Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

How to Run a Reading Series (Episode 1: Carey Toane of “Pivot at the Press Club”)

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How to Run a Reading Series (Episode 1: Carey Toane of “Pivot at the Press Club”)

This is part one of an expected three part series on what I consider the most heroic, underappreciated, necessary, and gruelling gigs in the entire world of literary volunteerism. I’m talking about the one-man-bands behind this city’s vibrant battery of community-led reading series. As writers and book fans in Toronto, we are well and truly overwhelmed by the diversity of series and salons available. There is quite literally one happening every night. There’s one happening right now as I type this, and one happening even now, as you read it.

The first host(ess) I managed to rope into my guilt-baited interviewee’s chair is one Carey Toane. Carey has stepped up over a relatively short time to establish herself as a person to call on when you want something done. Her volunteer gigs include the very useful Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, writing grant applications for The Scream Literary Festival and, best of all, hosting the bi-weekly Pivot at The Press Club Reading Series. Pivot is a real throwback, in this era of medium juxtaposition and pan-cultural programming, what happens in the atmospheric den of The Press Club. Some people get up and read while everyone drinks a lot of good beer and Carey watches over us all. I once asked the lady some questions and right here is what she said:

JMM, OBTO: You inherited this reading series, more or less, from Alex Boyd (and before him, Paul Vermeersch) in the form of The I.V. Lounge Reading Series. What’s the tension like between using the history of a ten-year old reading series for the platform it provides, and trying to pave your own way?

CAREY: Thanks, first of all, for thinking of me. Pivot has received a lot of attention and support since we launched - a surprising amount to my mind, considering how many series we have running in this city - and I'm grateful for it. Which leads me to your first question (oh dear, I'm not following the Q&A format, am I?): I'd say the IV-Pivot tension is like the tension in a coil or a springboard; it gave me a place to start, in more ways than one. I liked the IV set up that Paul established all those many moons ago - three readers a night, a mix of poetry and fiction, no open mic, plain and simple. Paul has gone on to many other great things, and his format has really stood the test of time. Alex was left holding the mic when the IV Lounge closed, and was instrumental in getting Pivot going. He sent me a really nice email the other day after dropping by one of the readings; he's just a very supportive guy. The whole community has been supportive, and I think that comes from our collective wish to maintain all the good things that the IV Lounge started.

As for paving my own way, I wing it. I'm not Alex, nor Paul and never will be Blogger’s Note: This is accurate, as both Paul and Alex are brunettes and Carey is not. My basic motivation is to book people I want to hear read. It's very selfish. Of course, I'm also interested in helping local authors promote and sell books - Pivot audiences are great and discerning book buyers - because [these] people need to eat, too. One thing I've introduced, on the advice of some very smart people, is a PWYC policy, so the readers get something for their trouble. We don't have any grants as of yet, but I'll be looking into that after Pivot's first anniversary next month. Which reminds me: it's Pivot's first birthday Oct. 7! Come celebrate!

JMM, OBTO: What’s your approach to programming like? Do you tend to have rules in regards to poets vs fiction writers? How about more subtle things, like older vs younger, established vs less established, funny vs serious?

CAREY: The main guideline is to mix up the poetry and fiction, and I do try to mix it up in terms of new vs. established talent, and male/female. I pay less attention to age, and frankly, subject matter. I don't do themes or anything fancy like that, but I am open to collaborating with magazines, journals and websites that have their own style/voice and rosters of authors. Pivot teamed up with Taddle Creek in August and we had six short readings instead of three long ones. It was a blast. Tony Burgess read three quarters of this incredibly intense story and then decided that was enough and just stopped and walked off stage. I hope TC sold some back issues on the strength of that stunt.

JMM, OBTO: The style of a reading series owes as much to its location as to its programming. What would you say The Press Club adds to the series? How has your relationship been like with the owners and staff? What about the regulars? How do they feel about being invaded by a bunch of literary types twice a month?

CAREY: The Press Club is a very important part of Pivot. When I took on the series it was my first choice of venue, and we were lucky to get it. Everyone who comes in comments on the space: it's just the right size, it's cozy, the art is weird and wonderful. The owners Mikael and Andrew, who also man the bar, are friendly, industrious, handsome devils - they put up with my disorganization, comp all the readers, set up the sound and turn off the refrigerators during readings. They even buy books.

It's also in a great 'hood: I used to live at Dundas and Palmerston 10 years ago and the neighbourhood has changed a lot - it reminds me of East Berlin with all the cafes and vintage shops. The regulars tolerate us, with our tiny voices and our pin-drop silences, for the most part, and we do our best to finish up the readings by 10, as they usually have a band on afterward.

JMM, OBTO: One of the two things all organizers have in common is they would love nothing more than to talk about what they have coming up in the next few weeks. So?

CAREY: October 7 is our one-year anniversary event, so we're following the tradition set at the launch event last year and offering up four readers for the price of three: Ken Babstock, Spencer Gordon, Meaghan Strimas, and Emily Schultz. Arrive early and stay late, because it's also my birthday (Blogger’s Note: Happy Birthday, Carey Toane!).

JMM, OBTO: The other thing all organizers have in common is they are simultaneously doing a thousand other things? What are your current projects, whether literary, cultural, or professional?

CAREY: By day I'm a mild-mannered trade magazine editor, which keeps me honest and pays the bills. I volunteer for the Patchy Squirrel Lit-Serv, which is a weekly e-newsletter of Toronto literary events started by the inimitable Stuart Ross. I try to write as much as I can and am currently working on some translations of contemporary Finnish poet Silja Jarventausta, as well as a longer project of my own which involves rats, apples and other geniuses of industry. I'm transcribing my grandmother's travel journals, which span three decades and as many continents, which I hope to self-publish someday as a gift for my family. And I play a wicked game of croquet. I think that's all.

***

Pivot at the Press Club runs bi-weekly, on Wednesdays. This week's show has Carmine Starnino, Ted Nolan, and Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen. Sounds pretty great, right? The Press Club is on Dundas, west of Bathurst. The civic number is 850. Readings start at 8.

Yours and Ours,
Jake

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Jacob McArthur Mooney

Jacob McArthur Mooney is the author of the acclaimed collection of poems The New Layman’s Almanac (McClelland & Stewart, 2008) as well as an upcoming second collection from the same publisher.

Go to Jacob McArthur Mooney’s Author Page