Last night, on Monday, September 10, the First Person Plural reading series opened its second season of community-inspired readings at Shrine World Music Venue in Harlem. Hosted by the three women who organized the series, Amy Benson, Wendy Walters, and Stacy Parker Le Melle, the event featured two fiction writers, Paul LaFarge and Lynne Tillman, and an visual artist collective called LoVid, which is made up of partners Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus. The FPP reading was held in partnership with Hue Man Bookstore, and a bookstore representative was on site, selling works from the artists at the door.
The series, whose goal is to promote artwork and writing generated with the concept of the first person plural (“we”) in mind, was started last year, with great success. According to the FPP website, the series was created because the organizers “are interested in the ‘we’ because the ‘I’ does not exist in any sort of truthful singularity.” The website’s manifesto goes on to say that FPP is “interested in the collective as it manifests in all temporary forms, collaboration as it evidences moving through disagreement, and community as it situates itself locally despite all efforts to stretch it past its thinnest point.” Acclaimed cultural critic Margo Jefferson, who was one of the series’ first readers, elaborates on this concept in an interview with Untapped Cities last March.
To me, it is this spirit of striving toward a common understanding between readers and audience, between characters and writers, between artists and subject, that distinguishes the First Person Plural reading series from the myriad literary readings that NYC has to offer week after week.
I must admit that, excited though I was for the evening, as I got settled in at a table, I was somewhat skeptical about whether the presenting artists would take the theme very seriously; the aim of the series seemed enlightened, but I wondered if, in practice, the theme of the discourse would be inspiring to the participants or too theoretical to adhere to.
Luckily, my doubts were dispelled at the start of the evening; Benson, Le Melle, and Walters introduced the series quite simply, saying, “Tonight, the word is ‘we.’ We don’t know how Paul LaFarge, Lynne Tillman, and LoVid are going to respond to our theme, but we are excited to find out.” The student in me relaxed; I felt a little less like I was about to hear a lecture and a little more like I was about to enjoy myself.
The first reader was Paul LaFarge, introduced as “the greatest American writer you’ve never read,” the author of several traditional novels, and more recently, an experimental interactive hypertext, Luminous Airplanes: A Hyperromance, published in print by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2011. (The online version defies explanation, you just have to visit the website.) Instead of reading from his hypertext (a feat I had been interested in witnessing, to be honest), LaFarge read from a short story called “Another Life,” previously published in The New Yorker. The piece dealt with the notions of married life and freedom within the union of marriage–or lack thereof.
“[The story] has to do with this idea of ‘we’ in that it has two distinct points of view that are happening at the same time, or maybe one after another,” said LaFarge.
Next came Lynne Tillman, who was introduced as “a writer who knows that, at its best, a story shows a new way of thinking,” is the author of five novels, one collections of essays, and two nonfiction books. Before reading from her novel, American Genius, Tillman prefaced her work rather patriotically: “I took seriously the subject of ‘we,’ and I thought, given the season we are in, that I would read he first line of the Constitution,” she said, and proceeded to read an excerpt of American Genius in which her protagonist is preparing herself for the seance that will happen in the next chapter by examining our shared history.
Finally, the artist duo, LoVid, presented their work. Amy Benson prefaced their appearance, saying, “This is the thing that we think LoVid has placed in our hands, that they’ve learned how to love a future that we can’t even see yet.” The couple also introduced their work beforehand, explaining that they would be performing two pieces: one from their past (though without the video that usually accompanies it), and one that showed their love of the future.
In the first piece, Hinkis and Lapidus held a box suspended between their two bellies, and moved wires attached to an amplifier around on the box in order to create varying degrees of vibration and ambient noise while they stared into each other’s eyes. In the second piece, the pregnant Hinkis sat on a chair next to the amplifier, and moved a device that appeared to be a speaker around her bare, distended belly, while Lapidus manipulated the noise that the speaker made using a guitarist’s foot pedal that was also attached to the amplifier.
Hinkis said of the second piece, “We thought we’d take advantage of the point in life where I am truly first person plural.”
The First Person Plural reading series holds a new reading on the second Monday of every month; the next event will be held at Shrine on November 12, at the same time. For more information, please visit FPP’s homepage, here.
Get in touch with the author @kellitrapnell.