For the crowd that loves to hang on “This American Life,” to read Sunday newspapers, to wish Cringe had a home here, there’s good news — Atlanta has its own informal non-fiction reading series. You just have to say it with a dramatic, movie trailer voice: “True Story!”
The series was started by two pals, Dionne Irving, a creative writing student at Georgia State University, and Kate Sweeney, a writer/teacher/radio producer. In its first month, nearly 50 people showed up to see three readers share artifacts from their pasts and pieces of non-fiction writing, whether narrative, journalistic, essay, letter or poem. It matters only that it’s true.
The momentum kept up through the second reading by Dionne, Tom Bell of Decatur Book Festival fame and former AJCEr Kay Powell. Kavarna was packed, despite sharing a city and time slot with Neil Gaiman.
This month’s edition will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and will feature readings by Jamie Allen, Jim May and Hugh Sheehy.
What amazes the co-founders is how quickly people latched onto the series. Maybe it’s because it’s an inexpensive night out, that they’ve drawn on writers who are pretty well known locally or that Kavarna is such a bright, cozy space that people are happy to have a story with their beer and coffee. Perhaps people like seeing relics of others’ private pasts, or to feel like adults for a few hours without the element of snootiness.
Maybe, as the creators surmise, Atlanta was just ready for this.
Kate explains how it got started…
Dionne and I get together for coffee at Kavarna once a week. It was originally to write and now we just hang out and talk, because that’s what happens on writing dates. I had just gotten my MFA from University of North Carolina Wilimington and I wanted to reconnect with Atlanta whatever nonfiction reading series was here. I was really shocked to find out there wasn’t one. Dionne said ‘OK, so when are we going to do this?’
Dionne explains how it turned out…
Journalists, poets, fiction writers, creative nonfiction; they bring their own take to it. It’s like a literary rock concert. You’re going to laugh, cry, cheer a little. We’ve had suburban housewives from Dunwoody and then the bike messenger.
Kate explains why it works…
It doesn’t feel threatening or academic. It’s almost as if people were ready for this. They hear about it and say ‘Oh, good!’ It’s a run reading series. I think people prize being entertained. We’re there to show people a good time, we prize quality writing.
Kate and Dionne explain the embarrassing artifact/true story combo…
Kate: You don’t have to talk about an embarrassing artifact. People bring in embarrassing things. (A few examples: old diaries, a high school argument fought via note, a driver’s license photo, a home movie, a favorite sweater from high school, featuring a barn and a deer.)
Dionne: People get really engaged. You’re invited into their world a tiny bit. It eliminates that distance between writer on stage and the audience looking up.
Kate: Once you’ve broken the ice, they’re willing to go with you no matter where you’re going to go. There are stereotypes out there of the academic poetry reading. This is another element. It’s not about the removed writer behind the podium.
Dionne: We don’t even have a podium.
Kate: We kind of need a podium.
Want to go? True Story! Reading Series. 8 p.m. Feb. 22. Free. Kavarna Bar & Coffeeshop, 707 East Lake Dr., Decatur. True Story! on Facebook.
For instant updates, follow @insideaccess on Twitter.