Reading in Public

I stand in front of an audience clutching my stories in my shaking hands. My voice trembles in sympathy. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no, reading in public always has that effect on me.

It’s expected these days that writers will be performers, and wear cool glasses, designer hemp and hold the audience spellbound. Okay, slight exaggeration. None of the eight writers who read at Beth Yahp’s Literary Gathering yesterday at the Randwick Literary Institute wore designer hemp.

But effervescent Alison Lyssa did captivate us by acting out single-handedly a section of her work in progress. Her play Pinball is currently playing as part of the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival.

Writer Cassie Plate reading to a captivated audience

Writer Cassie Plate reading to a captivated audience

And writer and ABC Radio broadcaster, Cassi Plate, delivered a mesmerising and, as you’d expect, extremely professional excerpt from her new work, Monster & Colossus.

So where does that leave people like me, who would prefer to expose themselves in the South Pole than read their personal writing in public? I’d probably shake less in Antarctica.

Why do we put ourselves through that agony?

Here’s why I do it.

• Readings introduce my work to a wider range of readers, but I also meet other writers in my community.

• There’s something exciting about being part of a long oral tradition.

• So much of writing and revision is done in solitude that a public reading gives me the immediate feedback of watching how my work affects others.

• Rosario Morales agrees, or rather I agree with her, when she says the public response to her poetry and fiction feeds her urge to keep writing. The excitement of seeing people applaud, cry, react to her words is far different than the pleasure of seeing the work in print.

• I read my work aloud during the writing, but the readings allow me to hear how the pieces sound, to test them out. It’s not just the reaction and response of the audience, but hearing it read that’s valuable.

So there I was yesterday having a mini earthquake in the beautiful old art deco building that is The Randwick Literary Institute, and thinking how incredibly lucky we were to have a place like this for the literary gathering. It must be one of the last remaining public community spaces in the area.

The Randwick Literary Institute

The Randwick Literary Institute

Yesterday I learned there’s a big question mark about how long it will continue.

This grand old building was built by the community over 100 years ago from funds raised by the community. In 2002 it was sold for $1 – yes, that’s not a misprint – to the government for on-going protection under the Crown Lands Act. Except the land has now been rezoned residential.

Over Christmas the hardworking and passionate manager Marian McIntosh had her services unexpectedly terminated, and the building has been placed under an Administrator (who also happens to be a currently practicing real estate agent).

Although there have apparently been assurances from Council that the RLI is in “no danger”, an evaluator has recently made a visit.

The community is desperate to know what is happening behind the scenes, in order to help safeguard a rare community asset.

If you can help by writing to voice your concern about the future plans for the Randwick Literary Institute a whole community would be very grateful.

You can write to:

The Hon. Katrina Hodgkinson, MP


The Hon. Andrew Stoner, MP
Level 30, Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrar Place

Thank you. I’ll sit down now and give someone else the floor.

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13 Responses to Reading in Public

  1. anne says:

    Oh, Karen, I just love this piece. I was there shaking with you … and laughing about the South Pole.
    And, you’re so right about sharing your work with others.
    Thanks for a lovely start to my day. 🙂

    • I’m very pleased my post gave you a lovely start to the day, Anne. I hope it continues in just the same manner.

      • anne says:

        Unfortunately the RLI problem is common to what’s happening right now across our State. This State Govt is more interested in raising monies from wherever they can. And when you think about it, an Arts based Institute houses thinkers. Now that could be a problem! Developers on the other hand … Hopefully, though RLI will be saved because they are a strong group and have a loud voice and might just be lucky. Fingers crossed.

      • Good point, Anne. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when the government wants to raise money the area deemed most dispensable is the Arts. The RLI provides space for dance, theatre, art, music, literary events and festivals. It’s a vital and vibrant community asset, and governments need to be reminded their main purpose is to provide services to the community.

  2. That’s really sad to hear that this gorgeous old building might be no more. Lovely to hear it’s still being used for events like your (albeit terrifying) public readings and hopefully there’ll be many more to come.

  3. It’s always sad when buildings go.. sometimes it’s needed but much too often it’s just out of routine (and once it’s really decided, the lacking maintenance have made the decision an necessity) Reading in public would scare me too.. I have as a compromise added my poetry through the service of soundcloud. I just use my smartphone to record and add it to the blog.

  4. Giggling at your earthquake and South Pole reading shakes (although I kind of know how they feel; and am only *just* getting comfortable performing to our Writers’ Circle of 13 every fortnight!) but then saddened to hear that such a lovely building is under threat. Hope it all works out.

    • It’s good we can get a laugh out of our silly fears, Joanna. I can get up and read other people’s work without the slightest tremor, but when it’s mine…
      I hope it works out for the RLI, too. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. Great post Karen, if places like the RLI go and one wonders why anyone would consider taking this of the community, you may well have only the Antarctica to perform any readings.

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