying the book publishing process, and providing Late Night Library with a platform for encouraging literary activism through its monologues. In the coming months, we’ll be discussing U.S. v. Apple and the future of book publishing. Guests include Joseph Regal (CEO of Zola Books), Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords), and Lorin Stein (editor of the Paris Review). We’ll be initiating a six-month campaign to support indie books and indie authors, and we’ll be asking readers, writers, and publishers to get involved—not with dollars and cents, but advocacy and activism. It all begins on October 15th when I speak with Tin House’s very own Rob Spillman. In the meantime, I encourage your readers to join the Indie Bound community, purchase books online directly from independent publishers and bookstores.
Thanks for this opportunity to talk about Late Night Library. I’m excited to hear Leni Zumas read at the Angry Pigeon tonight, with a special guest introduction from Alexis Smith, author of Glaciers!
Paul Martone is a fiction writer and the Executive Director of Late Night Library. His writing appears in The Saranac Review, The Stickman Review, Fiddlehead, Water~Stone Review, Reed Magazine (2010 John Steinbeck Award Finalist), and The Skanner. An excerpt from Martone’s novel-in-progress was selected as a finalist for Glimmer Train’s June, 2011 short story award.
Jack Mahaffy grew up in the place that you did and lives in the place that you do with the sort of people and animals that you love.