You hesitate a little to write about the Gist Street Reading Series, or even to tell people about it: The monthly literary event, held as it is in the friendly confines of sculptor James Simon's Uptown studio, is invariably sold out, listeners packed shoulder-to-shoulder clutching plates of food and chilled beverages. But this week seems to be the unofficial start of the spring arts season, and there's so much going on in town that a heads-up to literary enthusiasts seems fair warning.
Intimate, informal and hospitable all at once on even its worst night, on Fri., March 4, Gist Street organizers Sherrie Flick, Nancy Krygowski and Rick Schweikert offer in exchange for your $3 donation not its usual two writers reading but three, and each of the exceptionally notable variety.
Poet Rick Hilles has published work in national magazines including Harper's, The Nation and the New Republic; ask him to read his multi-part "Flashlight Stories," a catalogue of spotlit memories that begins: "The women in this family play pinochle, /
smoke, toss back salted nuts with the dregs / of their drinks. Ethel, Gladys, Esther, / Vesta, Effie -- names you can't imagine / anyone being named again." Hilles, who teaches at the University of Michigan, has also written from the perspectives of the Austrian painter Egon Schiele and Catherine Blake, wife and artistic collaborator of William Blake.
A little closer to home, upstate New York native Nancy Reisman set her debut novel, The First Desire (Pantheon), in Buffalo. Reisman, who also teaches at U of Michigan, earned glowing reviews for Desire from the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post Book World, with adjectives including "gorgeous," "mesmerizing" and "luminous."
"Like a clothesline of whites / Colored hands couldn't reach, / a thousand souls crossed / promised air and the screen glowed / like something we were supposed / to respect & fear." In "Slow Fade to Black," poet Thomas Sayers Ellis interprets life at the movies from the point of view of an audience of young African Americans. But at Gist Street you can catch the widely published Cleveland-based writer and teacher live and in person. Ellis's new book, The Maverick Room, is forthcoming from Gray Wolf Press, and you can buy it here, along with work by Hilles and Reisman -- assuming you can get in the door.