Secluded September at EW
Four Toronto-based authors kicked off September’s edition of the Emerging Writer’s Reading Series with references to sentimental bears and professional wrestling. The reading, which takes place on the second Tuesday of every month at Duffy’s Tavern, was a nice primer for Toronto’s busy literary launch season, featuring a diverse selection of up-and-coming writers who give off the sense that they’re on the cusp of being more than a blip on the radar. The September 9th edition featured short fiction by Julia Chan and Josh Edgar, and poetry by Jason Freure and Claire Caldwell.
The EW Reading Series, founded in January 2012, is dedicated to showcasing talent by Canadian authors who have not yet published a major book. To keep things more dynamic, EW does not book repeat readers, leaving room for new voices. Founder, organizer, and curator Jess Taylor, herself a young emerging writer, is a warm but efficient presence at EW events. Reading Taylor’s recent essay in the Summer Issue of The Puritan sheds some light on her motivations and goals for the reading series: “[T]here are a few people who, as soon as they realize you don’t have a book published or look at your face and label you as ‘young,’ disengage and go talk to someone more established.” This is an experience that will seem familiar to writers trying to establish themselves within the community early on in their careers. Taylor goes on to insist that even when one is not ‘new’ to the scene anymore, literary events and launches can still feel like a place of disconnect.
A self-decreed “fun place to hang out with other artistic minds,” the EW Reading Series shirks what it sees as typically high-pressure, highfalutin conventions in literary event management. The series is adeptly organized by someone who is obviously used to attending literary events of many styles and stripes. On-stage readers are encouraged to keep small talk (and awkward run-on anecdotes) to a minimum, and there is an appreciated halftime break for smoking, boozing, and mingling. This, in part, keeps noise, disruption, and fidgeting to a minimum, yet it was immediately evident that soft-spoken Julia Chan’s short story, which can be read in the latest issue of The Rusty Toque, required lowering the music in the bar upstairs.
Next up was poet and Puritan staff writer Jason Freure, whose theatrical style required no straining of the ears. Freure performed his poems, which tackled the strangeness of domestic living with wit and humour, with his gesticulations as much as his voice. The level of audience engagement was akin to watching a slam performance of poems with double lives on and off the page.
Following the coveted mid-reading break, poet and 2013 winner of the Malahat Review’s Long Poem Prize Claire Caldwell took the stage to read from her forthcoming debut collection Invasive Species. Caldwell had the comfortable demeanor of a seasoned reader, delivering her poems with clarity and unadorned charm. Her suite of ‘bear’ poems—strikingly sentimental and quirky poems featuring those orsine omnivores—was the perfect closer, with audience members oscillating between laughter and silent absorption.
The final reader of the night, Josh Edgar, was met with thunderous applause, having obviously filled half the room with supporters. As he jumped into his short story, the reason behind Edgar’s popularity became evident: his prose is energetic, managing to straddle hilarious and touching. Edgar’s story follows a group of elementary school boys with a profound love of professional, WWE-style wrestling. Beginning with a cute premise, Edgar is able to wield his humour effectively, engaging with themes of enforced masculinity and familial bonds, while keeping the mood light. As someone with difficulty following large chunks of prose when read out loud, I was with Edgar from the very first moment, as was the rest of the audience, who remained markedly jovial long after Edgar finished reading.
Despite the fact that all Pay What You Can money goes to the readers, anyone willing to contribute even the humblest of donations also received a beautiful copy of Dragnet Anthology 1, a collection of some of the best writing from the now-defunct online literary journal’s first eight issues. The anthology was a great pairing, as it featured the work of several past EW readers. For an event titled ‘Secluded September,’ the entire evening felt inclusive instead, proof that talent can be young but well-curated, and an event can be low brow but high quality.
Check out next month’s installment of The EW Reading Series on Tuesday October 14th at Duffy’s Tavern!