Literary interactions through professor performances


Jeff LamsonGeneral Assignment Reporter

Forty or more people crammed into the English department’s common room, leaving some
to stand on the perimeters of the room all there to hear the work of professor Rachel Furey and Jason
Labbe.

Furey provided the short stories and Labbe provided the poetry to mixed audience of
students, faculty and more. Tim Parrish who organized the event and other readings like this
since 1995 said that it was important for the writers to enjoy the event.

“But primarily,” he said, “do the people who come enjoy and do they get something out
of it.”

Parrish said that he likes these readings to be an engaging and invigorating experience in
which people are made to interact with literature and the presentation of literature. He said he
likes for the performer and community to interact, and compared it to a live music show at a
small venue.

“Community is really big with me,” he said. “I just like getting people in the same room
to have a shared experience.”

Furey said that she likes the opportunity to share her work, which in this case was an
unpublished short story called “CPR.” She said doing a reading helps her learn if people are
connecting with the material and the questions can lead to a new way to look at the work.

This, her first reading as a staff member, served as a welcoming event for Furey who
took started working at Southern in fall 2016.

She said that approaching the reading was a bit nerve wracking but she hoped people
could connect and find something humorous in the story. Having a number of darker stories in
her catalogue, Furey said that she wanted to avoid that for this reading.

“It’s a Friday night,” she said, “so I’m hoping they’ll feel at least a little bit entertained,
that maybe they’ll go into the story world and forget about the other things that may be
happening in the greater world for a little bit.”

She did get the reaction that she said she wanted on Friday night. People laughed and
were smiling with the roughly 25-minute reading through its entirety connecting with the
awkward main character in middle school.

Labbe also worked a lot of humor into his readings. He read poems from his catalogue
while promoting his new book, “Spleen Elegy,” which was for sale at the event. While his
material itself was more serious in nature, he worked humor into his introductions of certain
pieces of work.

His last poem, “The Truth About Hartford,” came from not really understanding Hartford
at all. Other pieces included imagery involving motorcycles and one about his mother which is a
relationship he described as, “not happy.”

Parrish said that he typically tries to get both a poet and prose writer for these events to
broaden the audience and that the readers are rarely both Southern staff.

Upcoming on March 5 is a reading by Kathryn Miles, author of “Quakeland.” Parrish said
that he’s able to get writer’s that would normally be expensive because they like him and they
know that Southern is a cool place.

The writers know that Southern has great audiences of receptive students who are not
jaded like some at Yale might be. They’re excited to present to middle and working class
students here Parrish said.

“That’s exciting for any writer,” Parrish said, “You’re presenting to people who haven’t
been to a lot of reading, maybe never been to a reading, kind of opening a door to them.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Lamson

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