The Iowa Review annual Fall Reading took place at Prairie Lights Monday night.
I arrived fifteen minutes early and was alarmed at the amount of open chairs, since I had been put in charge of the publicity and poster-making blitz. Thankfully, by the time Russell went up to the podium to get the ball rolling, the chairs were all filled and people even had to sit on the floor in the back. I think that qualifies as a full house, if I do say so myself.
Like I said, Russell began the night by reading us his editor’s note from the August issue, a clever treasure map of winks and nudges about what can be found hiding between the covers. He challenged the audience to guess if any of his clues matched with any of the work they would soon hear. Next up, the lovely Emily Liebowitz read from her unexpected prisoner pen pal St. James Harris Wood’s cover letter detailing his life in a California correctional facility with a cell mate who “claims that where he comes from women are driven sexually wild by pot bellys” (his spelling, not mine).
Fittingly enough, the next reader gave some insight into part of Russell’s editor’s note: “…the gaps, the enormous embarrassing gaps of sense we patch up in the end the best we can. With physical therapy, brackets, tearful humor. A strawberry.” The “strawberry” is a reference to Benjamin Percy’s darkly funny short story “The Rubber-band Gun,” published in our August issue. Percy gave an impressive reading complete with a deep, drawling twang for his narrator, and trapped the audience in an uncomfortable but entertaining middle ground between laughing and grimacing.
Sara Gilmore read her translation of an excerpt from Antonio Gamoneda’s poetry Descriptión de la mentira, also published in the August issue. The reading was made even more beautiful by the inclusion of a section read in the original Spanish. It was nice to test how much of my high school Spanish class had stayed with me, although, sadly, it wasn’t much. Thankfully, I didn’t need fluency to appreciate the music of the language both in Spanish and English.
Steve McNutt finished off the night with his non-fiction essay “SUV vs. Bike: SUV Wins” from the April issue. He even brought a visual aid: his neck brace from the accident in which he was the bike rider. McNutt has a wonderful sense of humor, and even though it was a serious accident, his witty account and hilarious one-liners get me belly laughing every time I read or hear them. At first there was polite silence among other audience members as they may not have realized that McNutt didn’t want pity for his misfortunes, but for everyone to share a mutual laugh at the unexpected complications of life. Eventually his deadpan delivery and multiple references to the 1980 Scott Baio after-school special Stoned gave everyone the giggles despite themselves.
It was a good night, a good turnout, and some good fun. Thanks to everyone who stopped by, and those who didn’t, never fear. We would love to provide you with your very own copy of the new issue so you can fill the ravenous curiosity these tantalizing tidbits have given you. As one audience member who shall remain unnamed commented to us afterwards: “You know how readings are usually boring? That one wasn’t!” When we reported this assessment to McNutt, his comment was: “‘Not boring’—that does bring a tear to the eye.”