Jenny Forrester of Unchaste Readers on Public Readings, 1001 Interviews No. 16

Jenny Forrester has been published in a number of print and online publications including Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, Gobshite Quarterly, Nailed MagazineHip MamaThe Literary KitchenIndiana Review, and Columbia Journal. Her work is included in the Listen to Your Mother anthology, published by Putnam. She curates the Unchaste Readers Series. Her debut memoir Narrow River, Wide Sky is forthcoming from Hawthorne Books in May, 2017.

Hawthorne Books:

Unchaste Readers Series:


Jenny was interviewed by Sarah Gibbon. Sarah is a Portland-based writer. She is currently enrolled in the Creative Writing and Publishing Certificate Program at the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

I know you are passionate about public readings, and I’d love to get your thoughts on how live readings can complement print publication and how they can be fulfilling in their own right. Why do you think it’s important to read stories in public and listen to live readings?

I appreciate your point about how live reading can complement print publication for writers and the opportunity to speak to ways to open up possibilities for people to get their voices heard.

Public readings are important for new [writers] and for some of us in our process of developing our voices, and it’s important to share our experiences of living and with the artistic process of writing. I don’t think it has to happen for every artist, but it can be crucial for some of us who haven’t had the experience of sharing our writing with others or having our writing valued in this way. Some of us grew up without any value placed on creative writing or writing that “doesn’t pay” or lead to employment.


I know a writer who says readings are a break in the contract between writer and reader – that reading is a private thing and shouldn’t be intruded upon by the writer once they’ve put the work into the world.

How is the dynamic between writer and reader different than between storyteller and live audience?

We’re listening for our own voice, adding our story to the human experience. We’re developing our craft when we see ourselves in front of the audience, when we see their reaction to us. It’s beneficial/a two-way street if it’s done right. We both get something out of it that’s beneficial to our growth. Hopefully.

Readings can turn into social scenes. An artist can become a scenester which can diminish their unique voice because audiences like to be entertained which isn’t always the main point of art and takes a layer of work on top of the message the artist is conveying. An artist can be motivated to take up artistic endeavors that don’t serve them – like trying to be shocking or funny or trying to align their story with particular narratives which ultimately doesn’t serve the audience either. Nobody grows. And not that art has to always serve the goal of growth, but that’s why I’m in this.

What is your advice for writers who haven’t read in public because they are nervous or don’t know how to get involved?

Read aloud multiple times, make notes on paper if you’re reading from paper. If you’re storytelling, breathe. If you’re nervous, you’re doing it right. You’re where you’re supposed to be – sharing something of yourself that is needed. That’s energy and something that needs doing. There are many readings – some ongoing series, some one-time shindigs, and there’s always the option of doing your own. The more vibrant and varied the opportunities, the better it is for everyone. We’re pushing ourselves and each other which can only serve art.

And don’t listen to advice, keep your own counsel and listen to what needs to be heard.

The first time I met you, you talked about your passion for collecting other people’s stories. How do you keep your balance between taking in other people’s stories and putting out your own?

I love this question. It’s a real thing. I know my art form, my voice, my story – know thyself and all. That’s important. When I’m writing, I don’t read other people’s prose. I read poetry, though. A lot of poetry all the time. There’s something about getting inspiration and craft mastery from other forms, whether it’s word art forms like slam poetry or the written word or visual art. I have to focus on my own art form and can’t pay too much attention to other people working in my own art form. There’s something about poetry, of course, that is important and massive. Poets know it, too. We need poets the most.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m getting my book launched for May, 2017, and I’m so grateful to Hawthorne Books for setting the May 5th book launch at the downtown Powell’s and helping me organize the book tour. I’m working on getting an Unchaste Anthology published and working on some reading events with other organizers to keep things vibrant and inspiring and expansive and challenging.

What are you reading right now?

Everything. Rebecca Solnit and Rene Denfeld and Matthew Robinson and Alexis Smith and Martha Grover. Claudia Rankine and Natalie Diaz and Emily Kendal Frey and Ocean Vuong. Blues Triumphant by Jonterri Gadson. The Watermark by Alice Anderson. Sherman Alexie. Sandra Cisneros. Margaret Atwood. And always Mary Daly and bell hooks. Always Sappho and William Blake. John Muir. Rumi.


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