Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A fabulous reading in the C. Walsh Theater at Suffolk University last night to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Graywolf Press. The day of celebration began earlier, though, with a conversation with press director Fiona McCrae, moderated by Cat Parnell. Fiona had some great things to say about the mission of the press to seek out and nurture unique voices that big publishing houses normally overlook (she asked us all to help her think of a good way of saying "commercially challenged"). It was also fascinating to hear about her experiences in the world of publishing (working on Ishiguro's Remains of the Day while a young editor in London), the editing process (she mentioned "nine-hour editing sessions" with a couple of the fiction writers at the reading), and the details of how she not only keeps a non-profit press afloat but also moves it forward.

The reading began at 7pm. Stephen Burt kicked things off with a lively reading of poems from his collection Parallel Play, as well as a stirring and very funny ode "To Subarus." Linda Gregg invoked the names of her teachers, Roberts Duncan and Creeley, as spiritual presences, and Raymond Carver also entered this space with a poem that Gregg remarked he liked, "And if you know anything about Ray you will understand why he liked it." (The poem is "Lies and Longing" in her new and selected, All of It Singing.) Askold Melnyczuk read the opening pages of his novel The House of Widows, which returns again and again to lies, news, betrayal, war, in a captivating first-person narrative. Friend and Suffolk colleague Fred Marchant read the beautiful "triptych" poem, "The Custody of the Eyes " from his latest collection, The Looking House. Salvatore Scibona offered us gorgeous, dense sentences from his novel The End, in a passage about the main character's encounter with the devil as ice-cream vendor at 1950s-era Niagara Falls. To bring the night to a close, Jeffrey Yang entranced the audience with the quiet cadences of poems from An Aquarium. A wonderful, wonderful event.