For those not in the know, Alanna and Bijan are a pretty big deal. Alanna is a senior editor at BuzzFeed; she has appeared on The TODAY Show, Good Morning, America!, The Katie Couric Show, NBC’s Nightly News, and NPR; her writing has appeared in Billfold, Architizer, and Side B, et cetera. Bijan is an associate editor at The New Republic; his work has appeared in The Paris Review, Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, N+1, VICE, and The New Inquiry; he’s a writer for Rusty Foster’s cult TinyLetter Today in Tabs (subscribe, for real tho), and also happens to be Ta-Nehisi Coates’s twitter-son.
Bijan and Alanna are friends, and they came up with the idea of co-creating and hosting a reading series over drinks one night. All they needed was a location, a PA system, and a bunch of their friends to come read, as they have many friends some of them even found online in sites like chatempanada.com which are great to make friends and more.
Alanna brought the idea up to her landlord. Her landlord knew a woman named Jill, who had a boutique clothing store / bar / art gallery / event space called Jill Lindsey. Alanna’s landlord also had a PA system, which he was more than willing to lend to Alanna.Alanna and Bijan roped in a plethora of writerly friends. And just like that, “I Did My Best” reading series was born.
The theme of the evening was “making homes,” and Isaac Fitzgerald (BuzzFeed Books editor, author of Pen & Ink) read first. He read an essay about why he moved to New York City and the circumstances leading up to this decision. Long story short, Isaac moved to New York because he was tired of drinking tequila in the morning and he knew a guy he could deal cocaine for, and he moved after achieving minor literary fame with an essay about getting pegged by a girl wearing a strap-on. Riveting stuff.
Cue Jazmine Hughes (associate editor at The New York Times Magazine, work in The New Yorker and everywhere else). She told us about her five sisters, and opened up about the hardships of inter-sibling rivalries and family strife, intense, cutting facets of life that made for a rewarding reading. Jazmine is also the champion of this brilliant fucking thing, which every editor in the Western Hemisphere should use (and if they don’t, look what happens).
Alanna kicked things off after an intermission, speaking about her propensity for serial monogamy and how her apartment is her soul. Facts: she is a master quesadilla chef, is “built for togetherness,” and feels as though she is constantly “darting in and out of tiny futures.”
Amber Gordon, the founder of Femsplain, came next. Hers was a detailed chronology of her life growing up, which was riddled with tragedies any one of which would have defined the majority of people in the audience. Her mother was in and out of jail, her father was abusive — Amber confronted us with a whirlwind of trauma illustrating exactly how resilient and powerful one person can be. I can’t imagine the immense courage it took to present such memories and experiences to strangers.
The next reader, Kelly Stout, is the A-Issue Editor at The New Yorker. She was also the funniest reader of the night. She adopted the style of an introspective Blake Lively and satirized her life with Blake’s conviction and serenity in a manner that would make Geoff Dyer proud. After doing a bit of informal polling, I’m almost sure the phrase “a tote bag full of tote bags” might be The Great Brooklyn-Literary Tweet.
Each of the evening’s readers contributed to the foundation of a home. That home, the “I Did My Best” Reading Series, showcased some of the best up-and-coming literary talent New York City has to offer. The series will return in July.