by Rob Callahan
I almost did a reading at the Thirty Two Magazine Launch Party.
It all started when I met Guy and Katie Eggers back on June 6 at the Literary Death Match. Katie mentioned that they were still in need of local writers to take the stage at their event and give a talk on what the Cities’ lit scene was all about. I quickly volunteered. But after Maggie Ryan Sandford reminded me that I was already planning on covering the event. The bad news: I would not be a part of the launch party, held at St. Paul’s Amsterdam Bar and Hall. The good news, however, was that I would be there to write about it.
Say what you will about the Amsterdam. I know a lot of people who have consistently reported attitudes among the servers that ranged from indifference to disdain. Personally, I’ve always found my experiences to yield about a 60/40 ratio of hits to misses. On the night in question, it started on the 60 side and gradually crept over to 40. This was mostly due to one bartender who couldn’t be bothered with the task of actually tending the bar, and another who was too busy doing two bartenders’ jobs to do them very effectively. Still, the good news is that my first order was met with a fast, friendly delivery.
The crowd had a lot of interest in the new magazine, judging by the line to buy a copy when I got there. It died down eventually, but stragglers made their way to the merch table with some consistency for the rest of the night. So, from what I could tell, the magazine sold well.
As the event kicked off, the Eggers took the stage and gave empowered speeches about their shared mission to revitalize the local arts scene and to “breath some fresh air into the smoldering embers of the arts in this city.” There was a heartfelt admission that the magazine is still in the process of finding its own identity, a passionate proclamation that print is nowhere near dead, and a poignant observation that the existence of social media has subverted what it means to work.
A little more bad news came into the picture, though, when it was time for guest writers Mike Fotis and Maggie Ryan Sandford to address the crowd. There was a palpable awkwardness to this part of the program. They told me later that it stemmed in part from having the house lights on throughout their readings. A few other writers in the audience remarked on this staging kurfuffle as well, and I found myself a little relieved that I hadn’t been on that stage after all.
The crowd itself did little to help the situation. Instead of paying attention, the audience mostly cliqued up into small groups and ignored the people onstage. Mike Fotis was able to compensate somewhat by employing his trademark loud and frantic delivery, but Maggie Ryan Sandford suffered due to her more paced and thoughtful approach. It didn’t help her that the audience members who had grouped up were amping their own respective volumes up to drown her out, so that all I could hear by the end was a loud murmer peppered with occasional brief snippets of her voice.
And this was the worst news of the night. For a crowd of lit lovers who came out to support an amazing new literary endeavor, they loved the sound of their own voices far more than they actually cared about writers. At one point, a member of the group closest to me actually shouted to his friends, so that they could hear him over that pesky writer onstage, about “the importance of appreciating reading and literature.” Sadly, he had no idea how ironic he was being.
Even my fellow writers fell victim to the urge to ignore rather than notice their own. I mentioned to a friend, who was trying to make small talk with me, that I was having trouble hearing the reading over the sound of everyone talking.
After all was said and done, all I could think to say was that an impressive new print magazine was launched, and it’s one for which I have very high hopes, and a couple of talented local writers came out to help celebrate. And I couldn’t tell what they were saying, because the audience apparently doesn’t care about writers.