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.
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.
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
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Thank you. I’ll sit down now and give someone else the floor.