Kingston’s Spoken Word will host a mix of talent and entertainment this weekend when poet/playwright Cornelius Eady takes the stage with his literary band Rough Magic and his wife, fantasy novelist Sarah Micklem.
Micklem, a Princeton graduate who has taught fiction at the University of Notre Dame, is slated to read first from a short story that was started many years ago in Abigail Thomas’ class in New York City. “So, it’s old and new. I finished it last fall,” she says, but chooses to avoid mentioning the title. “I don’t want to get pinned down!” Her two novels, Firethorn and its sequel Wildfire, tell the story of war from a woman’s point of view, as a camp follower – someone “about as low on the social hierarchy as a person could get.”
Based in the author’s adolescent fascination with the idea of a woman living wild in the forest, Micklem’s character is “a bit like me – somewhat ignorant, somewhat foolish – and yet she is as different as I could make her, for her world isn’t mine, though I created it. I wrote my way into her kingdom. I did not want to write about what I knew, but rather what I hoped to discover.”
The third novel in the trilogy is gestating, although she confesses, “It’s a painful point. I’m afraid I left my character in a bad spot in the second book, and haven’t gotten her out of it yet. It’s an enormous commitment to tackle.” On hearing that it took Margaret Atwood a dozen or so years to finish her trilogy, she says, “I feel better when I hear things like that. I don’t want to read about those people who can write one [novel] a year.”
A graphic designer for the Girl Scouts of the USA who writes fiction in her spare time, she spent 14 years designing for a children’s magazine at Time Warner. Micklem has also recently contributed her talents to produce Thomas’ small book of writing prompts, Two Pages, which will be available for purchase at Spoken Word.
A frequent award-winner and a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, Eady teaches at the University of Missouri and instructs playwrights in New York City. He has also taught at New York University and Sarah Lawrence College, and co-founded the Cave Canem Foundation to support African American poets.
Eady’s numerous volumes of poetry include the titles Brutal Imagination, You Don’t Miss Your Water, The Autobiography of a Jukebox, The Gathering of My Name, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, Victims of the Latest Dance Craze, Hardheaded Weather and Kartunes. His audio chapbooks are Asking for the Moon and Book of Hooks. Known as one of the foremost American writers focusing on matters of race and society, his poems delve into jazz and blues, family life, violence and societal problems stemming from questions of race and class. His theatrical works includes the libretto for an opera, Running Man, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and the play Brutal Imagination, which won Newsday’s Oppenheimer Award in 2002.
Collaborating with musicians and other vocalists onstage reflects a central theme in Eady’s work, so combining contemporary, rather ethereal-sounding riffs with poetry is a natural progression in terms of performance. He has called himself “a fan of word-drunk music; music with a great melody or beat and something under the hood, lyricwise.” The band has put out an EP called Seven Songs, which will be available for purchase at the event.
Rough Magic seems to have come about organically through the individual group members’ affinity for poetry. The other vocalist in the band, Robin Messing, is a novelist, essayist and short-story writer who began her literary life as a poet. Messing’s daughter, Emma Alabaster, is bass-player and the musical director of the band, and is also a poet. Violinist Concetta Abbate, guitarist Charlie Rauh and drummer/arranger Leo Ferguson round out the group.
Eady and Micklem have only done dual readings a few other times, and are looking forward to sharing the spotlight at Spoken Word. Eady says that after Micklem’s reading, Messing will open the next set with some of her work. “Then I’ll read some music-related, mostly unpublished work, and the band will perform from our Seven Songs EP.”
The couple has another “Abby connection,” too. They occupied Thomas’ upstate home for a short period a few years back: an occupation that convinced them that they too wanted a place in the country to escape to. They found the perfect property in Acra, one uniquely suited to their needs – reading, writing and music-making – and spend as much time in the northlands as they possibly can. It’s complicated: Eady’s car lives in Columbia, Missouri during the school year. When he drives it back to their New York City apartment each summer, the weekend journey to Greene County becomes much more doable.
Spoken Word is curated by the ever-cheerful and energetic Annie LaBarge, who attracts poets, authors of fiction and nonfiction, memoirists, songwriters and actors to read their works to local audiences. The monthly gathering, held every second Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, offers performances by featured writers and usually opens the mic to audience members for short readings on a limited basis. On July 12, there will be no open mic; but be not dismayed. The evening’s lineup should inspire everyone to go home and polish their work for next month.
Spoken Word, Saturday, July 12, 7 p.m., $7, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Catskills, 320 Sawkill Road, Kingston; (845) 514-2007, (845) 331-2884, www.uucckingston.org.