Homestyle gathering opens writers’ hearts

Susan Lane foundation held its fifth north45east reading at Art in the Loft about one month ago. Six of the visiting authors, some of whom have been regulars at our events, shared new original work with a captivated hometown audience of roughly fifty-five. It’s always powerful hearing their work resonate in the gallery, but this year felt exceptionally forceful. The rhythm and timber of the language they put together in each piece mesmerized as did their stylistic approaches. They surely did not disappoint. It was everything we knew it would be. No surprise there.

What we weren’t expecting, however, were the ripples that continued outward afterward and even still.

The tradition going back six years is that we feed the visiting writers. They donate their time, so a meal is the least we can do for our guests who travel from all over Michigan: Ann Arbor, Oakland, Mt. Pleasant, Detroit, Saugatuck and Lansing. Downtown was bustling that night, including a live band in the alley next to The Center Building. We love that activity; seeing Alpena cram people from all walks into the downtown area is always a cool thing – the streets and local businesses come alive. But we thought on this particular night it might be a good idea to move away from the fray and host our gang in a place that was less busy. With less distraction. Something more conducive to inclusive conversation rather than trying to shout down a long table in a crowded dining room over the din.

So we tried something new and opted to cozy it up as our Aunt Christie and Uncle Rick graciously opened their home on Lake Huron to the twenty-plus of us. Furniture was pushed aside to accommodate two tables. Friend Jayne’s famous vegetarian lasagna recipe was prepared in advance. Sister Julie made green salads. Dad picked up the wine. PJ delivered loaves of the famous Courtyard bread. Mom, Chris and Margie greeted the party upon arrival while we tied up things at the venue. It was a family operation all the way, and the vibe that comes from this kind of home-styling, most will agree, goes further than just good food and beverage. We believe it’s the time and energy family and friends put into things that make for a more nuanced experience. It’s what has tied us more closely together for generations.

It was a beautiful evening at the lake. We set up a modest buffet on the kitchen counter. All helped themselves then picked a spot at one of the tables. After a quick toast of appreciation, the place erupted. The kind of euphoria that follows any live performance (whether one is in the audience or delivering it) is palpable, and the intimate celebration that follows can be equally as invigorating – sometimes, even more so. It certainly was true of this post-performance. The conversations that sprung up were surprising, poignant and resonant. We stepped beyond the immediate literary discussions and got personal. We engaged spouses and offspring. We talked about our favorite things, places, music. We discussed family histories, work and potential projects. We connected unexpected dots. There was a lot of laughter. After dinner, we walked to the water’s edge and to watch the full moon rise up and over the big lake.

Inviting people into your home that you haven’t really known on a deep level, sharing a meal and good conversations makes an experience real – not just on an existential level, but in a way that can form lasting relationships, one wherein we are more fully invested in each other. We’re not saying that this always happens, but think it does more often than not. What we were lucky enough to experience that night was a connection with visiting writers that changed us all. There were no longer visiting writers – but friends on a deeper, more lasting level. These are the immense benefits of simplifying and inviting people in. Whenever we can, we hope to expand our inner circle this way: with a warm home, a warm meal and time.

Siblings Anne and Joe are co-founders of the Susan Lane Foundation. Visit them on the web at www.susanlane.org.