A Spotlight on the Emerging Writers Reading Series
The Emerging Writers Reading Series is run by NYU's Creative Writing MFA program. Each semester, about once a month, a featured headliner reads alongside graduate students at KGB Bar in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This year, the Emerging Writers Reading Series has hosted Joshua Jennifer Espinoza, Anna Noyes, Erika L. Sánchez, Julia Elliott, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Carmen Maria Machado, and on April 20th they'll host Jenny Johnson for the last reading of the semester. As an homage to KGB's speakeasy atmosphere, we decided to go behind the scenes and talk to the coordinators of the reading series to uncover more of its history and learn how it continues to bring writers together.
Could you tell me a bit about how the Emerging Writers Reading Series got started? Has it changed since the beginning?
Joanna Yas, Readings and Special Programs Manager: Deborah Landau founded our KGB series when she started directing the program in 2007. For the first few years, students and the headliner had dinner in the workshop room of the Writers House (instead of a restaurant), but otherwise the format is the same.
What drew the series to KGB?
Joanna Yas: Deborah had been curating the Monday night poetry series there, and loved the place. (Coincidentally, though not surprisingly, since it's such a literary hub, I had curated a series there for many years for Open City--the journal and press I used to edit.) KGB has long history as a venue for great readings, and such a unique atmosphere. I love how our student curators have adopted the Soviet-era language in their readings announcements (referring to fellow students as comrades, etc). I like that you can show up there almost any evening around 7pm and there will be some kind of reading going on (though sometimes people don't know that and are very surprised when they're hanging out at the bar and all of a sudden they're in the middle of an event). The staff there are great and very good to us (special shoutout to our longtime Friday bartender extraordinaire Louie Miller).
How are headliners chosen?
Joanna Yas: The student curators and I meet at the beginning of the school year and discuss their ideas. We like to host people who haven't read for us recently--either at the Writers House or KGB--and writers we think students will especially enjoy meeting and hearing from. We talk about their work and their reading style. The only requirement is that the author have at least one book published prior to the reading, but we don't necessarily time the readings around their publication dates as some series do. I encourage the curators to think of the people they'd most like to host; since we've had such great luck over the years getting wonderful writers to read for us, it makes sense to approach their favorites first.
What is your favorite thing about being a coordinator for the Emerging Writers series?
Annabel Graham, Fiction Coordinator: The best part for me is the social aspect. Our MFA program is, unfortunately, pretty divided when it comes to fiction and poetry--there really isn't a lot of opportunity for the two genres to intermingle--but being a KGB coordinator, I've had the opportunity to spend time (and have wonderful, intimate dinner conversations) with several poets in the program that I might not have gotten to know otherwise. It's also a great joy to finally meet (and dine with) writers who I've admired for years--and to be introduced to the work of the headlining writers my fellow coordinators have invited. It's such a fun, loving atmosphere and I'm grateful to be a small cog in the machine of promoting my fellow students' work! There's a palpable energy and excitement in the air at each reading we host.
Mallory Imler Powell, Poetry Coordinator: It's such a joy to hold space for fellow writers--it feels like a small way to contribute to our community. For many of our NYU comrades, it's their first reading in New York or maybe even their first reading ever, and that energy is so exciting. And, of course, it's great fun to email your favorite non-NYU writers and ask them to come hang out, have dinner, and read their work with you. I also appreciate that, through my fellow KGB coordinators, I've been introduced to writers, especially of fiction, with whom I wasn't previously familiar.
Also, about 50% of my undergraduate degree was focused on the Cold War, so running a reading series in a Soviet-themed bar seems appropriate. I think my mentor would be proud.
Kyle Lopez, Poetry Coordinator: My favorite thing about being a poetry coordinator for the series is getting to introduce other people to writers I--and the other coordinators--respect so much! I feel a lot of pride any time someone tells me that they hadn’t previously heard of ‘x writer’ and now can’t wait to buy their book after hearing them at KGB.
Hannah Gilham, Fiction Coordinator: I really love the nights when I get to host KGB. Choosing and corresponding with an author you admire is so exciting, and then it is such an honor to introduce their work to your friends and peers. I also really enjoy the informal dinner beforehand. Over sangria and delicious food, my favorite writers have discussed everything from astrology and true crime, to women-directed horror movies and the scholarly concerns of fairy tales. So great!
If you could get any writer to read at KGB, who would it be?
Kyle Lopez: The most difficult part of coordinating the series is choosing just a couple writers to feature when there are so many we’d love to have come read at KGB. One writer I think would be great to feature is Aja Monet. Her latest full-length, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, is such a moving, beautiful read. She came up through slam, so she’s also an outstanding live performer.
What has your favorite reading been so far?
Annabel Graham: Honestly, all of our readings this year have been phenomenal-- but I was beyond thrilled to host my dear friend (and No Tokens Journal colleague) Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, the author of the novel: Harmless Like You. Rowan lives in the UK, so I wasn't certain she'd be able to make it, but thankfully it worked out that she'd be in New York anyway that week for some meetings. It was so nice to host someone I already knew--it took some of the anxiety and pressure out of hosting, and made the dinner much more fun--not to mention that Rowan was generous, kind and an incredible reader. I believe she even made some friends at dinner! I'm such a big fan of her as a writer and as a human, so it kind of just made my heart explode (in a good way) to be able to introduce her and her brilliant work to my cohort.
Mallory Imler Powell: I can't chose a favorite reading, but I can tell you what I love about all the KGB NYU readings: 1. They're one of the few spaces in the NYU Creative Writing Program where poets and fiction writers intermingle creatively and get to hear each other's work. 2. The readings are, without fail, a total lovefest. So incredibly supportive, so attentive, so graciously attended. It's amazing to look out at that room when it's crowded beyond legal limit with people who love the readers and can't wait to hear from them. I always cry. When student readers are nervous, I say: Don't worry! This is your family! The good kind of family. Chosen family.
And there's always something wrong with the podium lamp or mic or both. I find the consistency charming.
Join us for our last Emerging Writers Reading of the semester on April 20th, where Jenny Johnson will be headlining.