Could Dylan Thomas, boisterous Welsh poet and advocate of public readings, have predicted today's open-mike nights? Siamese twins reciting rhymed quatrains in unison; anemic beat poets accompanied by ferrets and inbred Chinese dogs; the drunk, the infirm, and, of course, the eighteen-year-old who must read the painful rendering of his or her first sexual experience. The Luna Star Café certainly has seen its share of the absurd (most recently, a persona poem of Stalin as a bulimic), but lately its stage has given way to something more substantial.
Around five years ago, local poet Jay Snodgrass began an open mike at the café mainly for students in local MFA programs and anyone else who was game. "It was a great place for writers from FIU to read work, but that was basically all that was happening -- we were reading to each other," explains Mark Martin, a graduate of FIU's MFA program. To remedy that situation and appeal to a more eclectic crowd, Martin enlisted fiction writer Sarah Dodds and created the Luna Star Reading Series in April 2002.
Although recent high-profile guests have included Lyn Millner, who writes for National Public Radio's Weekend Edition and Marketplace, and Laura Valeri, whose first book of short stories, The Kind of Things Saints Do, won the University of Iowa Press's prestigious John Simmons Short Fiction Award, it's rare to find local literary celebs like Campbell McGrath or John Dufresne attracting crowds. Rather it's their protégés who are encouraged to take their turn at the mike. (This month Harvard grad Thomas Healy, who has had work published in The Paris Review, and writer-poet-actor John Colagrande, Jr., will share their words.)
"There's already an audience for the established writers," says Martin. "We want to focus on up-and-coming writers." After all, what does happen during that brief period between earning an MFA in creative writing and winning a genius grant? More than a little hunger, that's for sure. So it's good that this Sixties-style coffeehouse boasts an affordable menu of imported beers and gourmet coffee drinks, hearty sandwiches, designer pizzas, and several variations of baked Brie. Food for thought and action.