Drunken! Careening! Writers! The Liveliest Reading Series in NYC
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because poetry can be more interesting when it’s drunken and careening. So can plays, novels and speeches.
By Jim Knipfel
Part of a weeklong series on poems and poets, sounds and sense.
Back in the late-’90s, New York–based playwright Kathleen Warnock was the assistant director of a reading series called The Writer’s Voice. Curating a series like that taught her a thing or two about what goes into making a good reading.
“Even a great writer really shouldn’t read for over 45 minutes,” she says. “And you can pack a night with far too many readers. And people need to read their own work well.” She adds, maybe surprisingly, maybe not, to come prepared: Warnock says more writers than you’d think show up and ask for a copy of their book. After leaving The Writer’s Voice in the early 2000s, Warnock, a charming and funny woman, found she missed hanging out with other writers like that, so she decided to kick-start her own series. Even all those years ago, KGB — a small, shadowy and musty Soviet-themed East Village bar — was one of the few places left in town still devoted to offering nightly readings from across a vast literary landscape. Warnock knew owner Denis Woychuk, and so made a pitch. Her aptly named Drunken! Careening! Writers! reading series was born in 2004, and it’s run at KGB on the third Thursday of every month ever since.
Warnock calls some theme nights “silly and awesome” — like Writers Named Steve.
“Basically, it was created in order for me to hang out with writers I love,” Warnock admits. As for the name: stolen. Warnock loved the recaps on the (late) TelevisionWithoutPity website, and in one, she says, the writer described the camerawork as “Drunken! Careening! Cameramen!” “I was just putting the series together, and it was perfect,” Warnock says. She asked author Linda Holmes, now editor of NPR’s pop-culture blog Monkey See, for permission, and it was a go. Each monthly D!C!W! event usually consists of three or four readers who may or may not, on the surface anyway, have anything in common, and sometimes the less obvious the connection, the more interesting the results.
“I don’t discriminate by genre,” Warnock says. She mixes and matches with an eye for fit, often choosing writers whose work she’s read or those recommended by other D!C!W! veterans. Bob Smith has recommended “several great people,” she says, as has Carol Rosenfeld and Kaylie Jones. (The last two, it should be noted, have since named characters in recent books after Warnock.) In and amongst the regular events, each year also finds Warnock organizing scattered theme nights. From the start, December’s reading has always focused on lesbian erotica. April being National Poetry month, she makes a point of bringing in the poets. (This coming Thursday, April 21, features playwright Johnna Adams and poets Dan Meltz and KC Trommer.) But there have been some unexpected themes as well.
Warnock calls some theme nights “silly and awesome” — like Writers Named Steve. One of her favorite readings ever: Come to Jesus Speech, which featured writers who were raised in fundamentalist Christian homes. “The longer I’ve done the series, the more I’ve developed a feel for matching writers, regardless of genre, by voice and style. And invariably a theme emerges within the evening, sometimes surprising. It makes me so happy that I get to do this series.”
Warnock insists she has no plans to stop.
- Jim Knipfel, Jim Knipfel is the author of 10 books and thousands upon thousands of articles about most anything you like. He’s also blind, which means his other senses have been honed to almost superhuman levels, save for those dulled flat by years of chain smoking, alcohol abuse, and punk rock. The Green Bay, Wisconsin, native lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife.Contact Jim Knipfel