The Twin Cities for bookish sorts
Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with Satish Jayaraj, who is the founder of the Cracked Walnut reading series. The series has been going on for about two years now, and one thing you may notice is that its readings are held in some very unusual places. They’ve had readings in a funeral home, an Indian grocery store, and of course, coffee houses. Satish says that the venues often occur due to some sort of connection – for instance, he knew someone who worked at the funeral home and the grocery store. And then, the content of the reading may take form in relation to the venue. So the funeral home reading was a little heavy on, yes, death. This also showcases our connection to spaces as humans – when we are in these spaces, listening to poetry or prose, we are interacting with them in different ways than we normally would.
It’s an interesting concept, to be sure, and one which Satish embraces in his mission to bring writing to new audiences. It’s certainly not your same-old same old. When Cracked Walnut started out, the readers were often friends, or friends of friends, but Satish has since followed his passion of including people he’s heard of. He is as passionate about including unheard voices as he is about reaching new readers. He wants “to get beyond the writer’s circle.” So it was not a bad thing that some folks in the grocery store wandering through the reading were actually just doing their shopping.
Which brings us to his latest endeavor. He's calling it the Cracked Walnut Lit-reading Festival. Satish has set up 21 readings over a period of a little less than four weeks, from March 18 to April 12. There were several reasons for this: National Storytelling Day (which is March 20), the lead-in to National Poetry Month, and the sheer volume of great writers in the Twin Cities.
This is something he noticed when he came here. Satish came to the US in 2001 to attend Purdue, and came to Minnesota in 2006 to attend the Hamline MFA program. He has since completed his MFA and is now a student in the MALS program there. His idea was to get in, get done, and get out. What could there possibly be to hold him in this flyover frozen wasteland? Well, like many before him, he has been hooked. He says, “As a writer, I’ve never seen a more supportive literary community.” He is continually taken with the talent and depth of the members of that community, whether it’s poetry, fiction or nonfiction. He himself writes in multiple genres, including poetry and fiction. Satish has a penchant for fantasy and has just released a novel called Secrets of the Naga Dragons, which stemmed from his MFA thesis (available on Kindle). He finds the reading series makes him want to write more.
This is the great thing about a series like this. It can be very inspiring. Satish will often go home from a reading and write pages and pages. It feeds the soul to hear the creative accomplishments of others. The Lit-reading Festival is a flash mob, a big burst of literature, which is sure to feed lots of souls. The writers include some names you will surely recognize (Katrina Vandenberg, Kris Bigalk, Wang Ping, Andy Sturdevant, Danny Klecko, Deborah Keenan, John Jodzio, Kelly Barnhill and many more), plus some that you will be hearing for the first time, including Satish himself. There will be slam and spoken word, memoir, poetry and more. They are all mixed together, and yes, most of these venues are places you are used to hearing readings: coffee shops, a bookstore and a library. Spread all around the Twin Cities, there is sure to be one near you. There’s even a session in a gallery in Duluth (which will be the first time Satish has visited the North Shore).
Find yourself a seat or a piece of wall to stand against (many of these are sure to be SRO), and enjoy some of the great literary talent that Minnesota has to offer. Many of the readings include other elements, too. At the Blackdog Café, there will be live music. At Maeve’s Café, there will be an Open Mic. The session at The Coffee Grounds will include the infamous Barbaric Yawp Open Mic, hosted by Christopher Title.
It’s going to be epic. Satish says, “If you’re curious about this series, this is a good time to try it out.” But don’t worry, there will be more Cracked Walnut readings in new and unusual venues coming up. He’s hoping to do a YA fiction reading soon. And he’s got some other tricks up his sleeve. This is a labor of love, and takes a lot of time. Full houses will show appreciation for all the hard work that goes into putting on a festival like this. The motto holds true, “Cracked Walnut brings talented voices to new and targeted audiences to foster a love of spoken literature, community and creativity.”
Find out where your next literary experience awaits by checking out the Cracked Walnut website, and follow them on Facebook (where you can also find the fan page for Satish’s fantasy novel) to find out about more upcoming events. Wander into a coffee house near you during this period, and you are likely to find a huddle of folks listening to stories. This festival does something truly profound: it showcases in a short period of time the vast variety and breadth of talent that we have in the Twin Cities. Go, get inspired!