A long time ago, by my standards, I lived in New York. I had just quit an office job that I hated for its rigidity, repetitiveness, and complex managerial structure. I wanted something made of the magic I had come to New York for.
My roommate at the time was a girl named Beth whose life, to me, seemed compiled of random details. I met her in Ghana and I found in again in South Korea. She had a great sense of humor, was enthusiastic about pie, and, like me, would do anything for the sake of a good story. She was also a poet. Beth did things like go the the Russian Tea Room and read Oblomov, which she didn't like, but was trying in earnest to love. She was a truly outstanding roommate.
Beth had somehow gotten a job selling books at reading events through a service called Mobile Libris. Every once in a while a little suitcase packed with books would linger in our living room. We'd open it up and look at the new poems Beth was selling that day. It was an education in everything the poetry world was up to those days-- who was reading and where, what books were selling better, what clubs were opening their doors to poets at night.
I started working for Mobile Libris, too. It was probably the best job I ever had, in terms of adventures. Every day I'd make my way over to the apartment where Sharon and Rebecca ordered and organized the books. I'd whisk away a suitcase to some far-off corner of the city, and sell cookbooks or treatises on the luxury industry or New Yorker cartoon compilations or novels at private parties. I always met the author, and I was always surprised by some detail or other. I have many stories from that time and I'm still trying to make sense of all the information I absorbed: flashes of lessons about class, or wealth, or ambition, or failure; the degree of sheer weirdness; the universality of books as something people wanted to buy.
But I always loved the reading series. I started signing up for them all the time; their recurrent nature made it a relaxing night (I always knew where the venue would be and what it would be like, rather than running around the subway in a panic trying to find a neighborhood I'd never been to before), and the readers were so lovely. Their writing was often not as good as the bigger authors', but they wanted it more. They would stand up at KGB Bar or Happy Ending or wherever, and, in a trembling voice (or sometimes overconfident), read their newly published piece or work in progress. And then there were the people in the audience: there just to hear something new, or support their friend, or have a place to be that was interesting. It seemed such an important part of New York. There was space to listen, space to be quiet. There was space to be around literature, and room to breathe. And there were so many book events that you could hear just about anything on a given night.
So I wanted to give that to Hartford, to make that space. I had no idea what or who would fill it in, and I was surprised by the answers. I wish I had more time to work on it, or that I could make it even bigger and better than it is. But for now it is a small and beautiful thing in a small and beautiful coffeehouse. I'm glad it's there, and I hope that it gives someone else the ten minutes they need to take a breath, and read their hard-worked paragraph out loud.