So, yeah, last year, I sort of semi-committed (just like I just did to that sentence structure right there) to helping run a literary open mic at Westerly’s own Maize ‘N’ Manna Wholefoods.
It’s owned and operated by Susan Ryan-Champouillon–and just by Googling it, you can see how beloved it is. I mean–YELP loves it, and YELP hardly loves ANYTHING!
It’s vegan and gluten free, you can buy bulk there (non GMO, all organic) INCREDIBLY inexpensively, and it has great ratings on The Happy Cow and Trip Advisor, and even has an article in The Mystic Wave about how it’s a great alternative to your usual coffee date.
I’m saying all this because I love the place, and I love Susan. She shows up to EVERYTHING!!! And she brings people. That’s NOT EASY when you’re a small business owner. She’s incredibly supportive of the arts, and Westerly is an ARTS HAVEN.
When I first moved here, I saw how musician-friendly it was. Music venues like The Knickerbocker, Perks and Corks, and The Malted Barley seemed to have something new every night.
But there weren’t a lot of places for . . . the written word.
Which is, as you know, my thing.
Five years later, we now have The Savoy Bookshop and Café–and boy, there’s the written word ALL OVER THE PLACE. They host author events and book debuts.
But an open mic for local writers? For the poets and prose scribblers of our town?
That’s all Susan at Maize ‘N’ Manna.
Having a space for young people to read their prose and poetry is Susan’s special and particular mission. From the beginning she’s declared that what she wants most is for the first hour to be devoted to younger writers, the second to adults. Nothing censored, necessarily. Just . . . available.
Now, we’ve been running this open mic at Maize N Manna for about a year now (well, a year next month), and I’ve maybe made it about half the time. And in that time, nary a young person in sight! Well, twenty-somethings. Sometimes. But no one under the age of 20.
The open mic’s always on First Fridays. And I always MEAN to be there, but I’ve been traveling a lot this year, and somehow don’t always manage to be in town on those days.
However! We do our best with the time we have, as Gandalf sort of said at one point to Frodo, but not really.
In that time, we’ve had tiny open mics, when it was basically Susan and Geno and me.
And then we’ve had slightly larger open mics, with a few friends showing up–sometimes even driving down all the way from Boston, because I have friends in Boston, and they like to come and hang out and support the arts (JULIA RIOS!!!)–or even from as far as Queens, NY (CARLOS HERNANDEZ) for much the same reasons.
BUT LAST FRIDAY! HOLY MOLY! OPEN MIC NIGHT WAS SPILLING OVER EVERYWHERE!!!
It was so exciting!
We had Westerly locals–the nice folks from J Mack Studios, folks from the Savoy, my buddy Marie from Mystic Aquarium, my roommates, more friends of Susan’s. AND we had BOTH Queens and Boston represented! (Thanks again, Julia and Carlos!!!)
WE ALSO HAD YOUNG PEOPLE!!!
FOR THE FIRST TIME, Susan’s DREAM of what her open mic could be came true. There were seven or so 7th or 8th graders, right there, cuddled together, supporting each other, being HILARIOUS, eating Susan’s delicious muffins, and best of all . . . READING THEIR WORK!
One girl stood up and SIGNED while her friend sang a verse from Disney’s “Moana.” Two girls read poetry. Another young man said, “I wrote a book of poetry–but I don’t have it with me,” perhaps implying he MIGHT, another time.
And they ALL sat quietly and were INTENTLY locked on when the other writers read their short stories, chapter excerpts, and poetry.
I think they particularly loved Christa Beauchamp’s short horror piece, which featured two young girls, and Carlos Hernandez’s novel excerpt from his middle-grade WIP Sal and Gabi Break the Universe.
Oh, they did all right.
And they felt EXACTLY LIKE I DID about him. So I think they liked the poem.
Afterward, the kids all rose up and left in a gaggle, taking their bikes back home. Curfew at 8, apparently.
The rest of us moved in a herd over to the Artists’ Cooperative of Westerly.
See, Susan chose First Fridays for our open mic because THAT’S the night of Westerly’s Art Crawl.
Westerly is a pretty hip and happening place on First Fridays. There’s music at several venues, and it’s also the day the gallery shows all new art for the month, with two new featured artists, and a nice wine and cheese spread.
A lot of us went, not only to support the gallery and these featured artists, but because our beloved Betsie Withey (you might remember her: she made my gown for the Nebula Awards ceremony last year) is now a member of ACGOW.
It’s so exciting to see her branch out from her WONDERFUL FAERIE MARKET ETSY STORE to galleries and museum gift shops. Nancy Burns-Fusaro of The Westerly Sun even featured Betsie in her Easy Chair series, here.
So we got to go and drool over the art, and buy ourselves more Betsie flowers.
Because if there’s one thing we ALL need more of, it’s BETSIE FLOWERS!!!
And after that, we took ourselves to The Twisted Vine, where we feasted and ate and drank and laughed, and toasted to the arts, and the artists among us.