Warren Slesinger

The Big Power of Short Stories

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Beaufort plays host to another cultural first this weekend – the first annual Short Story America Festival.  You get to hear the award-winning stories from the anthology Short Story America 1 and 2 read aloud – sometimes by fans like me and other times by the authors themselves. Like Ron Tucker has done for the Beaufort International Film Festival, Tim Johnston and his army of volunteers have managed to get many of the authors themselves to come from around the country to share their work. So if you love the Q&A with filmmakers and screenwriters you met at BIFF, here’s your chance to talk to some of the country’s best short story writers. They’re even going to play a short film from BIFF during intermission Saturday evening, the wonderfully scary “Beast”, which I’m betting started out as a short story.

I’ll admit – I’m not a long-time devotee of short stories; I’m more of a recent convert. What converted me were the short stories my poet friends got me reading – Mary Alice Monroe, Rosario Castellanos and Etgar Keret and the like. I began to see how much the literary form has in common with poetry – the concision, the layering of meaning and the musicality of carefully chosen words. So it came as no big surprise to realize that the poet Warren Slesinger (USCB students might know him as professor Slesinger, others as the publisher of Bench Press and the guy he first published, Ron Rash) is also a great short story writer. The stories I’ve heard him read at Otram Slabess gatherings are like mirrors of his heart – they cut right to what pauses him, what haunts him. They are elegant and wistful and they say more in a few pages than some of the great big long mighty famous novels of late did (I’m talking to you – Roberto Bolano and the practically 2666 days of misery you put me through)

You can hear Warren read his work “Box of Light” at an 11am session on Saturday at USCB and “Once Again and Then” during the second half of the evening session of readings. The other must-see event, in my opinion, is Natalie Daise’s reading of Guy Tirondola’s “Israel’s Pig.” Great, I just realized the award winning actress (she’s way more than Gullah Gullah Island, in case you’re in a time warp, Natalie’s latest artistic triumph is her one-woman show as Harriet Tubman) reads right before I do. Talk about a hard act to follow. Luckily, I’ll be reading a great story by a very talented New England writer who unfortunately can’t come – Michele Coppola. I won’t give it away, but anyone who’s ever loved a dog, or a man, will feel this one in the gut.

So – to come – the best deal is to go online and “register” for an all-events pass. IT’s easy…just click this . For $35 you get to go to a reception Friday night in the Old Bay Marketplace Loft where authors will sign copies of Short Story America, plus free entrance to the writing seminars Saturday morning and the readings. Here’s a good wrapup of the schedule from the literary champions at Low Country Weekly. I’m hoping Tim and the writers get a big turnout so the festival stays where it started, right here, instead of moving on to bigger cities.

Eat Soft Shell Crabs, then come listen to poetry

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April is National Poetry month so this Saturday Otram Slabess will be staging our annual outdoor poetry reading at the Charles St. Gallery. I know, I know, there’s a lot going on in Beaufort this weekend. All the more reason to take a time-out at three in the afternoon and let the metered words of some wonderful writers soothe your hurried soul. Trust me, standing in line for an hour for an over-priced soft shell crab in Port Royal will make you crave a glass of wine, a chair, and the artistic shade of Lyals and Georgia’s gallery garden.

Before we open up the microphone, each Otram Slabess member (founders Warren Slesinger and Quitman Marshall, plus Steve Johnson, Jacquelyn Markham, Karen Peluso and me) will read a piece they’ve written, and one by a poet from the larger universe. I don’t know which I’m looking forward to more – my fellow writers are so accomplished and lyrical and entertaining that I joined the group just to hear their works in progress every month. I don’t even write poetry, but I love how these part-time teachers, publishers, parents and artists tangle with thoughts and words and even commas. They don’t make a living off of their poems (oh unjust world) but poetry is what grounds and inspires them. To listen to them read their own work is an invitation to see the world as they do. To hear them read their muses is an interior window and just as revealing.  

I’m going to be reading a poem by Starkey Flythe, an award-winning South Carolina poet who spoke at a meeting of the Poetry Society of SC in Beaufort this February which Warren and Quitman hosted and arranged. He’s a brilliant and funny octogenarian; he advised the poets in attendance to have their portraits taken while they are young and said that education is meant to bore children to death at great expense. I find his poems as charming as he is, yet for the workshop he had us read poems about defacing graves and wrestling angels. His point was that poetry is more than rhymes of love and odes to azaleas. He encourages writers to tackle not the grand but the intimate.

Which is why I love the annual Otram Slabess poetry reading at the Charles St. Galley. It’s intimate. In Lyal’s garden you are close enough to jasmine to get drunk on it, you sit near enough to your neighbors to see what poems make them smile or cry or both at the same time.

To get you in the mood for Saturday, I highly recommend subscribing to a free email/facebook/twitter offering by Knopf Poetry. Every day in April, and we still have a few, they’ll send you a wonderful poem by known or emerging star in the world of poetry. You can friend or follow them, or try the e:mail address that appears in my mailbox everyday:


See you Saturday!