A crowd filled the main hall of the Center for Arts at the Armory on Saturday night for the Somerville News Writers Festival, a night of readings by poets and writers primarily from the Boston area. The Festival also included a daytime book fair in the Armory’s café.
In this era where printed words appear on Kindles and cell phones, audiobooks play through earbuds, authors reading their work aloud to an audience is an unusual way to transmit literature. It’s not something that happens every day in Somerville, but it does happen once a year and has for the last eight.
Timothy Gager and Doug Holder, the festival’s co-founders, presided over the evening, with Gager acting as MC and Holder introducing authors. They founded the festival in 2003 to promote the Somerville News, for which Holder writes a weekly poetry column.
This year’s show opened with musical duo Cooper DeVille. The baritone singer and pianist set a relaxed, happy tone for the evening with their swing, ragtime, and blues tunes. The style of music, the baritone’s zoot suit, and the fact that there was no alcohol at the bar brought the atmosphere back to Prohibition era – though with orderly rows of plastic, folding chairs and no booze, this club seemed to be following the rules.
Maybe the authors didn’t speakeasy, but they did speak well. Altogether, twelve authors read poetry and prose.
Doug Holder, founder of Ibbetson Street Press, presented the Ibbeston Street Lifetime Achievement Award to Sam Cornish, Boston’s poet laureate.
Continuing the laurels, Kim Triedman was announced the winner of the Writers Festival Poetry Contest for her poem, “Captivity.” The runners up were Pamela Annas, Linda Larson, and Rose Scherlis.
The featured author of the night was Malachy McCourt, author of eight books, including the New York Times bestseller, A Monk Swimming. He has also written a play, A Couple of Blaguards, with his brother, Frank, who is known for his Pulitzer-prize-winning autobiography Angela’s Ashes.
McCourt was born in Brooklyn, grew up impoverished in Limerick, Ireland, and returned to New York as an adult.
Among other excerpts of his work, he read the story of how, exasperated at being asked to check his coat to buy a drink at a bar, he stormed out to his car, stripped naked, put the coat back on, returned to the bar, and then gleefully checked the garment along with any inhibitions.
When asked to comment on this year’s festival, Holder replied, “I think the festival was a vibrant showcase for our literary community. I think the readers engaged the audience, and there was nothing stuffy or elitist about the event.”
The audience’s engagement was particularly noticeable when McCourt, the last speaker, ended the evening with a sing-along of the Irish ballad “Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?”