6:40pm I double-check, in my usual obsessive way, what time the Zadie Smith reading is at Butler. Just in case it's at 7pm, not 7:30. Could still make it in time if I hurried. Good! 7:30pm. Just as I thought. Plenty of time.....
6:40:30pm What? It's where? The Krannert Room at Clowes? Not the auditorium? WTF? How big is that room? Well, still have plenty of time.....
Drive across town, park the car in the near empty lot, enter the main doors....
7:15pm. Yep, you guessed it. Venue full. They turned away over 100 people. The room holds 220 and they strictly enforced the fire marshall rule about no standing. Not a chance they could move it to the larger auditorium (which holds like 1200 people, I think). Someone on the usher staff was overheard saying that they had the opportunity to move it to a larger room last week but the sponsors opted not to due to cost.
I waited around, in hopes that someone would leave. After all, there are always a lot of bored students who stay long enough at these events for the quotable bit to prove they attended. (Apologies to those of you students who are interested. Don't take offense.) I was amused by the number of students, some showing up as late as 8pm who tried the 'But I'm required to be here for class' line. Didn't work with the ushers who, kudos to them, were very gracious and respectful despite some very disappointed people turned away at the door. Even after a round of applause, signaling, I hoped, that the reading was over and Q&A was beginning, no one left for at least another 20 minutes.
I did get in to hear (kind of -- the mic was not very loud) the last 3 questions posed:
- Impact of book reviews: Smith said she writes for a couple of years but reviews only last a few weeks. They are mostly irrelevant; any writer knows whether his/her writing is good or not. And, she is suspicious that a popular book (including her own) is any good if it is a best seller.
- Favorite authors: Zora Neale Hurston was one.
- Thoughts on American writers: Smith lauded the 'wealth of writers' here who are able to write in their natural voices, something, she said, that British writers aren't allowed to do.
- On visiting Jamaica: The vast difference between the extreme poverty of the citizens and the largess of the tourists is too jarring. She didn't like to travel there.
I'm not disappointed that I stayed despite missing most of the lecture. I would have wondered all evening if I should have stayed. The reading was videotaped and will be available for viewing by appointment. Unfortunately, I doubt that my schedule will allow for that. Oh well. Lesson learned: check the venue and don't wait until the last minute. As if I didn't know that already!
I did think quite a bit about how expensive it must be to host this type of event. In the 3 or 4 years that I've been attending Butler University's Visiting Writers Series, I have never been asked for a donation. And, despite the students who are reluctant attendees, there are often large numbers of people in the audience who do not appear to be students. I'm surprised that they don't ask for donations. I appreciate that they are free to the community. Maybe they should ask for donations from non-student attendees. I've made some amazing discoveries by attending readings of authors whom I have never heard of before. I don't have any problems parting with my dollars at Landmark Theatres. Certainly the arts are worth more than the cost of a movie ticket.