One of the perks of working at a place like the Massachusetts Cultural Council is meeting artists like Henriette Lazaridis Power (Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellow ’06), who along with being great practitioners of their craft, also contribute in fascinating ways to the creative community at large. Henriette founded and edits the innovative audio literary journal The Drum, will partner with the ultra-nifty Four Stories series for an upcoming reading (November 15 at the Enormous Room in Cambridge), and writes for Beyond the Margins, a blog of writers’ tips and publishing information. (And I happen to know she’s a competitive rower and right nice lady, to boot.)
We caught up with Henriette to discuss her many lives in the Massachusetts literary ecosystem.
ArtSake: It seems to me The Drum taps into two current trends: a resurgence in oral storytelling and the growth in digital forms of literary presentation. In a sense, it’s both old-fashioned and quite contemporary. What was the initial impetus behind The Drum and its unique model?
Henriette: You’ve hit on exactly what I was interested in in coming up with The Drum: that intersection of the very first experience of narrative that we all share (having stories read aloud to us or told to us) and the contemporary experience of interacting with culture through headphones. A little over a year ago, I was in the midst of listening to a number of audiobooks that were performed extremely well, and, to put it simply, I wanted more. I’ve always loved the performative aspects of writing (I think one’s prose has to sound good for it to be good). And I’m a keen admirer of the skill certain readers and actors bring to the speaking voice, using it as no less an instrument than the singing voice. So it seemed to me there had to be a way to bring stories into an audio format, and to present the whole thing using the template of the literary magazine. In a way, I figured why should books have all the fun? Why not find a way to give stories and essays a regular outlet?
ArtSake: Speaking of an outlet for literature: can you talk about the upcoming reading you’ve got at the Enormous Room in Cambridge, as part of the Four Stories series?
Henriette: When I heard about Four Stories, I realized that Tracy Slater (its founder and organizer) and I had similar interests and missions. We’re both presenting writers reading their work aloud. The only fundamental difference is that, with Four Stories, the “readers” come to the writers, and with The Drum, the “readers” can bring the writers with them (in their headphones) wherever they go. But we’re both about – to use The Drum’s standard phrase – Literature Out Loud. I approached Tracy with the idea that we should find a way to collaborate, and she kindly offered one night in the series to The Drum. We’ll have four authors whose work has already appeared in the magazine reading again – probably something different – for an audience. Michelle Hoover, Bret Anthony Johnston, Lynne Griffin, and Ethan Gilsdorf are all local authors we are lucky to have in the Boston writing community. The Enormous Room is a great venue where you can order drinks and food while you hear the writers perform. Our contributing editor Faith Salie will be hosting the event – which means, among other things, she’ll be fielding the often irreverent questions from the audience, and choosing the best ones to receive a Drum-themed prize. We’ll be recording the readings to post them on The Drum and on the Four Stories site, so if you miss the event, you can always listen later.
ArtSake: At the Four Stories reading, there’s a prize for best audience question asked of a participating author (I love this detail). As an author yourself, are there any questions you would dread being asked by an audience?
Henriette: I actually look forward to being able to talk about my writing with interested readers. There’s no really bad question, in my mind. And if I were to get a boring question, I can answer it quickly and move on.
ArtSake: You’re one of the writers for the terrific Beyond the Margins blog, a craft-based exploration of the writing and publishing process by a host of local authors. Your post on “Embracing Discomfort” as a writer struck me as a great insight (with a nice opening line, “I’m not comfortable writing this blog post.”). How does your work as an editor, a blogger, and even your competitive rowing (which you reference in that post) impact your creative writing?
Henriette: Most of the time, having all these responsibilities is a good thing for me. Being productive in one avenue generally seeps over and helps make me productive in another. Of course there are periods when there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get everything accomplished when you had planned to. But overall, I’m finding it useful to be able to shift gears rather than staying in one mode of expression for a very long time. Writing for Beyond The Margins requires a different style, a different pacing, than writing a novel. And editing The Drum requires all sorts of wonderfully non-writerly skills that I’m enjoying developing – like working with sound files, recording writers, pitching various projects to organizations around Boston and elsewhere, emailing writers and editors, and all those sorts of networking things. And then the rowing is a very useful break. It’s a different kind of work altogether. It’s repetitive, it’s highly technical, and it’s physically strenuous. But as I mentioned in that BTM post, I’ve found that I can learn real lessons from rowing that transfer quite helpfully to my creative work, like embracing discomfort (which in writing can mean not knowing whether you’ll succeed, find an audience, get a scene right), and like being able to let go of a bad training session (the rowing equivalent of murdering your darlings).
ArtSake: What are you writing these days?
Henriette: I’m delighted to be able to say that I recently accepted an offer from a major publishing house for my first novel Clean Monday, so I’ll be busy working on some revisions with my editor.
ArtSake: Congratulations! So, that’s your writing schedule for the foreseeable future; what’s next for The Drum?
Henriette: I’d like to build the readership for The Drum, and to generate more submissions, so that we can keep the quality of the magazine high. We’re working on tweaking the website so that our authors can have substantial profile pages, and so that our listeners can contribute to discussions on the site. We have some potential collaborations in the works with some Boston-area institutions that I’m hoping will take shape. And we’d love to get people involved in contributing to our Dispatches and Stories on The Street features. These are short audio pieces – one involving public-domain work that contributors can record on their own, the other involving essays on place, recorded by the author in that place. We’d love to get those projects up and running, alongside the high-quality short fiction and essays we’re publishing.
The next Four Stories reading, “Stories from The Drum, a very cool new literary magazine… for your ears,” takes place on Monday, November 15, 2010, at the Enormous Room in Cambridge, 7-9 PM. The event features readings by Michelle Hoover, Bret Anthony Johnston, Lynne Griffin, and Ethan Gilsdorf, with guest-host Faith Salie, writer, television producer, and Drum contributing editor.
A Rhodes Scholar and a Ph.D. in English, Henriette Lazaridis Power taught at Harvard for ten years before remembering that academia had never really been part of the plan. Since turning to writing full time, she has published work in Salamander, The New England Review, The New York Times online, The Millions, and Middlebury Magazine, among others. She was Grub Street Writers’ nominee for the 2009 Best New American Voices, and has earned finalist or semi-finalist spots in various fiction contests. She is also the founding editor of The Drum, a literary magazine publishing short fiction and essays exclusively in audio form.