#LitBeat: Tumblr Writers BEA Party
By Laura Yan
On Wednesday night I went to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe early, and watched as the quiet, dim bookstore steadily transformed itself. With cheery red and white name tags (with a space for your Tumblr URL), and free flowing wine, the few attendees wandering through the store quickly turned into a lively crowd; their conversations became a steady soundtrack, overtaking the pleasant indie music that played on the stereo. From my perfect vantage point next to the reading stage, I could count no less than six flannel shirts in the crowd in front of me.
I had expected everyone to be avid bloggers, but it turned out there were quite a few people there who hardly knew what Tumblr was—“Can you sign up for it like Facebook?” one woman asked me. A few of the early arriving guests I spoke with were there to see Baratunde Thurston, author of How to Be Black, funny person, and owner of a name that is apparently impossible to pronounce.
As it approached 8 (an hour after the event’s listed starting time), Housing Works’s events director Amanda Bullock took the stage to introduce the store that hardly needed introductions. The first reader, The Millions’s own Edan Lepucki, began with a proclamation of how much she loved Tumblr. She read, from the opening of her novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me, a story of inviting a first date home while wearing granny panties, full of self-aware humor: “it was all so predictable—you don’t need me to describe it,” she said of the minutia of seduction, and the audience chuckled appreciatively at her evaluation of the characters’s date: “it was a classy response.”
Next up, novelist Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh, was introduced by Tumblr events director Rachel Fershleiser as “a legit literary writer who really gets the Internet.” As if to prover her point, Chee read a short story from his iPad about an unexpected summer job at CVS. The unfortunate narrator, Stanley, crashed a car into a stone wall with a Mexican exchange student named Paco in tow.
Finally, Thurston, author and stand-up comedian (an unfair advantage Fershleiser pointed out, introducing him as “our last performer”), took the stage. Thurston, the “reverse introvert,” told a story about an encounter with an overly friendly person at a bar. The woman was a “horrible overlap of curious and excited,” and while his inclination was to tell her “Look, I’m over 30—my friend circle is closed,” he treated her as he would a parent after a phone conversation goes on for 20 minutes too long. He gave hilariously flattened, one word answers to her hyper-excited questions. The exchange eventually culminated in her exclamation of “You’re the whitest black guy I’ve ever met!” A fitting end to his pep talk on his book, which includes guidelines on “how to be the angry Negro,” not to mention, the important scientific tagline: “If you don’t buy this book, you’re racist. If your friends don’t buy this book, your friends are racist.”
Racism covered, readings accomplished, Fershleiser reminded the crowd that there was still plenty of time for “booze and flirting.” The crowd complied.