An enthusiastic crowd filtered into the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge on a crisp Sunday evening in early November for a new Atlanta reading series. Three writers and a band took the stage for the third installment of “lostintheletters,” a monthly two-hour event combining literary and musical talent.
The dusky basement space was lit with candles and had the intimate atmosphere of a speakeasy. On one side of the ballroom, the Vouched Books table, staffed by founder Laura Straub and her husband, offered a wide variety of small-press books for sale. Lily and the Tigers, a local “gothic Americana” band, which appeared minus its drummer and fiddle player, kicked off the event with several songs. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Casey Hood mesmerized the audience with her sleek voice and haunting lyrics.
The first reader, Cristen Conger, is a staff writer for HowStuffWorks.com and co-hosts the podcast “Stuff Mom Never Told You.” Because participants are asked to read material they did not necessarily intend for publication, Conger chose a series of memos she wished she had sent herself, reading them with a lively and engaging sauciness. In the hilarious “Memo From Future Self Regarding Colonoscopy,” she diagnosed herself with Crohn’s disease after consulting the WebMD symptom checker and underwent an unnecessary colonoscopy.
Johnny Carroll, who writes for PurgeATL.com, read four short pieces that, he warned the audience, revolved around “mommy issues and Jesus issues.” His prose style was associative, rambling and conversational, encompassing subjects such as fast food, pinball and tequila. His “What We Remember Defines Us” chronicled the protagonist’s transformation from bully to Christian convert, when he “stopped calling people fags and started praying for them.”
After a short break and additional lilting harmonies from Lily and the Tigers, Kristi DeMeester read a pair of dark fictional works. She prefaced them by declaring that for her, Halloween is “not a holiday but a state of mind.” Accordingly, her story “Like Feather Like Bone” featured a sinister little girl who sat under the narrator’s porch summoning birds, breaking their bones and eating them. “I want wings,” the girl explained, “wings the color of the sky.” DeMeester, who has an M.A. in professional writing from Kennesaw State University, teaches high school English in Fulton County.
“Lostintheletters” is the brainchild of Scott Daughtridge, an Atlanta native who recently returned to the city after a stint in Brooklyn. A fiction writer with a master’s degree in social work, he envisioned a reading series that would pair Atlanta’s many emerging writers with more established ones. Because writing is such a solitary activity, he wanted to provide more opportunity to participate in the area’s growing literary community.
“It would be great if there were a reading in Atlanta every night of the week,” Daughtridge said.
He wanted to widen the audience for readings by adding live music, aiming for a more dynamic experience than the traditional stand-alone reading. And he wants to try innovative ways of promoting literary events, taking notes from his concert promoter friends.
Video footage of all readers and musical performers will be available in the “lostintheletters” Web archive.
The next “Lostintheletters” will take place Sunday, December 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge and is scheduled to feature writers Collin Kelley, Monic Ductan, Christopher Martin and Jayne O’Connor and musical act Christ, Lord.