Monday, January 26, 2009

My Off-Broadway Debut

I am still glowing from yesterday’s wonderful, festive tribute to Virginia Woolf on the occasion of the 127th Anniversary of her birth. Kris Lundberg, the actress and founder of the new Shakespeare’s Sister nonprofit theater company, organized the day, a staged reading of Edna O’Brien’s play, “Virginia.” She wrote to me about the Woolf conference and asked, oh, by the way, did I know a professor who could offer a brief pre-performance talk.

I volunteered with alacrity, half-expecting a “gee, thanks, but we were hoping for a famous and important Woolf scholar.”

But then, what to say? As I said out loud yesterday, I found myself imagining a really dull and dutiful talk. Then, I imagined something better and got really stressed until I remembered that I had just written an essay on Woolf and the common reader. I read that.

The essay was so long in the coming that I’m shocked. Years ago, when my book was about to come out, Joel Whitney invited me to write an essay on Woolf as an essayist, on my book and what inspired me, for Guernica. I accepted right away and then found myself utterly unable to write anything worthy.

And this wasn’t for lack of effort. I wasted my writing group’s time on a couple different failed attempts.

But then, last year, the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain announced a contest in honor of my late acquaintance and mentor, the beloved and dearly missed Julia Briggs: the best essay on the theme of Virginia Woolf and the Common Reader would win a generous sum of 250 pounds! That’s a motivator.

The piece I wrote turned out to be almost entirely about my grandmother. Not nearly as intellectual as I had thought, not formally innovative, not chock full of dazzling insights, not any of the things that might impress a reader at first blush. But, the more I looked at it, the more I thought it was ok as it was.

Actually, it felt great to read it aloud.

I should, by rights, talk less about myself, and tell you something substantive about how wonderful Shelley Ray & David McCamish & Kris Lundberg were in “Virginia.” I’ll have to save that for tomorrow.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is a great little essay that you read well on Sunday.

zhiv said...

Congratulations. This sounds wonderful.