Waking Windows is more than just a music festival; it's marketplace for ideas.
The Page Burner Reading Series returns to make this part of the festival's mission crystal clear.
Organized by local musician and writer Nat Baldwin (you might know him as the bassist for the Dirty Projectors) the reading series bounces across three venues (Local Sprouts, Tandem, and One Longfellow), and offers listeners glimpses into multiple different worlds.
Baldwin, who's put together the past two reading components of Waking Windows, said that this year will be different. Instead of featuring work that matches his general aesthetic — abstract fictional poetry — Baldwin aimed to diversify the talent, both stylistically and with the writers themselves.
Both fiction and non-fiction works from 15 writers of various ages, races, and genders will be presented to listeners at less than 10 minutes a piece, in a bid to leave them with thoughts unfamiliar, yet inviting. And if guests walk briskly enough, they'll easily hear all 15 perspectives, because although the three-hour show is spread out across three venues, they're all very close from each other, and scheduled consecutively.
We caught up with Nat Baldwin, who put together this series while knee-deep in the pursuit of an English degree at USM, to learn what he hopes listeners will get from it all.
This interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.
In what ways will this edition of Page Burner be different from ones in the past?
For starters, this will be the first one I'm reading at. I'm going to read a short from my first book, The Red Barn.
We (read at) the Jewel Box the last couple of years. But in order to make the event open to all ages, which was important to some of the other organizers, we switched venues this year to Local Sprouts.
Also, stylistically it was a bit narrow in previous years and geared a little bit more toward my own personal tastes in fiction and poetry. We're bringing in different kinds of voices this year. I wanted to bring in people that wrote more nonfiction, essays and did stuff that was more political, socially conscious.
That's what I'm most excited about actually, broadening the aesthetic spectrum.
Why do you think that's important?
What's really cool, is bringing in a bunch of different people and creating a little community for the day. The more diverse that can be, on all levels, it will just widen the connections that are possible.
Tell me a little bit about the performers.
Peter Markus is coming to read and he's someone I've been a fan of for a really long time. I was a student in his online fiction class, back when I started writing my own fiction. It was really inspiring. The book that I just put out, The Red Barn, stems from a lot of what I learned in his class.
Peter's fiction is really like nothing else. He has a unique, minimal voice. Very musical. Simple but beautiful. He does weird things. He wrote one book a couple years ago that's all made up of monosyllabic words, and those restrictive practices often yield unusual results.
I'm aware that Peter Marcus and Robert Lopez will be the only two readers from out of state. Who do you think will standout locally?
I'm really excited about (Phoenix columnist) Shay Stewart-Bouley's reading. When I was starting to get my ideas together for this event, she was the first person that came to mind. She'll bring in work that speaks to the moment politically. What she's doing is really important.
Katy Mongeau is reading at One Longfellow Square. She does really interesting hybrid works, somewhere between prose and poetry, very nonlinear and fragmented. Strange, but in the best way possible.
LaLa Drew (also a contributor to the Phoenix) will stand out. I saw them read a collection of poems/essays at their event at SPACE Gallery recently [a program called Bloodletting]. That was great.
Considering that you've made a conscious effort to bring in writers that speak to this specific moment in time, what do you think about the connection between art and politics?
All art is political. If you're avoiding making a statement, that's a statement too. Even the most abstract poetry that isn't overtly addressing social issues, is still inherently political because of the aesthetic choices. Abstract writing resists those traditional narrative arcs and hierarchal structures.
What's your ideal writing environment?
A very quiet, dark room. That's probably standard. I've tried listening to music while I write, but it never became a regular practice. Sometimes minimal musicians like Terry Riley or Phillip Glass — static, drone-like ambiance — works.
I can't do coffee shops. Even when I'm home alone with the blinds drawn and the lights out, I put ear plugs in. I block any distractions out and immerse myself in whatever world I'm trying to access.
What do you hope listeners of the Page Burner series get from the whole experience?
The best thing about this festival is drawing connections between all the different arts. What that can do is it allows for the element of surprise. With so much going on that it feels chaotic, but there's a lot of power and energy in that.
Bringing a literary element to a music festival allows people to see and make the connection between literature and music. There is so much crossover. Reading aloud can be musical and have a rhythm.
The Page Burner Reading Series | 1:00 pm at Tandem, 742 Congress St. Featuring: AFRiCAN Dundada, Vivian Ewing, Niles Baldwin, and Samuel James | 2:00 pm at One Longfellow, 181 State St. Featuring: Nat Baldwin, Katy Mongeau, Robert Lopez, Debra Spark, and Peter Markus | 3:00 pm at Local Sprouts, 649 Congress St. Featuring: Henry Finch, Emily Jane Young, LaLa Drew, Mira Ptacin, and Shay Stewart-Bouley
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