Living Room host Safiya Martinez
and poet Hollie Hardy
I’m talking as personal as gathering in somebody’s living room to hear the work of artists ranging from musician Ed Ntiri to playwright Nick Pappas. Friday night’s Living Room Reading Series was warm and inspirational, with a lineup rounded out by the incredible Cave Canem fellow Arisa White and Don Menn, writer and professor at my alma mater, San Francisco State University. The talent was awe-inspiring, reminding me that this is one of my favorite reading series. It takes place in the home of poet/artist Truong Tran, who, along with hosts Safiya Martinez and Anhvu Buchanan, warmly greets everyone who attends. They feature seasoned performers as well as fresh voices, and there’s nothing like settling in to listen to the readers while the new friend who just poured your wine squeezes in on the carpet beside you. On Friday night we heard queer words, words from people of color, from characters who are overweight, and more. You can’t find this everywhere you go – a welcoming space where all can come as they are, and expect to be appreciated. It’s really a treasure.
And there was more bounty to be found in the city last night. My friend and much admired poet Hollie Hardy was featured at Brainwash Café’s weekly Ink Reviewed open mic. The friendly hosts encourage anyone who wants to sign up and take to the mic with poetry, comedy, music or whatever else they’d like to fit into the time slot. Hollie’s words created a night of their own, and adding to them were performers including Literary Death Match host M.G. Martin, Oakland poet Mocha, who brought words from the East Bay with her poetry on her experiences as a young black legally blind woman, and yours truly.
I get really nervous any time I’m set to read in public, but at Brainwash I felt remarkably comfortable. Beyond having folks in the audience I knew and loved, I’m trying to figure out what made it feel so welcoming. I think it’s important to know – what makes events like the Living Room Reading Series and Brainwash’s open mic so welcoming that they successfully push past tokenism to create a space that embraces true diversity? Here are a few of the things I’ve noticed so far:
- Alcohol – So it’s not a requirement, and you can certainly have a welcoming space that’s sober, but one way to welcome people is to put the scent of wine in the air and watch the poets come. If nobody comes, add more wine. And maybe some beer. Then trust me. The poets will come.
- Food – Even if it’s as limited as a little bread to help soak up the alcohol, providing something to munch on adds to comfort and conversation.
- Smiles – No, really. This point relates to having warm hosts and an open audience. A new poet venturing to read may have trouble finding faces that look like hers, but if she finds smiling faces, she’s one step closer to feeling comfortable.