Lacey Jane Henson

Stories Keep Us Warm: How an innovative reading series is firing up the Seattle literary scene

I was recently chosen to perform my story “Trigger” for The Furnace, a Seattle series where one prose writer is invited to read a single piece to completion. The writer performs their piece in front of a live audience, which is simultaneously broadcast over Hollow Earth Radio. By focusing on one writer (rather than several brief readings by multiple people), the series takes a risk in that it really relies on that single person to create a compelling performance and single-handedly drive attendance. What results from that risk is an always interesting, kinda weird, and truly unique listening experience. It also provides a beautiful showcase for the writer and their work, giving them a chance to explore alternative presentation styles—using actors, live musicians, sound effects and other elements to enrich the reading. With its radio broadcast, the series taps into older forms of storytelling by bringing people together to listen, either online or in person (herding us literary cats, in a way). From The Furnace mission statement: “Stories were told around a fire. They kept us warm and created a sense of connection and community.”

It’s really a kind of magical experience to both listen and perform at The Furnace. The Hollow Earth Space is small, but reads as warm and intimate, rather than cramped. And, as a reader, it was cool to know people were listening over the airwaves—friends of mine texted after the reading was done, congratulating me. There have only been five performances so far (which you can listen to on Soundcloud and The Furnace website), but the series has already gained a big following, and been a featured event in the local alternative weekly The Stranger many times. It’s been cool to see a relatively small, but pretty original idea build its audience and reputation in such a short amount of time.

To learn more about how the series got started, and what goes into putting it together, I had a little Q&A with the founder, Corinne Manning. Here’s our conversation:


The furnace

LJH: So can you tell me more about what inspired you to start the series?

CM: As a prose writer it’s often tricky to participate in readings because I’ll have about ten minutes and that means usually cutting a story down, or just reading the first bit–where as ten minutes for a poet means something very different. I wanted to create a series that gave a prose writer the opportunity to read a piece all of the way through, and even get to explore presenting it in innovative ways. The chapbook that’s made for each event and the fact that its broadcast on Hollow Earth Radio is all part of trying to make a disparate literary community feel more cohesive, create a holistic listening experience for the audience member, and also give a writer a real chance to be showcased beyond the ephemeral reading.

LJH: How happy have you been with it so far? Have there been any challenges?

CM: I ran a series with multiple readers before (Other Means in Brooklyn, NY), and though I loved the format of that series and the intention, I’m much happier with the Furnace. There are some really obvious ways in which it’s easier than what I was doing before: it’s quarterly, there’s only one writer to schedule, and because that writer gets showcased in a really special way they take it seriously in a way that I hadn’t witnessed before. My co-coordinator Anca Szilagyi and I have always been lucky to get a really good crowd, which is really exciting because we purposefully try to showcase people who are emerging or who aren’t one of the same eight or so people featuring again and again.

LJH: Thinking more about readings, I’m wondering if you could describe the qualities that you think makes for a great listener experience. Like what makes you go: “Wow, I’m really glad I went to that.”

CM: This is like defining the mystery of the universe! There’s an essay by Frank Conroy where he talks about the relationship between the writer and the reader in a piece of fiction as this collaboration, where both the writer and the reader are putting a certain kind of energy in to make the story happen. The writer, he says, has to put in a little extra work to create space for the reader’s energy to fill the story. Esoteric, I know but I think the same thing happens at a reading. The writer who is performing is engaged in the act of telling the story—and is in a sense performing it. The listeners then too, should want to be there, are more engaged in receiving than just waiting for their friend to be the one who comes up on stage.


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September 20th, 2013 / 11:00 am