Reading Matters

Literary events coming up

By Dannye Romine Powell

James E. McTeer II
James E. McTeer II Hub City Press

Strange thing about Charlotte: When there’s a bookstore reading, poets draw the largest crowds of any other genre.

A novelist can come to town to read from an acclaimed book, and two or three folks will show up. In March, our former and well-loved poet laureate Joseph Bathanti arrived on a Friday evening to read from his 2014 novel, “The Life of the World to Come,” at Park Road Books. His fans are legion. Yet, there were no more than five or six of us on hand, and one of those happened to be in the store shopping for a book. She heard Bathanti’s voice, wandered over to the reading area and settled in to listen.

A week or so later, Liza Wieland came all the way from Oriental (N.C.) to read from her new novel, “Land of Enchantment,” an intriguing, exquisitely written look at life, longing and art. She’s received fellowships from the NEA and the N.C. Arts Council, and is the author of several novels, short story collections and a volume of poetry.

How many showed? No more than six.

But book a poet, and the place is packed, people sitting on the floor, standing in the aisles. Unless, of course, it’s Pat Conroy or Wilton Barnhardt (“Look Away, Look Away.”)

What gives?

For one thing, Charlotte-area poets have a wide and energetic network of fellow poets. Many are in critique groups together and are often long-time friends. They’re also skilled at using Facebook to get the word out about the reading. They support each other.

And poets love a party. Often, after the reading, the audience is invited back to the poet’s house for wine and cake. Who can resist?

Over the next couple of weeks, there’s a variety of literary events at Park Road Books, beginning Thursday evening at 7 with two crowd-pleasing authors: the poet Maureen Ryan Griffin (“Ten Thousand Cicadas Can’t be Wrong”) and memoirist Gilda Morina Syverson (“My Father’s Daugher: From Rome to Sicily”).

On Saturday at 2 p.m., two intriguing-sounding debut novelists will read.

James E. McTeer II, whose novel, “Minnow,” is the winner of the South Carolina First Novel Prize. He happens to be the grandson of the late J.E. McTeer, whose 37 years as high sheriff of the Low Country (and local witch doctor) inspired this novel about a small boy who leaves his dying father’s bedside in search of a medicine for the father’s mysterious illness.

With him will be Richmond’s Jon Sealy, whose novel, “The Whiskey Baron,” is a wiley account of one man’s whiskey empire, set in 1932, partially up Upstate South Carolina and in a Myers Park-like neighborhood in Charlotte. The Richmond Times said the novel is “What you’d get if Cormac McCarthy and William Faulner co-wrote the HBO series ‘Boardwalk Empire’ while on an especially inspied, existentially tinged bender.”

Next week, on Wednesday, May 13, at 7 p.m., the poet-memoirist Michael White (“Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir” and “Vermeer in Hell”) will read with Charlotte poet Gail Peck (“The Braided Light”). Both readers will deal with the power of art to reconfigure pain.

Park Road Books is at 4139 Park Road, Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte, 28209.

All events are free and open to the public.