Live Lit! evolves each semester, but the core idea, the beating heart – professors sharing their writing with the rest of the MSU community, most notably the students – is brilliant.
I read for Live Lit! last fall, and again last month, and both times I found the experience to be both energizing and daunting. Reading one’s work aloud is like nothing else a writer does. (Maybe that’s why not every writer does it.) It takes what we’ve done in one medium, and transforms it into another. Words on a page – one’s own words on a page – become performance. Poetry, non-fiction, fiction… they’re (usually) not written to be read aloud. Rather, the voices of the author and her characters are meant to come alive inside the reader’s head. Writing a story and sending it out into the world on wobbly calf-legs is an act of purest trust – and utter abandonment.In one sense, maybe reading our own writing aloud before a large audience of colleagues and students could be a way to retain control of our voices.
Not every writer is a performer. As I told one audience when I emceed the presentation of two other professor/authors, we tend to keep our writers cloistered in stuffy basements and attics, so when we let them out to read aloud, no one should be surprised to see them blinking in the glare of public light.
Writers who do readings in different venues know that each event is different and each audience is different. Furthermore, each reading, I have found, brings to the author a new perspective on his own piece.
The best reason for going through it is the interaction between the writer and the audience. A great thing about Live Lit!, of course, is that most of the audience is attending a live reading for the first time. But more importantly, students come to realize that literature isn’t an endless supply of poems and stories that teachers trot out to annoy and delight their students in English classes. It is all around them. It springs from the minds of people they know, and, when perspiration meets inspiration, it can spring forth from their minds too. It breathes.
The Q&A after each Live Lit! performance is revelatory. “How did you think of that?” “Where do your ideas come from?” “Why did the hero do what she did?”
And it’s not all open-mouthed wonder. It’s also, “Didn’t you think you might offend somebody with this?” And, “Why would you make the character do something awful like that?” And, “W-wait a minute! Is your character… YOU?”
My students now look at me differently, and they look at the creative act of writing differently. From their written commentary after listening to two of us read:
- “It was a completely new experience for me.”
- “If I was reading my own work I’d be going crazy, I’d act out my parts and live out the scenes!”
- “It was different seeing the writer versus the teacher we know.”
- “Now I can use their way of thinking when I write to make my writing and thinking … stronger.”
- “This author is a male and wrote his story from a woman’s perspective…. I was intrigued.”
- “He had a voice when reading his work, it had a sense of pride. It kept me [involved] because his voice was real, it portrayed the character in a way that was dreamlike.”
- “The fictions were raw and in-depth, and made the audience uncomfortable and at the same time like they were given the privilege of being included in such a topic. That to me is the perfect combination…”
- “Live Lit! was an excellent experience for me. I really enjoyed listening to the professors read their own original stories, and it was a nice way to see what their passions for work were.”
- “Rather than reading a book in class, I preferred to hear the author of the book read to the audience because we were able to ask them questions about their writing process, what inspired them, and other questions that we wanted to know. To hear the story told with the tone the author imagined originally was very nice. I was drawn into both authors’ stories and I wanted to keep hearing more.”
- “I was very privileged to attend the Live Lit!”
To which I can only respond, long live Live Lit!