In celebration of Black History Month, Natashia Déon is the featured artist for the latest installment of Write to Read. But what exactly is Write to Read? How did one graduate student create a reading series that attracts not only his peers, but members of the Southern California community?
It was the middle of Matt Goldman’s first semester at Chapman University when he experienced the redemptive power of performative verse. In 2018, Celebrated poet Carolyn Forché visited the Aspects of a Writer class, which all incoming MFA in Creative Writing students take together. Forché’s reading that day liberated poetry from the boundaries of the page—and it stayed with Goldman, percolating in his mind.
A year later, it was Goldman’s turn to read his work aloud to an audience. “I picked the most risqué thing I have ever written, sharing one of my worst memories and coming out as bisexual in the process,” Goldman says, recalling a personal essay composed for and read aloud in Samantha Dunn’s memoir-writing class. Goldman felt empowered by the experience: “l fell in love with reading to an audience.” But there wasn’t a place for students to read their prose.
After guest-hosting the podcast Writer’s Block and completing an independent study in literary citizenship, Goldman finally gained the confidence—and made the time—to create such a venue for prose writers in the area.
Time is a precious commodity to Goldman, as it is for most MFA students writing their way to a thesis project. Chapman’s gregarious graduate student is among the busiest people you’ll ever meet. Whether he’s teaching a course in Rhetoric and Composition to Chapman’s first-year students, editing the international graduate literary journal Anastamos, or volunteering at Orange High School, judging poetry contests, or working on his MFA coursework and thesis, Goldman accepts and dispatches his responsibilities. Goldman is someone to emulate if you intend to make the most of your Chapman experience or any MFA experience anywhere else.
Assembling a team of other grad students—Allie Vernon, Ariel Banayan, and Marco Randazzo—Goldman chose Chapman Crafted Beer as the venue for the new reading series. MFA student Danielle Shorr helped him settle on a name, and Write to Read—a curated reading series connecting members of the local literary community—was born.
“Reading in front of an audience feels like such an important aspect of becoming a true writer,” Goldman says. It’s also a way for authors to sell their books, to network, and to create connections with other writers. And at a time when respect and funding for the arts dissolve like arctic permafrost, Write to Read contributes to a lively literary Orange County.
The series launched in June 2019, with an appearance by Dr. Sunita Puri. Puri read from her memoir, The Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour. The next event, in July, featured the work of writer and community activist, Patrick O’Neil. Gun, Needle, Spoon, O’Neil’s memoir, examined life on tour with punk rock luminaries the Dead Kennedys as well as the author’s darker days shooting heroin and robbing banks. Write to Read was a quick success. “The most rewarding thing for me was seeing the blend of people who attended the event,” Goldman says. While there were a lot of Chapman friends in attendance, at least half of the audience were people from the community whom I didn’t know.”
The new cohort of students from Chapman’s MFA in Creative Writing were on hand to read their work aloud when Write to Read convened in August. After readings by Professor Morgan Read-Davidson and Dr. Joanna Levin, Dr. Anna Leahy read from her book Tumor. Richard Bausch closed the August show with a selection from his newest collection, In the Weather of the World.
In September, MFA graduate Liz Harmer arrived at Chapman Crafted on the heels of her novel, The Amateurs. Harmer’s appearance “opened the door to touch on conversations surrounding climate change and the publication process,” Goldman says of the Q&A session that followed.
What is the process of becoming a featured reader? Goldman is specific: “You have to have a published book that we can sell, and it can’t be self-published.” But, for the first half of the night, Matt says, unpublished writers are encouraged to take the stage at every event.
Bruce Ferber, an executive producer of TV’s Home Improvement, read from his collection of essays, The Way We Work, at a recent installment of Write to Read. After Ferber’s appearance, Goldman is confident about the future: “I think there’s a lot more potential for Write to Read to impact the literary community around Orange. I’d like to branch out beyond Orange, too, and allow this event to be one among the great reading series in Southern California.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Write to Read, visit the event’s Facebook page here. Better yet, come to Chapman Crafted this Monday, February 17th at 7pm and see what it’s all about!