By Rebecca Spence, Arts Editor
As the lights began to dim, guests’ attention turned away from their micro-brewed beers and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and towards the makeshift stage set up in the cozy Allan Street apartment. A sign made out of patterned fabrics and strings of twinkling white Christmas lights decorated the wall behind an empty chair. Soon enough, six writers would occupy not only that chair, but also the complete attention of about 50 people packed into the living room. From a theatrical performance from Nate Crawford, the director of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia, to a poem delivered by Ben Gallagher, who just sailed across the Gulf of Maine, the Allan Street Reading Series featured a variety of creative expression.
It is inspiring to learn that all of this started with Dalhousie graduate Jenner Berger. The 23-year-old began hosting these gatherings monthly back in March when she was taking creative writing classes and working for a publisher. Having met a lot of writers who were willing to share their work with her, she hoped to be able to share that work with others.
The Sept. 29 reading was special because it doubled as a CKDU fundraiser. It was also the first reading to incorporate a theme. Called “Open Letters,” it aimed to emphasize the importance of the art of correspondence.
“By the time this month came I was feeling a detachment from my city, from writing, from people in general,” says Berger, who finished her degree in English and Creative Writing in August. “Open Letters is about getting in touch with each other.”
One of the event’s highlights was a show and tell performance from Lindsay Stewart, a visual artist whose primary medium is mail. She shared her most profound mail experiences, from trading teen magazines with her pen pal from England when she was 12 years old, to starting up a mail club at her high school in grade nine. The NSCAD student keeps all of her mail in a multitude of boxes at home. “My letters are my most cherished possessions,” she says. “I would never give them away or sell them for an infinite amount of dollars. I love them.”
Alison Creba, the founder of City Mail, a free postal service, also shared her essay about letter writing. She spoke of letters as “narrative artifacts” that helped great writers such as Jack Kerouac practice their craft of spontaneous prose. She spoke about how reading old letters transforms the way we see ourselves, and it allows us to play biographer. “We have come to write our own histories,” she says earnestly.
A mailbox was set up in the kitchen for anybody who wanted to write a letter postage-free. Guests could also sign up to be part of a “Mail Swap”, in which one sends and receives an anonymous package within the group. In this case, you were supposed to send something that inspires creativity such as a piece of writing or a photograph.
Ben Gallagher had never attended or performed at the Allan Street Reading Series before, but he found that the event’s theme helped draw links between the diverse styles of literature. “The works start to speak to each other and it’s pretty beautiful,” he says.
There were a lot of first-timers at last week’s reading, and Berger hopes that they will continue to come back and show their support. She assumes that the idea of being in someone’s home, sitting on their couch, looking at their bookshelves, would help people feel comfortable. “I feel like we have a nice space for it,” she says. “When you go to a reading at a bar I find it doesn’t always fill up and the emptiness can be nerve-wracking.”
Overall, the hostess couldn’t be more pleased with the way the night turned out. “Everyone was so courteous and quiet, and you could really feel that there was something people were appreciating,” she says as she calmly takes a sip of her Strongbow cider. “It was really nice.”