In keeping with the ancient Latinos' god, Janus,January is a month of assessment--looking back, and planning--looking forward. This week brings a handful of exemplar fotos of writers reading their work in 2014, together with considerations for readings this year.
Reading your stuff aloud is a bit like public speaking--it's an activity many people dread, even fear. Given an audience, some writers relish the opportunity while others struggle to get through it.
Audiences hear the difference between a considered reading and an apprehensive reading. Since the norm trends to the latter, when a reader expends energy to plan the reading and executes the plan, audiences sit up, take notice, and buy books.
Audiences are forgiving of poor readings but this doesn't justify a poor reading. Writers need to respect their art and convey that through voice, gesture, selection, and thoughtful interpretation. Practice the reading. Use video and confront yourself. Practice in front of someone who loves you because they will tell you if your reading sucks.
This series of fotos illustrate how successful readers handle their manuscript, occupy the speaking stage, and personalize their presentation through whole body gesture and eye contact.
Xánath Caraza elects to use the lectern to position the texts she's going to read from. When she reads she picks up the volume and holds it in one hand, allowing the other to gesture. Caraza's experience has led her to memorize most of the poems she selects. She uses the book only as a reference tool and keeps herself directly involved with her audience.
When a reader stands behind a lectern or stand, it's useful to emulate Caraza's skill at gesturing high enough to be seen from any seat in the house.
Kimberly Cobain carries a note card manuscript. The lectern beguiles many a speaker and they use it as home base, even when, as in Cobain's reading, their text is portable and could be carried with her when she approaches her audience.
Planted behind a stand like this, and gesturing at waist height blocks the effort from audiences to the speaker's right. When readers practice bringing their gestures up they say it "feels strange." Maybe so, but audiences don't know how it feels, and they appreciate the enhancement that attends effective gestures.
Luis J. Rodriguez plans to read from several of his books. He carries them all with him and stands in the open floor, no lectern to block his body from the audience. Rodriguez, too, knows by heart the works he selects. His familiarity lets him expend a full measure of emotion and clarity to his expression and words.
Rodriguez'performance mastery developed over years of meeting audiences. Novice readers will want to observe highly skilled performances and copy one or two techniques. If it works, keep it.
Authors might consider printing their pieces in large size text on a card or sheet of stiff cardboard, adding ample white space to guide the eyes during a reading. Fold the typescript into the book to keep the marketing advantage of flashing that book cover, but ease the reading process.
Eddy Bello-Sandoval reads from a typescript in a binder. Bello channels lots of energy into her reading, making contact with the script but frequently moving away from one spot and using the performance space to advantage.
Gloria Enedina Alvarez uses an increasingly popular tool, a telephone display screen. The ability to magnify text and swipe pages makes this a useful manuscript solution. Alvarez holds the device at a comfortable reading distance that permits excellent eye contact and personalization with her audience.
The future of telephony and data portability might bring readings where the phone projects the text onto a nearby wall, expanding the interactivity of the performance. Perhaps a poet will use an earplug to listen to the text and echo aloud the words, hands free and full of the confidence of a reader working from memory, like Eric "Praxis" Contreras.
These portraits reflect a continuing project to take what I call the perfect public speaker foto. The speaker will be engaged, eyes and mouth open, animated facial expression, arms, body all reflecting an attitude. That's the bare minimum. From that base, the photograph will express something important and distinctive about the speaker and the occasion.
Radio on the Internet: Bloguera Lydia Gil Interview
Houston Public Media's Eric Ladau conducts an interview with Lydia Gil, who shares La Bloga's Thursday column with Ernest Hogan's Chicanonautica.
Gil talks about food, visitas, lifestyle contrasts, the gente that inform her middle school chapter book, Letters From Heaven/Cartas del Cielo. Gil reads from a selection of pages that illustrate interviewer Ladau's enjoyment of the book.
The interview is in English while the book is bilingual. Flip it over, it's a second language.
Visit Arte Publico Press' website for details on Letters/Cartas. To hear the Houston Public Media interview with Lydia, click here.