Joseph Salvatore (Rail): Congratulations on this endeavor. Can you tell us about your new literary series?
Michele Filgate: Red Ink is a new quarterly literary series centered around women writers, past and present. It’s inspired by this Virginia Woolf quote from Mrs Dalloway: “He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink” (My friend Lauren Cerand came up with the name!) I’m curating panels on a wide range of topics related to women writers. The first panel is on May 9th and the topic is finding solitude in a noisy world. The second one is in September and is on writing about the body. I’m partnering with Literary Hub (where I’m a contributing editor) and BookCourt to make this happen, and Archer Roose is our official wine sponsor. (Kings County Distillery is donating bourbon for the first event, too.)
Rail: What made you feel this project needed to be done now, in a city already bursting with literary events?
Filgate: I ran events at indie bookstores for seven years, including two stores in New York (McNally Jackson and then Community Bookstore in Park Slope.) I’ve always wanted to do something that felt like my very own project. There are so many great reading series in the city, but there’s something special about getting writers together to talk about things that matter to them. Most importantly, I wanted to create a welcoming space for engaging provocative dialogues related to women writers.
Rail: Can you talk about your curatorial process not only for the launch, but also for each event to come?
Filgate: I aim to be inclusive and represent a wide range of voices. I also try to choose at least one writer who has a brand new book out. The first event came from brainstorming with my friend Katherine Towler, who has a beautiful new memoir out called The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir Of Place, Solitude, and Friendship. I wanted to come up with a Brooklyn event for her book, and I also wanted to launch this series. It seemed like a natural fit.
Rail: Describe what the evening will look like in terms of the format. Will you be sticking to the traditional reading-event structure? Will you host each event? How many readers will there be for each event? Where will it be held? Why there? Will it always be held there? Is the venue small or large? Will there be intermissions? Will there be books for sale onsite? Will there be time for author signings?
Filgate: No readings! I’ll moderate all of the panels. We’ll start with mingling and drinking, followed by the event itself. I have four writers for the May event and five for the September panel, but going forward I’m going to stick to three. Our official venue is BookCourt because they are my local bookstore and I love working with them. We’ll definitely have books for sale and the authors will sign them.
Rail: The topic of finding solitude in a noisy world is one I very much respond to, both as a writer and college professor living in New York, and as a new parent too. Can you talk a bit about how you came up with that topic? Given all you do, is it a personal topic for you? How do you manage to find time in our noisy world, Michele?
Filgate: It sounds like you wear a bunch of different hats, like most artists! I’m the same way. I have a part-time day job, I teach, and spend a tremendous amount of time as a freelance writer. Finding time to be productive is a topic that I’m obsessed with, to be honest. I think most writers are. We live in a world of distractions (some good ones, some not so good) and it’s our job to carve out the space and time we need in order to create. Social media is a smart way to network and gain readers, but it’s also easy to waste an entire afternoon in front of your Twitter feed, clicking one link to the next until you’ve lost track of time and you’re not even sure what you’ve accomplished for the day—let alone retained. So how do we balance the writing itself with everything else, like responding to emails, participating to events, cleaning our apartments, and spending time with family and friends? I don’t think there’s any right answer, to be honest. But I do think it’s worth examining, discussing, and arguing about.
Rail: I ran a literary series for several years during the 1990s in Salem, Massachusetts. There were so many wonderful writers and moments that I wish now had been recorded. But the technology wasn’t nearly as available as it is today. Do you think about creating and preserving an archive of these events? Will they be recorded, or transcribed, or streamed, not only for posterity but also for access to those out-of-towners who can’t attend but would watch online?
Filgate: Yes! We will publish edited transcriptions of the event on the Literary Hub website.
Rail: Do you think about genre representation for each event? Will there be, for instance, translators, screenwriters, playwrights, journalists, and bloggers sitting with essayists, poets, and fiction writers? It seems those kinds of conversational intersections could be really rich.
Filgate: Absolutely. I’m interested in featuring all kinds of writers.
Rail: What are some upcoming panel topics?
Filgate: I can tell you about the September panel! It’s on September 22 and the topic is about women “writing the body.” Our guests will be Eileen Myles, Porochista Khakpour, Ruth Ozeki, Anna March, and Alexandra Kleeman.
The first event will be held on Monday, May 9th at 7pm. “Finding Solitude in a Noisy World” is a panel featuring Katherine Towler (The Penny Poet of Portsmouth), Angela Flournoy (The Turner House), Molly Crabapple (Drawing Blood), Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams), and Valeria Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth), moderated by Michele Filgate. For more information, sign up for the Red Ink newsletter or contact [email protected]