Sherman Alexie does it again

A funny interaction brought me to Hugo House last night for the reading called “72 Hours.” I teach once a week at Hugo House with an amazing writer and friend Aaron Counts.

I was at Hugo when snappy dresser and Development & Volunteer Coordinator Kate Lebo said, “Oh Karen, are you coming to see the “72 Hours” reading with Sherman Alexie?”

Karen: Oh yeah, that’s coming up, definitely! I’m a huge Sherman Alexie fan.

Kate: Well, you can’t because it’s sold out.

Karen: Oh.

Kate: But you can come volunteer and watch it with us from the live feed in the cabaret.

Karen: Cool. (I work my limited vocabulary like a mule.)

So last night I sat by a door clearly marked “Exit Only” and the one time that someone tried to enter this door, I looked at him, pointed to the sign and said, “Sorry… exit only.” And when he looked at me and said, “Oh, I guess I could have just read the sign,” I said, “That’s why I’m here… so you don’t have to read the sign.”

Another hard night of volunteering for the community under my belt.

Some folks didn’t show up to claim their comps, so we got to sit in the theatre and watch the show featuring T.M. McNally, Pam Houston, Sherman Alexie and songs by Devin Sullivan. The show was called “72 Hours” because each performer was given a hotel room at the W and 72 hours to write a new work/works on a particular theme with a list of secret ingredients.

The Theme: Do Not Disturb

The Ingredients:

1. A character trait: giggles when angry
2. A location: a flooded basement
3. A plot point: a phone call from an ex-lover
4. A line of dialogue: �Are we there yet?�
5. A rhetorical element: metaphor containing �cafeteria�

Devin’s songs and ukulele playing were charming. It added a lot to the night. T.M. McNally read first. Clearly, he is a talented writer. He has published four books and he has a clever use of language and made challenging use of the secret ingredients. Honestly, I just couldn’t stay with him. I know that not everyone likes performance poetry, but all writers who plan to read in public could take a page from our book. He read too fast with little emphasis and poor articulation and I just couldn’t hang. Other people seemed to be with him, so maybe I was just sleepy.

The next reader was Pam Houston. As we say in the spoken word scene…WHAT? I haven’t been this excited about a new fiction writer since I found Miranda July’s recent book of short stories. Pam Houston was moving so rapidly between funny, tender, engaging and descriptive that I felt like someone was repositioning my head for half an hour. “Look left, now right, okay look up, now down.” She is a masterful writer and a delight on stage.

Finally, there was Sherman. Let me gush for a minute. Last night was the fifth time I’ve seen Sherman read in maybe seven years. After the first few readings, I wouldn’t have called myself a die hard fan. But, after his last reading at town hall in Seattle last year, I stood up and said, “that’s it. He’s the best.” I spend my time with the best performance poets in the country and can say with some authority that he is one of the finest. His honesty, charm and power on stage tranforms his writing into ceremony.

Last night he read four poems he wrote while in the hotel room. I admit there was a thrill to being the first audience to hear these new works. The first poem he read was alright, I don’t think Sherman is at his best when he is rhyming. The second was good, but the last two were astounding. He takes me right out of the theatre when he reads. Listening to great poetry might be the closest I ever come to astral projection. There is a reason people fight for tickets to see him read and it has nothing to do with his fame. He changes the atoms in a room around when he is on stage. He works magic.

There was a fantastic party with food by Brian McGuigan’s wife (I’m so sorry I don’t remember your name, but your pulled pork is from another planet!) and music by the wildly talented Paul Rucker.

If you haven’t read Sherman Alexie’s Young Adult book (winner of the National Book Award,) “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” you should.Right away.Now.

The next event in the Hugo House literary series features my BFFL Christa Bell!! Seattle, we gotta go give Christa some love when she reads at Town Hall on March 21.

3 responses to this post.

  1. I’m so glad you didn’t have to astral project yourself into the theater! The video feed was cool, but there’s nothing like being 15 feet away from the writer as he/she blows your freakin’ mind.

    When all was said and done after 72 Hours, I wanted to go sit in a room and think for another 24. I mean, I know that writing is my lifeblood, but nights like Friday that knowledge just blew the back of my head out.

    TM McNally: “Any lover knows that possession is only one part of the law.”

    Pam Houston: “That’s why men shouldn’t be afraid when women talk about them…”

    Sherman Alexie: “I can’t save you from the rain.”

    Thanks for volunteering.



  2. Posted by Big Al on February 19, 2009 at 2:57 am

    Oh, I love Pam Houston! I can’t believe I missed her, but you are one lucky gal to have heard her read.


  3. Jealous!


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