Andrew Blackwell and David Rothenberg read from works
By Alison Rooney
In just four years, quite a roster of esteemed novelists, poets, and essayists have found their way to Cold Spring to bring their words, spoken aloud, to those aficionados of all things literary who regularly attend the Sunset Reading Series, presented quarterly at the Chapel Restoration. This Sunday, Andrew Blackwell, author of Visit Sunny Chernobyl, will join them, as he reads from his book, a paean to the ruined-by-man places of the world. Joining Blackwell will be Cold Spring musician, professor, author David Rothenberg, who will be reading from a recent work.
These writers haven’t found their way here by accident. The trail of literary breadcrumbs which have led them to these parts was begun by Philipstown’s Ivy Meeropol and Bekah Tighe, documentary film-maker and baker, respectively, by trade, and avid readers by nature. They first came up with the notion of the readings out of a love for the Chapel Restoration itself, wanting to draw visitors in to appreciate the beauty of the 1833-built Greek Revival church (now ecumenical.) Now the writers they lure are amongst the Chapel’s biggest fans, many describing their reading as the favorite of the many they’ve each done.
With four years under their belts, what started, and continues, as a labor of love for both women, now comes a bit more easily to them. “It’s a well-oiled machine on the day now,” says Tighe, “We don’t get nervous anymore.” There are four readings each season, generally in May, June, September and October. An attempt is made to mix it up with different genres, and to include local literary talent as well. It helps when the writer has just published a book, as the surrounding press helps publicize the event, and the majority of the audience won’t have read it yet, so the reading has a freshness to it. Writers who are vivid “performers” of their work are also sought out. Past writer/readers have included poets Marie Howe, Matthea Harvey, Jeffrey Yang, Edwin Torres, Thomas Lux and Amber Tamblyn; fiction writers Monica Youn, Sam Lipsyte, Mary Gaitskill, David Hollander, Scott Spencer, Aimee Bender and Valerie Martin; and nonfiction writers/essayists Sam Anderson, JoAnn Beard and Nick Flynn. Local writers who have been spotlighted include Gwendolyn Bounds, Frank Ortega, Max Watman, Erika Wood and poet Jeffrey McDaniel, a three-time series veteran.
Outreach to the authors is sometimes made directly, through personal connections, while at other times it’s a matter of, “We really like this book — let’s try and get this,” describes Meeropol, and inquiries are made through literary agents. The latter was the case with Andrew Blackwell. Seeking a nonfiction author this time around, Meeropol and Tighe were intrigued by the themes of his work. As Tighe notes, “Visiting toxic waste sites is the opposite of eco-tourism. His position is that since we are polluting, we should embrace and find something interesting there.” Meeropol adds, “He also has a personal voice. It’s kind of a travelogue memoir and his voice is very much a part of it.” On the Visit Sunny Chernobyl website the book is describes as follows: “Blackwell embraces a different kind of travel: pollution tourism. From the hidden bars and convenience stores of a radioactive wilderness to the sacred but reeking waters of India’s most fetid river, Visit Sunny Chernobyl is a love letter to the world’s most ruined environments, mixing satire, analysis, and good, old-fashioned storytelling to make the case that we have to start appreciating our planet as it is—not as we wish it to be.”
The first fall reading will take place on Sept. 9, and feature short story writer Kevin Moffett, whose book Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events was released earlier this year. Praise from author Richard Russo followed: “The first thing you notice reading the stories … is the author’s extraordinary range–of expertise, technique, imagination and wit. There doesn’t seem to be much Kevin Moffett can’t do.” Also reading will be Moffett’s wife, Corinna Vallianatos, whose short story collection, My Escapee won the 2011 Grace Paley prize in short fiction.
Meeropol and Tighe promise that their fifth anniversary season will bring “some big names.” Their goal is to have the entire season set in advance so that the audience, many of whom are regulars attending every reading, can plan well ahead. They have already settled upon Sept. 29 as the “Save The Date” Saturday for a big fundraiser, replete with door prizes, games, signed copies of books and more, with specifics to be found as they are finalized, on the website.
For now, it’s back to the business of literature, and this weekend’s reading, which, as with all of the Sunset Series events, is free, (with free parking practically at the door in the form of the Metro-North lot), begins at 4 p.m. and will be followed by wine and cheese on the banks of the Hudson.
In summing up, Meeropol says that “although it’s a lot of work, it’s also really gratifying. It started because we both loved The Chapel so much and it feels good that The Chapel is being used well.” Tighe pipes in, “Our kind of church.” For more information visit sunsetreadings.org and visit sunnychernobyl.com.