Smile Politely

A prelude to the Fall 2009 Carr Reading Series

Steve Davenport is the Associate Director of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois. He’s also the author of Uncontainable Noise a book of poetry (published by Pavement Saw Press) and Murder on Gasoline Lake (winner of the New American Press 2007 Chapbook Contest) an essay that school children all across the country will soon be required to know by heart. In between writing, associate directing and raising his many daughters, Steve took some time to answer a few of my questions (via email) about the upcoming Carr Reading Series that will be taking place this fall semester at the Illini Union Bookstore.


Smile Politely: Let’s cut straight to the chase here, Steve. What’s the Karr [should be spelled Carr] Reading Series and why should we care?

Steve:  Allow me to quote from our website: “The Carr Reading Series is made possible by a generous gift from benefactors Robert J. and Katherin Carr. All Carr Series events are free and open to the public.”  And then add a third sentence: The Carr bequest allows us to bring to campus an average of eight authors a year, big names (celebrated poet Lucie Brock-Broido), new names (former undergrad of ours, Matthew Gavin Frank), long names (Michael Czyzniejewski, another former undergrad of ours), and names that some folks can’t remember how to pronounce (see Czyzniejewski).  And then bring it all home with a riveting fourth sentence: All of the Carr readings are free and open to the public.

Notice that I didn’t make fun of your misspelling of Carr.  I will if you want me to.

SP:  Make all the fun you want my friend.  Also, do you want me to leave your metacommentary in?  I will if you want me to.

Steve: For now keep the metacommentary.  If it starts to suck, you can always claim an editor took it out.

SP: Fair enough.  In looking at this year’s lineup, I see a wide array of genres and styles represented.  Is your selection process as random as it seems, or can some sort of logic be ascribed to it?

Steve: In the sweet blue heart of Random abides the Logic of minds feeding on the smart stuff, which is another way of saying our faculty writers take turns inviting exciting writers and over time–say, a year or two–themes develop and range manifests, which is another way of saying we end up doing good work and folks should attend.

SP: What’s your public turnout been like in the past?

Steve: Turnout’s usually good.  Sometimes we pack the space.  If you’re late, look up front for the best seats in the house.  For some reason those seats scare people.  I promise no one’s going to ask you to stand up and read your poem about your feelings about your poem.  We leave that to the pro behind the microphone.

SP: So who have the masses been missing?

Steve: Who have the masses been missing?  I don’t know.  Karl Marx?  How about the obvious?  The six readers we’re bringing this fall to IUB.

SP:  Okay, what about etiquette.  Are there any special rules that the audience will have to abide by?  Thumb snapping instead of hand clapping?

Steve: Thumb-snapping will get you removed by burly book people.  Active cell phones and laptops are bad.  Other than that, bring on the call-and-response.

SP: Fair enough.  Last question, who do you think would win in a fight: Seth Fein or a grizzly bear?

Steve: I’m confused.  I thought Seth Fein was a grizzly bear.

Widely acclaimed food writer and New York Times Columnist John T. Edge will be kicking off the Carr series next Wednesday at 4:30.  Put it on your calendar.  For realzies.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Steve, click here.  And if that doesn’t have you running for the hills, click here to download his online chapbook, Nine Poems and Three Fictions.  It’s really good.

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