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.
What is the name of the series, and what is the significance or meaning of the series name?
The First Person Plural Reading Series—Harlem was founded in 2011 with the hope of bringing more attention to creative communities in Harlem. We began this series by inviting inventive, inspiring writers and artists to showcase work written from a “we” or plural POV. We are interested in the “we” because we contend that the “I” does not exist in any sort of truthful singularity. We are interested in the collective as it manifests in all temporary forms, collaboration as it evidences moving through disagreement, and community as it situates itself locally despite all efforts to stretch it past its thinnest point.
Who founded the series, and who runs it now?
Our co-founders were Stacy Parker Le Melle, Amy Benson, and Wendy S. Walters. In 2014 Wendy S. Walters stepped down, and in 2015 Melody Nixon joined as co-curator.
What genres or mediums does the series include?
All writing genres: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and cross-genre, plus visual, sonic, and performance art.
What is the format of the series?
Each quarterly reading features three or four reader/performers, typically three writers or poets and one artist. Each performer shares her work for 15-20 minutes each. Our three co-curators introduce each of the performers, who are then accompanied by a song of their choice as they approach the stage. The audience is encouraged to stick around afterwards for the cash bar, conversation, and live music.
Where does the series take place?
Most often at Shrine World Music Venue, a bar and music venue located at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell (7th Ave) between 133rd and 134th streets in Harlem. We also work with Silvana, a bar and performance space located downstairs at 300 west 116th street, near the intersection with Fredrick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.
When and how often is the series performed (and is it seasonal)?
We are a quarterly reading series, based loosely around the academic year. We hold two readings between September and December, and two between January and April.
How long has the series been active?
Four plus years (since 2011).
Where can people find information about series on the web?
At our website: www.firstpersonpluralharlem.com. On Twitter: @FPPHarlem, on Instagram: @fppharlem, and on Facebook at The First Person Plural Reading Series—Harlem.
Do you take submissions, solicit material, or a combination?
We almost entirely solicit, but are not opposed to being approached by interested writers or agents.
Did you set out with specific goals when the series was launched and have they changed over time?
We set out to bring attention to creative arts practitioners in Harlem and to build an arts community here, and our intention today remains the same. While we see the FPP community growing and building, we’d like to foster more interaction between diverse communities of writers and artists based uptown.
We also continue to ask many similar questions as we set about asking in 2011. The “We” in literature is strange, it makes a claim that might make us uncomfortable. We set out to investigate: who is this “we,” how can a plural voice speak, think, or act? How sentimental is the desire for community? How many who wish for “we” desire belonging as being warmly swallowed up? How many who wish for community really want to lead, and stand somehow above? Are those who lead destined to make “we” about “me”?
What distinguishes the series from others?
1) Our location (named “Harlem’s best reading series” by Time Out New York);
2) Our focus on the “we” and collective voice;
3) Our intent to foster a creative community based on both the literary and visual-sonic-performing arts; and
4) A deep commitment to bringing the best of contemporary literature, poetry, and boundary-pushing performance to Harlem.
The Next First Person Plural will be on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at Shrine and will feature Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Margo Jefferson, Victor LaValle, and Emily Raboteau.