If you don’t know anything about the Wheeler Centre you can catch up here. If you live in Melbourne you HAVE to attend some events - their calendar is packed with great stuff.
I was first to arrive at the Wheeler Centre for the quick sound and camera check (there will be a video of the event online soon) then I was shown to the green room and sat myself down with a glass of water and my copy of The Pale King and waited to meet the other readers for the evening.
At 6:10pm we were ushered out to the main room and the first thing that struck me was that there were so many people - the long narrow room was filled to the back - great work Melbourne!
First up was MC Tony Wilson. He introduced the evening and spoke briefly about Wallace before launching into a section of The Pale King. He selected the Lane Dean Jr section that had appeared in the New Yorker back in 2007 as Good People.
Next up was Lorin Clarke. She read from the essay Up, Simba (In Consider The Lobster, which appeared previously, and heavily edited, as The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys And The Shrub) in Rolling Stone) and it was clear she was very familiar with the piece. She read with passion, precise comic timing, and inserted her own asides to contextualise the whole piece.
Ronnie Scott, editor of The Lifted Brow (the Aussie lit journal that managed to get an exclusive excerpt from The Pale King, A New Examiner) followed Lorin with the final story from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Yet Another Example of the Porousness of Certain Borders (XXIV). An excellent selection. Brief, dense, and in front of a crowd ready to consume it.
I was next. My nerves quickly melted in front of a supportive, and much bigger crowd than I’d expected (I understand there had been 300 bookings, but rain just before the event cut into that - final numbers were around 170). I chose to read two sections about David Cusk from Chapter 13 of The Pale King. I had 30 seconds to explain my choice and insert a nod to the title essay from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’l Never Do Again based on my hotel experience that day (it first appeared as Shipping Out in Harper’s) which you’ll be able to hear once the video of the event appears. I have no idea how well I read. Before I knew it I was sitting down again.
I was followed by Nam Le (author of The Boat which I’m currently reading and enjoying a lot) who read two selections of Good Old Neon from Oblivion ; he was spectacular. He focused on the key aspects of the story that get to the heart of Wallace’s work, while avoiding the things that have drawn unwarranted attention from many commentators since Wallace’s passing. The audience was thrilled after his reading, as was I. It must have been amazing for anyone not familiar with Wallace’s work.
Toni Jordan finished up by reading one of the versions of Wallace’s Kenyon commencement speech available online, This is Water, in its entirety. It’s a piece written for reading and we all lapped it up. I haven’t grown sick of hearing this, and I was happy to hear it read by someone who was familiar enough with it to adjust tone, pace and volume for powerful effect.
Tony Wilson wrapped up the night with a very brief bit from chapter two of The Pale King and that was it.
Like a few other recent reports about Pale King events around the world - the venue emptied very quickly, but a few of us retired to a bar and then a restaurant in China Town for a late (and spectacularly tasty) meal.
Big thanks again to the Wheeler Centre for putting the evening together and getting me there, and a big hello to everyone I met on the night.
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