REVIEW: An Evening with David Sedaris

I’ve been told that evenings with David Sedaris are memorable and hilarious, and I’m excited to say that it’s true.

A woman from Michigan Radio introduced him with an anecdote about him calling into the station to make a donation, leaving everyone on the other line starstruck. It seemed that the same starstruck feeling echoed in the almost-full auditorium of Michigan Theater as he walked out in a long dress shirt, untucked and down to his calves, beneath a jacket that had seen some scissors. He modeled for us as a start to the evening before his anecdotal debut: a quick mention of a time when he called into another radio station, who told him that he sounded like Piglet.

His timing there must have been on purpose, because I and several others afterwards discussed not being able to get that out of our minds as he spoke for the next two hours. Nothing that he brought was content that I’ve read before, so it was nice to hear something new to me.

Sedaris brought a couple of short stories to read, sprinkling in small anecdotes and some selections of his latest diary collection, Theft by Finding — along with some from his upcoming second selection of diaries. After reading an essay simultaneously about mysterious dental pain and traveling to Japan, he brought up something that I’ve been wondering since first reading Me Talk Pretty One Day: he never wants to write about just one thing at a time. He has a way of associating seemingly very separate things in order to avoid writing about just one thing. “I wanted to write this essay about my tooth, but I also was thinking about my visit to Japan, and it just had to fit.” And in some magical Sedarisian way, it worked. He seems to have the life experience to associate anything.

Another story that he read was called “Active Shooter,” about him and his sister going to a shooting range because they’d never done it before. His sister was interested in learning how to handle a gun, specifically just in case she was about to be killed and her killer dropped his gun — much of the story hinged on his sister’s oddly particular foresight and thinking of the most specific instances. It followed their journey through a long class about how to handle guns and ended with the sister being praised for her skills, while the teacher consistently called David by the name of Mike. Both siblings left without feeling the need to shoot again.

My favorite diary entry that he read — which made me and several cry laughing — was one about trying to translate the English idiom about the pot calling the kettle black into French (directed toward his French teacher who called him a sadist), which turned out something like “That is like a pan…saying to a dark pan…’you are a pan.'” I instantly thought of all my foreign language experience trying to translate what was in my head directly, and how often it just doesn’t work.

One of the final bits that he read was “And While You’re Up There, Check My Prostate.” This essay explored international methods of dealing with road rage, many sayings translating clunkily but funnily to English from various European languages and dialects. I liked the general theme of translation-based disconnects that evening, and also appreciated their delivery. They were hilarious enough to make anybody laugh no matter their translation experience.

Following the reading and before the signing, he requested to bring the lights up for a Q&A session with the large audience. I loved seeing how appreciated he was to locals here, and figured it made sense with his wit and attention to social culture. The question I best remember was somebody asking him whether he still picked up garbage (mostly as a gesture to preserving the environment) — to which he responded, yes. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was the only one in the room who did that.

What I love about Sedaris’s writing is that it’s largely about the human condition, but also is so full of rich comedic timing and phrasing. It’s honest and fun, rarely distant, and always makes me wonder how much of it he’s actually experienced. Following the reading, I braved the long line to have him sign my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames and was delighted to find that he was just as funny and surprising on a conversational whim. I left Michigan Theater feeling ecstatic, especially after getting to meet him.

He’s returning in June to Ann Arbor, and I highly recommend going to see him read and speak! You’ll laugh and learn so much.

PREVIEW: An Evening with David Sedaris

A few years ago in my freshman year, right after I read Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris came to Ann Arbor. The following year, he returned. For various reasons I was unable to attend either event and decided to wait with hope until his next visit to try seeing him — and now that he’ll back in town this week, I can! I’m super excited to see one of my favorite humor writers speak about his work, craft, and hopefully life (about which he writes both satirically and honestly). I feel right to assume that this event will yield plenty of laughter and food for thought, mirroring his writing style. This will be my first time in his presence, which I have heard is entertaining and awesome. There are still some tickets left if you’d like to come celebrate the end of the semester with us!

Date: April 18th, 2018
Time: 7:30pm
Location: Michigan Theater

More info and featured image credit found here.

REVIEW: Student Poetry Reading

When I rushed from my 3-6 class in East Quad to the 6-8 poetry event in the Institute for Humanities, I was a little surprised to see so many people standing and sitting along the wall — all of the seats were taken. I hadn’t seen very much advertising for the event (and honestly didn’t know if the poetry community at UM stretched to this size). I sat alongside the wall with some professors and students, all of us celebrating the start of National Poetry Month together.

Laura Kasischke, a writer and professor of poetry in the Residential College, introduced the event with a Wyn Cooper poem, “Fun,” the foundation of which Sheryl Crow used for one of her popular songs. With that tidbit, Kasischke described Cooper as the richest poet without many people even knowing. Her opening was (from my memory) the only interpretive reading — the rest of the evening was all originals.

For the next hour and a half, several UM students read their own work. It was admirable to see that they came from such a range: while several were there for an RC poetry class and/or studying creative writing, some were on their way home from the School of Information or business students working on a project with poetry relating to anorexia. One of the last student readers even read from a published book of their own poetry. Regardless of student background, there was no poem by which I wasn’t impressed.

In fact…I was so enthralled in the poetry that I don’t remember many names or titles. Oops.

The first student read an ode that came from a poetry class assignment, followed by a few more students reading from the same course. I enjoyed this for the chance to see the hybridity of different poems coming from the same teaching and prompts. While this wasn’t necessarily required, most if not all readers prefaced their work with a little information about where and why they wrote it. Sometimes I’m more interested in the work standalone, but perhaps this gives another crucial layer to understanding the work, thus changing that opinion of mine.

