Today’s entry in the dossier series sees it branching away from the overwhelming majority of posts focused on theatre creators (you’d think I’m in theatre or something) and brings it into the territory of those artists most people don’t think would get up on stage to perform their art. The EW Reading Series was introduced to me by my then-roommate, and poet, Matthew Walsh as a poetry jam. I showed up, unsure of what to expect. It was my first time attending a poetry jam. I thought everyone would be drinking wine and I’d be expected to snap after each poem.
This wasn’t the case. And I was surprised to learn it wasn’t just a poetry jam, but a laid-back, party-esque event that celebrated writers of all forms.
What’s funny is that, although it was Matthew who introduced me to this event and to Jess, a few months later Jess independently moved into the same house we lived in (and I still live in). Just a couple floors up.
So, even though one roommate moved away, he, this event and Jess remain relatively, and literally, close to me.
I’d like you to meet my upstairs neighbour.
Who are we talking to?
I’m Jess Taylor! Hello. I’m a Toronto-based writer and events promoter. I also do art, play music, and teach the youth.
What gets you going in the morning?
I like being busy and keep my life jam-packed. So usually before I open my eyes, I already am thinking about everything I’m going to do that day. I wake up full of anticipation. I make coffee, I hug my cat, and then I get to work. It makes me incredibly happy most of the time.
What is your earliest memory of realizing, yep, I need to write?
I’ve always been a storyteller, but I first started writing things down in grades two and three. I began with poetry, then started writing stories in grade four. Before that, I told stories through pictures and art. I did the usual nerdy writer-kid stuff – like start a poetry club in grade six, start writing weird novels about mice and parallel universes, and made zines in high school. I spent a lot of high school as part of gigging band, The Big Man Himself, but I still saw writing lyrics and the management of the band as contributing to a writing career somehow. I went to high school at Mayfield School of the Arts with a focus in Visual Arts, but I also brought text (either poetry or prose I had written) into my visual work. It all fit together for me.
Why The EW Reading Series?
When I moved to Toronto, I was really shocked by the literary scene here. It was part of the reason I moved. I’d started at U of T for their English in the Field of Creative Writing MA and was automatically included in a community of current students and alumni. I’d been missing that in Burlington, where I’d been living before, and at York University in their undergraduate creative writing program. I wanted to get involved any way I could. My first idea was to use my management and publication background (making zines and working for Existere Magazine at York) to start a micropress for work by emerging writers.
I’ve always believed in running my writing career like how I ran the band: working extremely hard, putting out a lot of content (but content I’m proud of), putting on shows, and – if something isn’t getting done – just doing it myself. So I thought I’d make chapbooks and then sell them at shows to make back the production costs (not really thinking about doing a special “launch” but just running a show every so often). I never got funding for my second year of the MA and was really poor, so getting a press started would be difficult and I gave up on the idea (for the meantime at least).
But I still wanted to do shows. No one knew who I was in Toronto. More accurately, I was a young young emerging emerging writer… I was no one. Nobody was going to ask me to read at their series or even really cared what I was working on. At the time, it seemed that series with curated programming tended to be reserved for more established writers, and younger writers were expected to scope out open mics, stay home and work on their craft instead of seeing performance as part of their craft.
So I decided to start a series. I went and talked to a couple venues. Duffy’s Tavern was really close to my house and was free. I had read there as part of a variety show, and the sound system was decent. I gave myself two months to plan the first show, booking it in January with the first show running March 2012. After that it took off. I now book up months in advance and have a submissions process.
Since I started the series, other series have popped up that feature emerging writers. Some of these series started before my series, but I wasn’t aware of them before I was running mine. I think having so many series in the city really enriches the community. There’s enough crowd to go around, and they are events people want to attend.
I named my series The Emerging Writers Reading Series to make it clear what the series was all about. I call it by its short form “EW” because I think it’s funny. It gets across the sense of play that I look for when curating. I want writers who have a good time writing and will have a good time performing.
What can someone expect when going to EW? What kind of atmosphere do you wish to create?
I found a lot of reading series around the city to be really serious, very quiet. I liked it when I was in the mood for that atmosphere, but I knew for a reading series geared towards emerging writers the atmosphere needed to be different. I drew a lot of inspiration from Pivot, where people could sit with people they didn’t know and make new friends and connections. I wanted to have that sense of inclusiveness, but have even more hype, even more of a raucous environment.
At the beginning, I did this a few ways. I would say hello to everyone who came, introducing myself to people who I hadn’t met before. I would try to introduce people to each other on break and before and after the show. I made a long break between the first half and the second half of the show to encourage people to start conversations. I hosted with a high energy style that tried to show that I cared about each of my readers, that I cared about them as people and as writers, and that I had a great respect for their work, even though they were at the early stages of their careers. The readers and I used to take a shot of tequila either after the show or on break as a bonding experience.
My hosting style has more or less stayed the same, and I think the atmosphere is the same too. The one thing that has changed is that the audience has developed a life of its own. People introduce me to newcomers now. There are too many people for me to introduce myself to everybody, and while there is a steady group of regulars, I get new faces at every show. And a lot of those faces come back. The venue fills up almost completely, so that people have to stand. That already lends a certain excitement to the show, something that no curating or hosting can control. I don’t do readers’ shots anymore because not everyone drinks alcohol and now I often work the next day. I pay my readers and give them two drink tickets. I also become the “drink ticket fairy” and drop drink tickets on unsuspecting members of the audience, convincing them to stay out later at the show’s after party.
The level of quality has stayed consistent as well. The city has a lot of talented and ambitious young writers in it, and I’m always amazed at how good the sets are. I curate each show, but I now have an assistant fiction curator, Sofia Mostaghimi.
What is your favourite memory from a past EW show?
My first show was probably my favourite because it showed me I wasn’t a complete hack; I could really run a series and I could fill a venue and everything would be ok.
Most recently, we ran BIG on Bloor Emerging Writers Past Readers Showcase, and I was thrilled. No one went over their allotted time, people gave great readings, and it was neat seeing EW at a different time (the daytime!!!) and in a different location. It allowed me to dream about it, wondering how big EW might become and what direction I’ll decide to take it.
Describe The EW Reading Series in three adjectives, a phrase, or with sound.
Our slogan: Read! Listen! Have fun!
Do you have anything else you’d like to share? Photos, videos, links, posters, stories, wishes?
Our website: http://www.ewreading.com
My website: http://www.jesstaywriter.com
I blog for The Town Crier about other people’s reading series: http://town-crier.ca
Come check out our first show of the fall season: September 10th, 2013 at Duffy’s Tavern. 8pm, PWYC. Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/221493711333479/229475087202008/?notif_t=like
I have a wish for all of my past readers: never stop writing or reading your work. I book you because I think you’re fantastic, and I can’t wait to see where we all end up as our careers progress.