More than 60 people (“….we must have great audiences.”) showed up at the Old Court last night for part one of City Stories, produced by the Image Theater crew. If you can make it to part two tonight at 8 pm, do yourself a favor and go. I was honored to be among a group of outstanding writers who presented their work on stage very effectively. It was a theater-produced event, after all, so the expectation for high quality delivery was built in. The line-up included Jerry Bisantz, Ann Garvin, June Bowser-Barrett, Dave Daniel, David Sullivan, Judith Dickerman-Nelson, Kate Bisantz, Stephan Anstey, and me. Tonight’s program features Kathleen Deely Pierce, Stephen O’Connor, Kassie Rubico, Peter Eliopoulos, Emilie Noelle Provost, Jack Dacey, and Andrew Wetmore. The backdrop for the compact stage upstairs at the Old Court consisted of 10 full pages of the Sun newspaper taped to the wall and marked with a letter spelling out C-i-t-y S-t-o-r-i-e-s.
Publisher and writer Lloyd Corricelli surprised many of the writers with fresh copies of his “River Muse” anthology, a paperback tome packed with prose by many of the very same City Stories writers in the spotlight this weekend. Lloyd has a book-launch event on June 8 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to local veterans support groups. Watch for details about the event on this blog and Facebook.
Listening to my writing colleagues last night I was reminded of another City Stories-type event more than 30 years ago at A. G. Pollard’s, the original brick-and-fern rehabbed eatery and pub on Middle Street, where the Smokehouse can be found these days. Pollard’s had a long, narrow pub room not unlike the Old Court’s upstairs space, a bit more narrow on Middle St. That night, a local organizer had brought together many of the city’s literati, actors, and musicians for a tribute to Lowell’s literary heritage. Somebody was making a film of this. My recollection is that media specialists from the GLRT Voke High School were directing the show. The difference from last night, however, is that circa 1980 we were reading the words of dead writers who had something to do with Lowell: Poe, Kerouac, Larcom, Whittier, Thoreau, and others. Somewhere in my files I have the script of the production. Last night, the writers shared their own work. Seven more will do the same tonight. This says plenty about how far the community has come in 30-plus years. Back then there were a lot of people writing for the newspaper, as well as writing nonfiction and scholarly work, many of them at the University, (note the list of authors in ”Cotton Was King,” the history of Lowell published in 1976), but not so much for novels, short stories, plays, poems, and memoir. Creative writing is booming in Lowell. UMass Lowell now has a concentration in creative writing in the English Department and faculty writers Andre Dubus III, Maggie Dietz, and Sandra Lim. This is only going to get bigger. Major writers like Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Russell Banks, Anita Shreve, Alan Lightman, Lynda Barry, Jericho Brown, and Stephen King (coming in December) visit UMass Lowell, and David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor speak from stage of Lowell Memorial Auditorium—the way Poe, Emerson, Dickens, and others once made Lowell an important stop on the literary circuit.