Monday, Jan. 22
Doors open 6:30 p.m., reading at 7
Kim Coleman Foote, Evie Shockley, Bud Smith, Nancy Star
Red Eye Cafe, 94 Walnut St.
By GWEN OREL
A lot of authors live in and around Montclair.
Watchung Booksellers regularly has author events, and the Montclair Public Library holds the Open Book/Open Mind series, in which authors interview authors.
The Write Group, a writers support group, has hundreds of members. Last year, the Montclair Literary Festival debuted.
But before Halfway There began three years ago, the town lacked a reading series.
So Apryl Lee and Nicole Haroutunian began a series, which would present a panel of writers, established and emerging, four times a year.
Halfway There has partnered with the Montclair Art Museum and The Creativity Caravan to host readings and will present a panel at the Montclair Literary Festival again this year.
In Monday’s reading, all four authors have a New Jersey connection.
Lee and Haroutunian met while getting their MFA degrees at Sarah Lawrence. And, Lee said, Haroutunian had noticed that while there were plenty of reading series in Manhattan and Brooklyn, there wasn’t anything in New Jersey.
So they started one. It’s not an open mic; writers are invited. And while there are books for sale afterward, selling books isn’t the goal of the evening. Each writer reads for 15 minutes, then comes back afterward to answer questions.
The name of the series comes from the Bon Jovi song “Living on a Prayer,” Lee said with a laugh. “We’re sort of halfway to New York City, and emerging authors are sort of halfway there to reaching their goal.”
And of course, Jon Bon Jovi is a New Jersey native, like Lee and Haroutunian.
The series is free, and the women finance it themselves. The cafe is reconfigured for the events, with tables pushed to the wall, and can seat 35 to 50. Some people always stand, Lee said. And the questions are always smart. “When I was in graduate school we read a short story by Alice Elliott Dark,” Lee said. “We talked about it, and it’s a story that always stuck with me, ‘In the Gloaming.’ When we started this, Halfway There got an email saying: ‘That’s great that you’re starting this, Montclair really needed a free reading series like this.’ And it was signed ‘A.E. Dark.’ And I was, ‘Thanks, A.E. Dark.’ And then, it must have been eight months later, and ‘Oh my goodness, she’s here! And she’s totally been here too!’”
Then it clicked. They asked her to read at a future event, and she did. To be a graduate student reading her work, then hosting her at a series was a “writerly dream.”
In Monday’s reading:
• Kim Coleman Foote is an emerging writer, originally from New Jersey. She is the recipient of a 2015 NYFA Fellowship in fiction and a 2014 NEA Literature Fellowship. Her work has appeared in numerous journals.
• Evie Shockley is the author of “the new black,” for which she won the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and the recently released “semiautomatic” (Wesleyan, 2017), among other collections of poetry. She is an associate professor of English at Rutgers University.
• Bud Smith is a New Jersey writer. He works heavy construction and is the author of “F250,” “Calm Face” and “Dust Bunny City,” among others. His memoir, “Work,” was release in October and is a portrait of his years working construction and its connection to writing.
• Nancy Star is a Montclair author with five novels to her credit, including her most recent, “Sisters One, Two, Three.” Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Money and Family Circle.