A woman undergoing treatment for cancer strives to connect with her young daughter, even as she seems to be developing a new friendship at her chemo sessions. A middle-aged daughter tries to help her mother, who is suffering from dementia, deal with her impending eviction. A young man going out to buy condoms instead ends up part of the search for a lost car.
Three local writers — Jennifer Hudson, Susan Nathiel, and Charles Rafferty — shared these stories with a curious crowd at Lotta Studio on Tuesday at Local Lit at Lotta.
The brainchild of Rebekah Fraser, Local Lit is a night of readings from New Haven area writers, coedited and hosted by Fraser and Erin Townsend.
The photography studio on Whalley Avenue was transformed Tuesday into an intimate auditorium, with partitions that compartmentalized the house, lectern, and a pair of buffet tables with space for snacking and smaller discussion.
Fraser was poised and in good humor as she welcomed the gathered audience, expressing her gratitude to Townsend, to the writers who submitted and were selected to read that night, to Mistina and Luke Hanscom for providing the space, and to renaissance man Bennett Lovett-Graff for his counsel in development of the Local Lit project.
Hudson read first, from “Fetch,” a literary story she is developing. The narrator and protagonist of “Fetch” is an author and widow undergoing treatment for cancer and struggling with her identity, self image, and remote relationship with her young daughter, as she makes a new friend at her chemotherapy infusions. After Hudson finished reading, Fraser resumed her position at the lectern and led an impromptu classroom critique and discussion of the themes, action, and devices of Hudson’s story. The group shared their thoughts with curiosity and interest, two speakers saying back-to-back that the story was about being “authentic” and about being “in the closet,” respectively.
Fraser adjourned the audience for a 15-minute intermission. While the crowd chatted over wine and dip, Townsend explained that she got involved with Local Lit after meeting Fraser in a writers’ group. “She shared the idea for the project, and I wanted to be involved so I volunteered to help her,” Townsend said. She said that she has a primary interest in speculative and imaginative fiction and focuses on composing short stories.
Fraser playfully regathered the attendees to their seats and we resumed with a reading from Nathiel titled “Let’s Not Tell Them Everything.” A mental health professional and another of Fraser’s and Townsend’s writers’ group colleagues, Nathiel’s story about mothers, daughters, dementia, and eviction was poignant and humorous. It was surprising and “immersive,” according to audience members during the talk back. An attendee remarked that many moments in Nathiel’s story that could’ve comprised the stress and conflict of a long story unto themselves were framed as non-issues that we could move on through, accepting and understanding the chaos of a mentally ill parent.
The closer was Charles Rafferty, director of the MFA writing program at Albertus Magnus College. His story, “The Light Makes Everything Harder to See,” contrasted vividly from the other two stories. Rafferty boomed through a brief adventure with an ambiguous end. A young man on the verge of some unprotected sex takes a walk to buy some condoms and thinks about his decisions. He then gets swept up in the search for a car that apparently went off the road on that foggy snowing night.
The discussions surrounding the earlier stories emphasized how the relationships of the characters filled the core of the stories. For Rafferty’s story the talk settled on the idea of the protagonist as a “lost” person, whose experience is, like Hudson’s protagonist, “isolated,” an attendee said. The discussion painted the story as hinging on the experience of one person in an environment of memories, aloof from other people, and the awesome danger of nature, rather than the effect of a specific relationship on a protagonist’s perspective or sense of self.
Closing the evening, Fraser invited any and all to submit work for the next Local Lit.
“It’s so nice, as writers, to get feedback from complete strangers!” Fraser said, thanking the audience for coming.
Local Lit at Lotta happens at Lotta Studios, 911 Whalley Ave., every other month on the first Tuesday night, at 7pm. The next session will be on Oct. 2. Any writers wishing to read at specifically that session should submit by Sept. 1. Any submissions past that deadline will be kept under consideration for future events, as submissions are always open. Visit Local Lit’s website here for details on how to submit.