I got home from the Boston Book Festival around 7:30 last night, and frankly, I was pooped. After nine glorious hours of readings, chatting, perusing and venturing into the churches of Boston, my brain was abuzz with all I wanted to write about: How Steve Almond has once again won my heart and those of my friends? The woman who read last at the Guided Open Mic and killed it? The Web of Relationships panel discussion about how Twitter and Facebook are (or aren’t) being incorporated into contemporary literature? Instead, I didn’t write about anything. You’re welcome.
Today, after a little bit of rest, I’m a little bit clearer-headed. So here’s a nugget on my favorite event from the festival (Spoiler Alert: There’s a giveaway at the end!):
Steve Almond knows what he’s talking about.
I’ve heard from some that he’s abrasive, that his choice of language seems only to involve choosing the crudest option. True, he’s not for everybody, but (also true) those that are “for everybody” aren’t being honest. Almond loves writing in all of its stages: idea, creation, critique, sharing, second-guessing. After each writer read their three to five minute excerpt, Almond rushed to the podium to share his initial reactions. Generous and smart, Almond didn’t miss a beat.
Some of my favorites of his advice: Avoid abstraction when speaking idealistically. If you’re nervous as shit during a reading say, “Fuck. I’m nervous as shit” (expletives optional). In non-fiction, run toward the shame; write about what you don’t want others to know, because that’s all they’re interested in knowing.
He’s funny: After equating one of his minor critiques to moving the cherry on a sundae over a centimeter he quipped, “That’s a bad metaphor. Don’t use metaphors.” Addressing a spoken word poet who might have seemed out of place in the predominantly prose environment, Almond said, “You’re young and fearless. Fuck you.”
He’s no comedian, but he knows how to talk to a crowd. Like his writing, he’s got boldness and wit. He went beyond giving his thoughts on our writing, offering his thoughts on the art of reading your own writing in front of a crowd: Don’t act like the crowd’s not there. He told us to engage our audience in real life as much as we strive to in our writing, and he showed us exactly how it’s done.
There was a big turnout for this event, so not everyone got to read (including yours truly, wah wahh). Instead, Almond promised to organize an open mic at Grub Street for the rest of us, so I’m looking forward to that, even if just to see him in action again.
To celebrate how much Shane and I love Steve Almond, we’re giving away one of his recently self-published (thanks to Harvard Bookstore’s Paige M. Gutenborg) books: This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey, a collection of short essays on writing and super short fiction. Almond is as honest and concise as he is in person and warns: “I’m describing the sort of prose I dig. There are plenty of other sensibilities out there, less bossy and abject. But I come to stories in the naked hope they will fuck me up. I want people at the end of their ropes. It’s far too late in the history of our species for sophisticated poses.” (From essay #13, “I Don’t Want Your Stinkin’ Ideas,” italics his own.)
If you want this kickass collection for both non-fiction and fiction addicts alike, simply leave us a comment on an author you’ve seen in person and what the experience was like. Never been to a reading? (WTF is wrong with you?) No worries, just tell us an author you’re dying – or mildly in pain – to see. We’ll pick a winner at random in two weeks.