On a surprisingly brisk late-March evening, the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe abounded with writers, musicians, and other literary types. The dedication of the evening — co-sponsored by Housing Works and McNally Jackson — was to the work of Cheryl Strayed, and while the timing corresponded to the release of her memoir Wild, the event’s theme focused on her “Dear Sugar” columns for The Rumpus. (A collection of these, titled Tiny Beautiful Things, will be published later this summer by Vintage.) Late in the evening, Rumpus editor Stephen Elliott explained the origin of said column, and spoke about the creation of the event itself.
Some writers — Emily St. John Mandel, Gabrielle Hamilton, David Gutowski — opted for straightforward readings of Strayed’s columns, while others (Alexander Chee among them) took a more performative approach, reading in tandem, or blending thematically similar elements of different columns. (I ended up picking up a copy of Wild there; one of the columns may have also finally prompted me to delve into the work of Tomas Tranströmer.) Beginning with the folk-influenced work of Dayna Kurtz, music also had a place on the bill. Widowspeak closed out the night with a short set of Mazzy Star-esque pop (with a mean cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” thrown in to the mix.) In the end, the mood was celebratory, and surprisingly wide-ranging; it was the sort of night in which quotes from Tranströmer and — oddly — Donald Rumsfeld could sit beside blissful pop and irreverent references to plastic flamingos.
And then we all retired to Botanica, where I was talked into seeing if a pen could be nestled in my beard. (It could.)