On Friday night, I made my way up the stairs to the Everleigh Social Club with a friend, to attend the 2011 Naked Girls Reading Literary Award Gala. The fabulous loft space was candlelit and lushly decorated. We were among the first guests to arrive and took our seats in front of the swing, to the right of the stage.
Inspired by and named after the infamous Everleigh Club of the 1900s, this modern incarnation was founded by Michelle L'amour and is an extension of Studio L'amour. The Everleigh Social Club, while open to members for special events like the Naked Girls Reading Series and SPEAKEASY, is also the home of a modern art movement called Cyprianism, "creating art through a life lived artfully." (A quote by Franky Vivid that I love. Read more here.)
From what I could see upon my entrance, the spirits of beauty, creativity, and sensuality are alive and flourishing in the Everleigh Club. Not unlike the ritual theater I adore by Terra Mysterium, the Naked Girls create a space and then fill it with intention, charging it with provocative elegance. On that night, the intention was to celebrate the five Literary Prize finalists, and I was honored to be in such good company.
The ladies on the stage disrobed at the start of each of the three reading sessions of the night. They did it gracefully, naturally, comfortably, at home in their skin and on the stage. Then they breathed the stories into life, charging each one with emotion, weaving the web of words around them. The crowd was rapt. One word kept coming to mind: communion: a sense of intimate fellowship or rapport.
The word "communion" has an interesting etymology, a little different than its more modern and ecclesiastical definition. It comes from the late 14th century Old French comunion, meaning "community, communion" (12c.), and from the Latin communionem (nom. communio) "fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing."
The act of reading someone a story, or having a story read to you, is intimate. We don't usually sit and read with strangers or people we dislike. If we read a story, it is with someone dear to us: a parent, child, partner. It's often a part of a ritual, like "the bedtime story" or a "reading hour." I love to read, but listening to a story is a different experience than reading a story. Listening takes us right back to our ancestors--sitting around a campfire to share in the storytelling experience, a sacred experience because it revealed ancient secrets, imparted treasured wisdom, taught life lessons, celebrated community milestones. The storytellers were both library and librarian.
Even today, when we listen, we receive something. Yes, it's the same story. Yes, the words are the same. However we add the element of performance, the experience of emotion conveyed by a reader, the feeling that there is an exchange with a person and not just a text. Communion.
This is one of the reasons I love to listen to audiobooks, especially those read by the author. It's like my own private bedtime story. In the reading of a story, the author has given me something, more than the words and the world they shape (although those are treasures). In an audiobook, as in a reading, they have given me an experience of the story.
It was an honor to hear my story read aloud on that stage, to experience my words delivered in such a beautiful and provocative way. I didn't win the prize, but I certainly felt like I was given something to treasure. (It made me all the more excited to hear the audiobook for my novel when Xe Sands finishes recording The Silence of Trees for Iambic Audiobooks.)
The Naked Girls Reading Series is now in cities across America, so you too can experience the glamour and allure of Naked Girls Reading.
Rick Kogan said it so well in an article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune in April 2011:
It is a beautiful and bold experiment to be sure, with the emphasis on, well, beautiful and bold.