Reading Series Census: Oh, Bernice!

By on Tuesday, October 13th, 2015 at 9:04 am

The New York City Reading Series Census is an ongoing project to catalogue the contemporary literary scene. Any reading series curator in the New York area can take the survey here.

John Rice and Jenna Telesca have traded off responding for Oh, Bernice.

What is the name of the series, and what is the significance or meaning of the series name?
The reading series is named after our writers collective. The collective, originally nameless when started in 2010, eventually got its name from our email listhost.

Proposed mailing list names included:

“Super Duper Writing Grouper!”
“The Killer Doves”
“Inka Dinka Doos”
And “Bernice,” suggested by collective member John Reid Currie.

The internet being a crowded place, “Bernice” was taken, so I made it “Oh, Bernice!” A sentence is better than a name any day. And, incidentally, the line “Oh, Bernice!” was already written into one of John’s short stories.

The collective quickly took on the listhost’s name. Now, we identify as Bernicians.

– JT

Who founded the series, and who runs it now?
In January 2012, Oh, Bernice! Writers Collective expanded to a reading series. Bernician Tyler Rivenbark got the series going, organizing the first reading at Café Marlene in Sunnyside, Queens.

John Rice has been our esteemed series coordinator since 2013.

The Bernicians all share hosting duties, and we’re going to be mixing things up for the 2015/2016 season, with more of the group getting involved in the reading logistics.

– JT

What genres or mediums does the series include?
Bernice takes submissions in all genres. (#Yesallgenres?) We’ve been lucky enough to have submissions (and readings) in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and drama. We’ve also been talking to playwright and Australian animator, Jack Feldstein–he’s read from some his dramatic pieces for us before, but, at some point in the future, we’re hoping to figure out a way to show some animations, too.

– JR

What is the format of the series?
At its core, each reading features four readers, from a variety of genres and walks of life, including both established and emerging writers. A different Bernician hosts every month, curating readers and bringing their own personality to the evening. (See that last section for what I mean by that.)

– JR

Where does the series take place?
We’ve been operating out of the Astoria Bookshop for the past couple of years. Before that it was Cafe Marlene, in Sunnyside (which I heard closed, I believe, just last year). We’re big on the Queens scene, but our work has also brought us to have pop-up events in Fanelli’s Cafe and Union Hall, as well as festival appearances in the New York City Poetry Festival and the BK Lit Crawl.

– JR

When and how often is the series performed (and is it seasonal)?
The Oh, Bernice! Reading Series happens on the third Saturday of every month, from October to June. (Except December, when we move it up a week to avoid holiday traveling.)

– JR

How long has the series been active?
Oh, Bernice! first took the mic in January of 2012, and we kept going ever since.

– JR

Where can people find information about series on the web?
Folks can feel free to check out ohbernice.com for more information about the series and what else we’re doing. We’re also occasionally on Tumblr and Twitter (@ohbernice).

– JR

Do you take submissions, solicit material, or a combination?
Ideally, both. I know quite a few of the Bernicians, myself included, will go out to a reading and wind up booking someone. There’s nothing I like more than seeing a really awesome writer read and trying to snag them for the series. (If I can pretend I actually have people skills and aren’t actually seriously introverted, that is!) We do take submissions, too, year-round. Writers in any genre can send us an email at bernicesubmissions@gmail.com, with a writing sample of up to 10 pages.

– JR

Did you set out with specific goals when the series was launched and have they changed over time?
Oh, wow, yes. The first Oh, Bernice! reading was just six of us, up on the stage in the basement of Cafe Marlene. We didn’t really think anyone would show up, we just wanted to give ourselves a reason to keep writing. (People showed up, so we started thinking about the next month.) So much has changed since then! We’ve been honored to have countless amazing writers read with including multiple Guggenheim fellows, a Lambda Award winner, a Grammy Award winner, and many, many others. So, I guess our goals now are to showcase the best writing we can and to really prove how vibrant the literary scene is here in Queens, NY.

– JR

What distinguishes the series from others?
I think I can sum this up in one word: personality. It’s not just the strong visual style and jokes about the movie Kazaam, there are also times when we try to reinvent what a reading is—it’s led us to host evenings like The Oh, Bernice Dating Game, game shows involving talking pineapples, a visit from Edgar Allan Poe, and Dollar Store Secret Santa. Even when we’re not being goofballs, when we’re just bringing you high-quality literature in all genres, we’re doing it with a certain panache, a certain élan. New month, new Bernician, new reading.

Come out and see us sometime!

– JR

The next Oh, Bernice reading is scheduled for Saturday, October 17th, 2015 at Astoria Bookshop.

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