Eight women will share personal nonfiction stories tonight in an event called “A Reading of Her Own,” starting at 7 p.m. at MoAv Coffee, 2501 Montana Ave.
Playing off Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” the event is sponsored by the Billings Area Literary Arts, an organization that borrowed the idea from a sister organization, Helena Literary Arts. The reading is also an official event of the High Plains BookFest, which runs Thursday through Sunday in Billings.
One of the organizers, Ashley Warren, who teaches writing at Montana State University Billings, said BALA put on its first “A Reading of Her Own,” in June, and it “was a pretty big success.”
“People commented on how moved they were by the stories and how having an event like this … puts the audience in a very attentive setting,” Warren said. “It felt very intimate, even though there were probably 40 or 50 people there.”
Warren said readers were solicited by BALA, starting with 15 to 20 names and winnowing the list down to eight. Organizers asked each of the women they spoke with to suggest future participants, and they now have 30 names under consideration for a similar event in the spring, Warren said.
In addition to Warren, readers tonight will be Laura Bailey, Cara Chamberlain, Ellen Kuntz, Amelia Danielle Marquez, Molly Ouellette, Kate Restad and Penny Ronning.
Warren said they aimed for diversity in age, ethnic and cultural heritage and in writing experience. Two of the readers are not primarily writers — Kuntz, who is a visual artist, and Marquez, who is involved in theater.
“We want to give a platform to any woman in the Billings area with a story,” Warren said.
And though Warren and Anna Paige, who helped organize the event, offered to edit and make suggestions on the readings, no one was required to submit essays or memoirs in advance.
“We don’t censor and we don’t approve the pieces beforehand,” Warren said. “We just invited women who have a story to tell or we expect they have a story to tell.”
She also warned that many of the readings involve “adult, raw material. Some of it is deeply personal in kind of a thoughtful way. Some of it’s funny. Not every one is necessarily going to bring tears to your eyes.” Her own piece, she said, is titled, “Things You Learn After Your Fourth Concussion.”
The writers will cover a range of topics from hysterectomies to trans rights.
“The reason our writers can be so personal is because we’ve created a safe space for them to express the things that they may not feel comfortable expressing in other settings,” Warren said. “It’s rare to attend a reading of only women writers, and that’s why we host these events.”
The event is free, but donations of $5 to $20 are suggested, with proceeds going to Free Verse, a project that takes writing classes into Montana juvenile detention centers. Warren’s work on a Free Verse project in Billings was the subject of an earlier story on Last Best News.