I especially loved that most of the students read multiple poems — several read 2-3 pieces, though one student in particular read what seemed like 10. This was great as a chance to really get to know their style. I also participated, reading 3 pieces (one of which I hadn’t yet shared with the world beyond my own poetry professor).

The UM poetry community seems more niche and separate than it really is. When all of the students exhausted the pages they brought along, the event turned into a chance to chat among each other. I loved this unexpected element and upkeep in energy. For most of the poetry events I’ve attended and/or participated in, the poetry took up the entire time without very much time to debrief or get to know the other attendees/readers. This was where I realized that I had attended previous readings with these same incredible, young poets — further highlighting that community aspect.

It was a supportive space from start to finish, with applause turning into personalized encounters along the lines of “I really loved your poem about ____” shared among strangers. Poetry brought us all together that windy Wednesday evening and I hope to meet them again.

All of this is to say, there’s always room for more poets everywhere! I hope y’all visit some other poetry events. Even better, maybe try your hand at writing and/or sharing your poetry this month. I’d love to read and celebrate it.

PREVIEW: Student Poetry Reading

Happy National Poetry Month! If you’re looking for a way to kick off this excellent and literary-charged month, new to the poetry scene, or just happen to be around Thayer Street this Wednesday evening (tomorrow), come hang out and listen to some of your fellow students read poetry! This informal open-mic style event is free and open to anybody who would like to listen to and/or read their work. Slightly more information can be found here.

Date: Wednesday, April 4th
Time: 6-8pm
Location: Institute for the Humanities Lobby
(202 S. Thayer, across from MLB/North Quad)

REVIEW: Nell David & Franny Choi

On Friday night, the Helmut Stern Auditorium of UMMA was a small and cozy literary haven away from the museum’s After Hours event beginning upstairs. Though I attended alone, several Zell MFA friend groups and writer-enthusiasts (and probably writers themselves) around me gathered and giggled while we all waited for fiction writer Nell David* and poet Franny Choi to take the stage. The atmosphere was excited and comfortable.

In the tenth installment of its kind, two current MFA students emceed this year’s Webster Reading series. David was the first to read, and one of the emcees read her introduction: at an AWP conference in Washington, DC, the two strolled from table to table finding magazines in which David’s work was published. In each, her last name was different – a detail that interested me from the get-go of the evening. “At age 25, she was writing better fiction than people five years out of their MFA programs and didn’t give a damn about the name she put on it,” the emcee joked.

David, or [redacted] as they had also earlier joked, took the stage with the first few pages of a short story called “Joyce is Better Now.” The story was about a single mother whose son had just moved out for his first year of college, and how she fell in love with a doctor she had been seeing. While I’ve been paying more attention to poetry than fiction these days, I was still struck by her characters and how she moved through the piece. Characters, notably Joyce herself, were relatable yet given realistic and unique voices. I was reminded of life itself as they focused on small desires in a big world: two themes I noticed were those desires of finding honesty in already friendly relationships and being candid yet kind. Her reading style was confident and reserved, and I appreciated that she laughed at a funny line of her own. The excerpt she read gave us just enough information that we didn’t get the entire story, but wanted to know what happened next and how Joyce’s endeavors turned out.

Next was Choi, introduced by a different student (I think – or peer). He introduced her personality as a poet and commended her talents: “Saying that you’re a famous poet is like saying you’re a famous mushroom. Franny is the morel of poets.”

I’ve seen videos of Choi doing slam poetry a few years before, but this was a new experience. Slam poetry usually consists of some storytelling with sounds written to be heard on stage alongside movement, and I could sense those sounds echoing in her work within wordplay and patterns that I wouldn’t have expected. Sound aside, the images evoked were abundant and worked into one another while working together and alongside one another – stunning. She spoke with her hands and read so confidently, too, which also made me think of spoken word and slam poetry trends. Again, I was struck by the writing, especially as a poet myself.

Her first work that she read was from a collection about conducting a Turing Test on herself to see whether she’s actually a robot, though she read different poems thereafter (including one I’ve seen recently, “On the Night of the Election”). Before reading “You’re So Paranoid,” she noted that she’d never read it aloud before, and took a short pause before starting. That small moment was so beautiful, and I wondered whether she was considering the best way to read it, or whether she was capturing the moment for herself and the poem. Another intriguing piece she read was partially in response to the conversation about allowing neo-nazis speak on campus and a video wherein Richard Spencer used an image of her face, “The Cyborg Watches a Video of a Neo-Nazi Saying Her Name.” I liked how she bookended her reading, ending with a piece called (and reading the title in a voice that reminded me of an AI voice) “So, How Do You Like Working with Humans?”

Something that I appreciated about her reading lineup was that she interspersed poems about the aforementioned collection with others unrelated to it, but still managed to flow from one to the next cohesively. It was well-rounded and full of incredible work.

There was lots of writer’s confidence in the auditorium that evening, which extended to me, and for which I was grateful. I encourage y’all to read and support these talented writers as well as those who share the community here in Ann Arbor and beyond – or at least attend an MFA reading at some point.

*I wanted to include links to Nell David’s work in this review, but had some trouble finding her online and would appreciate any located links in the comments!

PREVIEW: Nell David & Franny Choi

As part of the Mark Webster Reading Series (affiliated with the Helen Zell MFA Writing program of UM and its second-year students), fiction writer Nell David and poet Franny Choi will be sharing a stage and reading their own selected works. David is a writer from Washington, DC. Choi is a published poet and editor of Hyphen, a literary magazine. This event is free and open to the public.

The series is praised for being a warm and relaxed setting full of literary energy. As a creative writing student and poet myself, I’m really excited to attend!

Date: March 16th, 2018
Time: 7-8pm
Location: UMMA Helmut Stern Auditorium