Last Wednesday night, a crowd pushing 80 packed Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene for the first public reading of the winners of our fourth annual writing competition — and the second print publication in the history of UO! We’re still reeling; whether it was the warmth of bodies and books on a blustery January night, the free wine, or the exceptional essays that brought you out, we’re so grateful that you came to celebrate with us.
This year’s competition addressed the changing relationship between performance, audience, and the physical city. True to the competition’s theme, we invited a group of actors to read the winning pieces in performative style — be sure to listen to their interpretations below. Xandra Clark — an actor, writer, director, and radio producer — brought Maya Sorabjee’s winning essay, “The Wandering Women,” to life, complete with its Bollywood-inspired catcalls and overbearing family members. Check out the full piece, which includes Sorabjee’s photos of Bombay.
Peregrine Heard led off for The Associates, a theater company that has been devising work in New York since July 2014, in reading Andrew Renninger’s “Beleaguered Backstage.” Renninger’s musings on the implications of the dearth of truly private spaces in New York deftly explores the intersection of behavioral science with real estate and urbanism; Heard’s rendition also brought out the essay’s subtle humor, from its invocation of New Yorkers’ militant gaze-averting to the finely crafted brand of “immersive co-living.”
Departing from the traditional book reading, two Associates, Casey Worthington and Lauren LaRocca, took the podium to present Nick Tobier’s “A Wanderer in the Unwired City.” This is one of those pieces that is made to be read aloud. Worthington adopted the strong voice of the narrating wanderer while LaRocca chimed in as multiple characters, including a pair of imaginative cousins, who embody the Wanderer’s observations everywhere from a subway newsstand to the towers of Lefrak City.
To round out the evening, Associate Emily Stout read an excerpt from Rishe Groner’s “As Seen on the 6 Train to Heaven.” The recipient of our first ever honorable mention, Groner’s account of prayer as performance captured the diversity of forms that worship, both secular and religious, can take and the transformation of place that can occur when a hymn is sung or a simple “have a nice day” uttered. This is another that begs to be heard, so be sure to listen to Stout’s take here.
The joys of the reading only continued afterward with the chance to meet many of you and hear your thoughts on these distinct yet complementary pieces. If you couldn’t make it, you’ll still be able to read the winners on UO as we roll them out over the next couple weeks. And you can snag your own copy of the book, which sports another elegant design by Jena Sher and delightful illustrations by Martina Paukova, at Greenlight Bookstore (while supplies last) or online by making a donation to Urban Omnibus. At Greenlight, you can also pick up Common Shares, the book from last year’s competition on what is public and private in an age of ubiquitous sharing.
This competition was in so many ways a collaborative effort. Thanks are due to our partners — A Public Space, New York Writers Coalition, and our consummate hosts, Greenlight Bookstore — as well as our esteemed jury — Abraham Burickson, Annie Coggan, Rosalie Genevro, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Ben Pardee, and Jonathan Tarleton.
Keep a look out for the call for our fifth annual writing competition later this year!
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Jordan Hruska.