Last week's anthology reading at the San Diego Public Library was a trip--back in time, forward in time, and to a very present moment as well...I'll explain.
Walking into the downtown library is always a journey back in time for me. Growing up in East San Diego, having read every book in my categories of interest (dogs, horses, theater and movies) as well as pretty much all Young Adult fiction, I'd range farther afield. Armed with a quarter for each trip, I'd jump on the #7 bus and ride it downtown, in search of new books; I found that, and, necessarily, I found new worlds.
Downtown San Diego was another world for a kid from ESD--it gave me a glimpse of another way of life, good and bad. I found a strange world of skyscrapers and dark-suited men with briefcases striding purposefully along litter-strewn sidewalks, shadowed by bedraggled, rambling souls that wandered aimlessly between chemical fixes...This was pre-gentrification, when many streets in downtown were considered off limits, especially after dark.
But the library was an oasis from both downtown worlds--a quiet, cathedral-like building with lofty ceilings and marble floors that stretched into the dimness of un-visited corners and warrens. Pretty, it was not, but humbling and impressive, certainly. (Visiting the other night, I smelled the same scents: the musty aroma of books and binding, the pungent undercurrent of furniture polish and floor wax, the almond-like perfume of the soap in the ladies room).
Here's where the present came in: The reading room was like a scene from a movie--dark wood-paneled walls, with reading lamps, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Straight chairs had been gathered into rows and we took turns reading...And, man oh, man, can some of these folks read!
This group of authors--many of whom are now published writers for the first time--are not cynical or jaded (yet!) and their readings were as much in the present moment as laughter or tears. I enjoyed hearing Randy Herman read/perform his short piece: "The Day a Box Learned Me About How Beautiful is So Good by Wallace J". He becomes this guy--no, he is this guy. As a piece of theatre, it's as compelling as most one-act plays I've seen.
Since April is National Poetry month (check out poets.org for more), we started off with poetry and returned to it frequently. One young poet, David Tomas Martinez, was even asked to read a few of his pieces that were not in the collection. Martinez is gifted, not just as a writer of explosive, heartfelt and raw verse, but as a dynamic performer of spoken word poetry. His strong voice, his lean, ink-decorated body, and his handsome, expressive face all combine to transport, intrigue, and challenge the reader.
There's the future: You're going to hear more from David Tomas Martinez. And from Randy Herman, Jackie Bouchard, Alysia Everett, Charlie Daly, Scott Barbour, John Mullen, Jeanine Webb, and Jess Jollett...We all are, if we're lucky. There is a generation of new (but not necessarily young) writers/readers/spoken word artists coming up that will blow our minds. Books are not dead. Literature is not dying. Stand by for more on that story.