Mira Ptacin (And Her Pioneer Family) Grow Freerange Nonfiction

February 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

An interview with Mira Ptacin, founder and curator of Freerange Nonfiction, a monthly nonfiction series downstairs at the Cornelia Street Cafe

Your website mentions starting Freerange out of hunger for a good nonfiction forum. What was the landscape like at the time for new writers looking to read work in the City? Were there other options out there you saw yourself in contrast to? Were there any nights or venues that inspired you?

When I started Freerange, I was somewhat new to the city–not to mention the literary scene–and it was difficult for me to find a place outside my circle of friends (who happened to be young writers, too) where I could share my work that wasn’t either an open mic night, or a venue for professional authors who had been booked in advance. It was frustrating. Also, since my genre is nonfiction, it can sometimes be terrifying to read your writing to strangers, because, well, it’s nonfiction, it’s a testimonial, it’s a confession. It’s extremely intimate–you’re sharing something you just could not keep inside you, and you’re sharing it with total strangers. If you’ve got the balls to share your story, it’s a gift to have a safe place to share it.

I’m from the school of thought that if you want something done, you don’t wait for it to magically happen. So after a brief stint looking for a nonfiction reading series, I came up empty handed, and rather than wait for one to appear in my google results, I decided to start one and hit the ground running.

How has this landscape changed in the years since you started?

I think the literary scene right now is popping. Since I stuck my nose into the community, I’ve noticed that more than a few literary events are growing stronger, rather than fading away. I think the reason the literary community is so strong right now is because the people involved are EXTREMELY supportive of one another. Writers know that encouragement and support is vital to thriving, and they know that it’s often rare to get that support. I think writers, especially emerging writers, understand that there’s a lot of karma in the industry and art of the written word. So it’s only natural that writers help one another. In my opinion, the lit scene isn’t competitive. It’s very, well, loving. It’s like a eccentric, functioning pioneer family. The publishing world is a different story. I’m not as familiar with the mood of that scene, other than it’s been through the ringer, but is tough as nails.

There are countless stellar events for writers of ALL levels, and they are thoroughly enjoyable for non-writers, too. My husband and my sister are not writers, and to see them enthusiastically attending these events is a testament to how fresh and fun and inclusive these events can be.

How’d you end up at the Cornelia Street Cafe?

To be honest, I had been dating a jazz musician who had performed at the cafe a lot. I always loved going to the shows at Cornelia Street–the space was cozy, the colors were soothing, the location was easy, and it seemed like it had a lot of regulars. I ended up befriending a very swell fellow named David Devoe, who curated the music events at the cafe. I pitched him the Freerange Nonfiction idea, and he put me in touch with Angelo, who curates the literary events. The only slot available was an awkward one: the 1st Wednesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. But I took it, and it’s been a success ever since. Wait, maybe not a total success–lately, we’ve been having completely sold-out/standing room only shows, but I do remember there was a particular Freerange installment that was pretty embarrasing: it was the night after Obama won the election. It was cloudy, cold, soggy, and just plain gross outside. I’m assuming no one wanted to leave their house/was exhausted from the celebrations the night before. But we had a show. Our featured writer was author Ben Greenman. Sadly, the only people in the audience were the people who were also reading that night, so the event had a population of about 7. I was terribly embarrassed, as I  had told  Ben that our shows were very well-attended. Thankfully, the lack of attendance didn’t seem to phase Mr. Greenman. It was a pretty fun (and intimite) reading. And Ben came back to read about a year later (and the house was completely packed).

Tell me a little about Mary Morris. How did you two connect initially & why’ve you decided to have her on as a featured reader this week?

I really don’t have a set formula for how I curate the shows–I find it nearly impossible to be rigid. Also, being predictable can sometimes be a little boring. I wouldn’t call my curating an art form, but I do try to mix things up. Maybe I’ll book an author who recently published a book, or their publicists will contact me. Sometimes I take a poll, sometimes I invite authors who have something random in common. I recently brought on 2 staffers to help me with Freerange (it’s become too big for me to handle on my own), and one of the staffers (Mary B., Freerange’s new Director of Creative Outreach) suggested we invite Mary Morris to read at our show. She is a student of Mary Morris, as well as an admirer of her work. When we told our Freerange fans that Mary Morris was reading, we had a HUGE response–she has some serious devoted fans. She’s a pretty amazing woman and writer, and I cannot wait for the show this Wednesday. We’ll also be hosting some great emerging talent, and one of those readers is Penina Roth, the curator and founder of Brooklyn’s Franklin Park Reading Series. (See? Small, supportive family!)

Describe 1 wild dream for the future of Freerange.

A wild dream? I have a lot of ideas and goals for FR that are in the works: Freerange writing workshops, editing services,  a collection of Freerange essays, a better website, a better time slot (hint, hint, Cornelia Street). . . Really,  I just want Freerange to be more than just a reading series. We’re working on building it into being the best tool it can be for writers and all those interested in creative nonfiction–a collective, an inspiration, a guide, a forum, etc. etc. The go-to place for all things “creative nonfiction”.

But as far as a WILD dream for Freerange? Ok–right now, Freerange is a 100 percent volunteer-run project. I actually loose a little bit of money each month). But someday, SOMEDAY I’d like to be able to bring in some money and donate the profits on a continual basis to animal farm sanctuaries. Freerange isn’t just for writers! Sometimes, I hold raffles at our shows where I make chocolate truffles, the authors donate books, we sell tickets and donate all the profit to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York. To wit, I guess that’s what motivates and inspires me: helpless creatures. Writers, and animals. In a lot of ways, both groups are quite ripe for love, care and support.

If you want to learn more about the Freerange history and mission, (and what “freerange NONFICTION” is), Mira has all the answers here. The next Freerange Nonfiction reading will be tomorrow, February 2nd, at 6pm and will feature Mary Morris. For reservations please visit http://www.corneliastreetcafe.com or call 212/989-9319

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