The first time I read my work in front of an audience, I knew something had changed. The piece evolved as it left my lips, transforming the frisson I’d felt at the writing table into a brief but visceral tether with others. Listening to authors read their works, I understand the real invitation: to connect across private, deeply personal expression in a public space.
“As with a concert, or a play, or an opening, you’d come to experience art,” said Julia Kudravetz, one of the organizers of The Bridge PAI’s reading series. “But again, there’s that group energy that can’t be discounted—hearing a piece performed out loud can be totally different than on the page.”
The series, which hosts monthly readings by local and well-known non-local authors of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, aims to build literary connections across a number of boundaries.
A writer herself, Kudravetz (who received her MFA from the Johns Hopkins writing seminars) partnered with poet Amie Whittemore, who received her MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, to create a live experience in a social and non-commercial environment, to encourage word lovers to engage with writing and each other without an overly academic emphasis.
“The location allows us to draw on the energy of Downtown while also bringing in graduate students from UVA,” Whittemore said.
This month’s reading promises the best of many worlds. Co-sponsored by The Virginia Quarterly Review, in special collaboration with the UVA Contemporary Poetry & Poetics Working Group, Friday’s event will feature widely published poets Brian Teare, a former NEA Fellow and assistant professor at Temple University, and James Thomas Miller, who teaches creative writing at the University of Toledo, as well as short story writer and novelist Elliott Holt, recently named one of Time’s “21 Female Authors You Should be Reading.”
The Pushcart Prize-winning Holt described how a community of kindred spirits encouraged her evolution to full-time creative. The VQR contributor began writing fiction as a very young girl, but her father’s suggestion that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a copywriter stuck with her. “At age 8 I got it into my head that I could write ads to pay the bills and write on the side,” she said, “And that’s exactly what I did.”
After stints with agencies in Moscow, London, Amsterdam, and New York, she applied to the MFA program at Brooklyn College. “As soon as I started [my program], I felt like I was with my people,” she said. “I didn’t quit my full-time job right away, but as I was starting to get published, I thought ‘O.K., I’m never going to make it just writing,’ but I felt secure enough to freelance.”
Now the author, who edits manuscripts and teaches when she can, finds inspiration in “the absurdities of advertising speak” as well as her childhood in D.C. The “political machine” informed many ideas in her first novel, You Are One of Them. “You can’t grow up here and not be aware of the way people are constructed and presented. Politicians focus group their personalities,” she said. “I love reading and writing stories about the secrets we keep, the tension between the self we reveal and the self we hide.”
But more than anything else, “language itself really excites me,” said the author. “Writing that has some sort of crackle below the surface….There’s a kind of fire in it.”
Hear Elliott Holt, Brian Teare, and James Miller read from their work at 7pm on Friday at the Bridge PAI.