Tuesday was the premiere evening of Houston's latest reading series, Slinging Ink. Presented by DiverseWorks and hosted at Big Star Bar, the event features four writers who have submitted pieces of fiction, nonfiction and any riff in between that address a certain theme. Initial selections are made by a blind panel and a final winner is determined by the strength of audience applause to go home with a cash prize of $100. It's like a gladiatorial deathmatch, but of words.
The theme for last night's round was "I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and Heaven knows I'm miserable now." A strong crowd was present for the debut, and a respectfully quiet one at that. Houston is a literary town, with quite a few reading series established already. Poison Pen occupies Poison Girl on the last Thursday of the month and Bootown's Grown-up Storytime hits Rudyard's on the third Tuesday. Both are rowdier than Slinging Ink, at least for now, and Grown-up Storytime in particular is more focused on the drama of the reading.
"Slinging Ink is more about the audience participation," said DiverseWorks Artist Board Member Hank Hancock. "Writing is an open field, it's not just for particular students or professionals. It's about throwing the gates open. A public space as a space for writing."
Not a whisper could be heard in the crowd as the four writers -- John Wayne Comunale, Wanda Harding, Dean Liscum and John Pleuker -- covered topics from computer programming in the late '80s to a first day on the job at a convenience store. The wintry smell of the firepits in back had permeated the room. Liscum gave an account of the personalities gathered around a particular conference room table while Harding addressed mid-twenties depression in an ill-fitting work environment. Pleuker's essay had the most experimental form, sprinkling Spanish, lyric repetition and good-humored expletives into his tale of academic research.
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Before Comunale took the stage as the final writer of the night, his bearded friend and supporter leaned over and said, "You'll probably want a drink for this." It was indeed the most spirited reading, his convenience store tale complete with character voices.
After an intermission and a fair amount of longnecks for the audience, the award was given to Comunale, which points to the importance of the performance aspect as much as it does the writing. Laughs always seem to go over best at these events.
Look for the stories of the three runners-up to appear on the DiverseWorks blog early next year, when a second winner will be chosen through online voting. When Slinging Ink picks back up in 2012, the theme will be "Babysitting for fun and profit" and anyone is welcome to submit online as early as the end of this week.