Sunday, January 29, 2012

Zenith City Writers Event Proves Rewarding

If I were only permitted to read the Duluth News Tribune one day a week, that day would be Thursday. As nearly anyone who follows the art scene here in the Northland knows, or ought to know, this is when The Wave appears, a section of the paper dedicated to music, the arts, theater, food and movies. Hats off to Christa Lawler and all the DNT staff responsible for helping the community be more aware of all the exciting events and happenings taking place here.

Last night's event at the Teatro Zuccone proved exceptionally rewarding, an event I would not have been aware of had it not be highlighted on the Best Bets page of this week's Wave. To some I s'pose it would have sounded boring, a gathering of writers reading from their work. But the essays, poems and stories were anything but boring and it was pleasing to see a nearly packed house.

The theme was New Beginnings and the lineup was comprised of Lucie Amundson, Gary Boelhower, Anthony Bukowski, Tom Isbell, Dennis Kempton, Christa Lawler, Paul Lundgren, Elizabeth Nordell, Ryan Vine and Andy Bennett, who played the role of host and Master of Ceremonies.

I arrived early as if going to a rock concert. The room was quiet and I found a spot that seemed suitable near the front. The Teatro Zuccone is a wonderfully intimate setting for music, drama and last night for writers reading their works. As eight o'clock approached the decibel level increased dramatically, a palpable, almost wild energy filling the air. Mind you, this was a group of people gathering to hear writers. Peering across the room one could see a most ecclectic audience, from college students to old fogeys like me.

Finally, Andy Bennett, director of development with the Renegade Theater Company, ran to the podium to welcome the crowd and kick off the evening. You knew we were in for a ride as he read an essay about his junior high school experience titled Fresh Start. His humorous prose captured all of us instantly, or was it the entertaining delivery? His insights into the educational caste system, from his own personal point of view, evidently resonated with a crescendo of applause acknowledging a good story.

The distinguished Anthony Bukowski was then introduced. Mr. Bukowski read a short story titled "The Maritime Trader" about a married couple named the Krummys. (Here's where readings like this fail one, because we hear a name like that and in the book it might be spelled a half dozen other ways. Suffice it to say, I chose to spell Lloyd and Verna Krummy's names with a K.) The story tied in with life in the Northland as it involved a man with a telescope and a wife who ran off with a deck hand on one of the ore boats that frequent our port. More applause.

Ryan Vine, whose many publication credits left my head spinning, read a piece called Rule Book. It was fun and whimsical with sideways themes, some quite thought provoking.

Elizabeth Nordell, a story teller who also teaches story telling, recited a story rather than reading it. Her animated delivery is practiced, and the manner in which she constructed the story was equally skilled. You could tell the audience liked her, and at this point I wondered if writers have to be performers as well in order to be appreciated. The answer to this question followed immediately.

Tom Isbell, professor of theatre at UMD, read a segment from his novel The Hatchery. His vivid crisp prose hit like a punch. Isbell's words, not his delivery, gave us pause. A strong piece that made for a good place to break for intermission.

After the break Lucie Amundson, a former editor at Family Handyman (among other places), began with a long entertaining introduction which included humorous descriptions of life in the suburbs. (To her relief "Competitive Lawn Maintenance" is not a major sport pursued in Duluth, where she now resides.) Amundson, who described herself as "a wordy pole dancer" mentioned having notified a few friends that she was going to read a story that included nudity. The incident involving nudity was indeed hilarious.

Gary Boelhower, a professor of theology and religious studies at the University of St. Scholastica, followed. Dr. Boelhower shared four short essays tangent to the theme, "In the beginning was the Word." One of the pieces was titled "First Song." The essay or prose poem detailed how the letters of the alphabet are first presented to us with such innocence, but as we mature we learn new words that begin with these letters. By the end he has recited countless lists of A-B-Cs invoking references to wars, battles and the many stains on our human history caused by man's inhumanity to man.

Dennis Kempton, founder of Ouevre magazine, shared an extremely personal memoir titled Red Chalk. The piece appears in his book of essays titled Distance. The story, powerfully written with its candid pain flowing across the surface, could not help but tear your heart. As I drove home later I wondered how many others were reminded of the recent news stories of the horrors committed at Penn State. Kempton is to be commended for his courage as he shared this experience of being young, powerless, tyrannized and abused.

Christa Lawler followed with a narrative she called The Duplex. Christa's delivery and clever use of language shows how finely honed her wit has become over the years she's been pouring out prose for the newspaper and other outlets sixteen hours a day.

The night ended on a high note with Paul Lundgren giving us a rundown of what grocery shopping means to a newly married man, beginning with those early memories of trips to the grocery store with mom through all the phases in between, culminating in the challenge of running an errand for your lovely spouse carrying a shopping list that may or may not correspond with the items you find at that final destination, the Super One.

All in all, the net-net here is that we have a lot of talent in this town, and if you ever see it listed again that a bunch of writers are convening to share their work, don't underestimate it. Cheap entertainment and culture have kissed.


Naomi said...

Thanks for writing this Ed.

ENNYMAN said...

Thank you, Naomi. And thanks for all you are doing for Duluth as well.