From Bulgaria to Guatemala, Sunday Readings Enrich the CommunityViews on BG | July 1, 2011, Friday // 11:10| views
By Megan Masciana
Stories about Bulgaria and Guatemala took center stage last weekend at The Writer's Center, which hosts open readings and open mic events every Sunday.
They're "an opportunity for people to hear authors who are producing good work and for authors to connect with an audience, as well as sell their books," says Sunal Freeman, the center's assistant director.
On June 26, the center featured authors Cynthia Morrison Phoel, author of "Cold Snap," and Deborah Clearman, author of "Todo Santos," in an open-door reading.
Cynthia Phoel's work has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, and Cerise Press.
"Cold Snap" is a series of linked, short stories set in Bulgaria, where Phoel worked as a member of the Peace Corps in the mid-1990s. By writing about Bulgaria, she got "to spend more time there in my thoughts," revisiting the country through mind and words.
Still, "it took me a long time to be able to write from a Bulgarian point of view," and when the manuscript was finished, she shared it first with Bulgarians, "to make sure they would be OK with it," she said.
As Phoel read from the story "Never Trust a Man" last Sunday, her captivated audience listened intently, occasionally stifling laughter.
Between readings, Phoel talked about herself and her writing. As a Peace Corps member, Phoel had volunteered in a Bulgarian town very similar to the one in the stories.
"I was there five years after the fall of Communism, and without Communist money, the town had become a little shabby" Phoel explained.
In one story, Phoel had all of the characters share a common problem—waiting for the heat to be turned on for the winter in an apartment building.
In Bulgaria, Phoel and her flatmates had been lucky to have heat, but it was very expensive, and once it was on, the apartment could get extremely hot.
The heat for all of the apartments was controlled by one switch. To be fair to residents who struggled to pay for heat, the building manager would wait until a certain number of consecutive freezing-cold days had passed before turning on the heat.
Although that was was usually only about three days, "it just felt like a long time," she said.
From Bulgaria to Central America
Deborah Clearman's love of Guatemalan and Mayan cultures is prevalent throughout "Todos Santos," from which Clearman read exerts at last Sunday's reading.
Since her first visit to Guatemala in the late 1970s, she's returned many times, and even lived there for over a year. Now, between visits back to Central America, Deborah works as program director for the New York Writers Coalition, a nonprofit organization offering creative writing workshops to people often deprived of a voice in society.
"It is very moving for me to be reading to you and sharing my experience," Clearman said. "Bulgaria and Guatemala are a great combination. You couldn't pick more different places."
"Todos Santos" tells the story of a group of Americans exploring a new culture. The excerpts that Clearman read on Sunday kept audience members on the edges of their seats.
The next Open Door Reading Series event takes place on Sunday, July 10, from 2 to 4 p.m., and features author Joan Gussow reading from "Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables" and poet W. Perry Epes, who will read from "Nothing Happened."
Located on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase border, The Writer's Center is a non-profit organization that cultivates the creation, publication and presentation of literary work through workshops, podcasts and the publication of the oldest continuously-published poetry magazine in the U.S.
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