Reading heartfelt work in front of peers can stir up a pool of nerves in any social situation.
But with strings of Christmas lights, a supportive crowd and an introduction rife with light-hearted “roasting,” the Moon Tunnel Reading Series helps to build graduate students’ ability to read in public.
The reading series started last academic year. It consists of four reading events held in the downstairs space of ARTS/West at 132 W. State St. with one held upstairs, as well. Each show lasts roughly an hour, and consists of three to five 10-minute readings after a two-minute introduction given by a friend of the reader.
“It’s a good turnout every reading with 30 people at least, always on the borderline of too many people,” Derek Robbins said.
Robbins, a graduate student studying poetry, and Sarah Minor, a graduate student studying non-fiction, created a Moon Tunnel to fill the gap that Dogwood Bloom leaves.
Dogwood Bloom Reading Series, a tri-annual reading series named after the local Dogwood trees and held in Galbreath Chapel, allows second-year students in Ohio University’s graduate English program to read their work aloud in a more formal setting. Minor and Robbins, however, noticed the need to allow first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-year students in the program to continue harnessing the skill of public reading.
“Moon Tunnel is part of a five-year Ph.D. program and has a social element where graduate students get the opportunity to read in a safer space before being asked to read for a bigger audience,” Minor said. “Some of our colleagues have work published and some have books, but the work is not easily available. It’s a chance for us and the community to know each other’s work.”
The name “Moon Tunnel” originated from a myth of the Moonville Tunnel in Vinton County, where purports a ghostly figure carries a lantern at the end of the tunnel. Minor said the lantern carried by no one acts a metaphor for the proliferation of art, but Moon Tunnel has grown to have its own distinct meaning.
“We wanted it to be a local reading series with a local title,” Minor said.
The fourth date of this academic year will take place Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Minor and Robbins organize the readings to have a mix of students from different years and genres with readings ranging from funny to serious.
The two typically emcee the event, but since they are both reading work on Friday, Robbin’s wife and graduate student Sonia Ivancic and writer Thomas Mira y Lopez will host the evening.
In addition to the organizers, poet Emily Kramer and fiction writer Michelle Pretorius will also read their work. Pretorius published her first novel, The Monster’s Daughter, last July with Melville House.
The OU English department provides Moon Tunnel with enough funding to rent the space and to supply food for the event.
“It is wonderful because it allows the English students to express themselves in a less formal setting than a university building, and it seems like a great bonding experience for the students, too,” Emily Beveridge, an event coordinator for ARTS/West, said.
Rather than being held in ARTS/West downstairs, the final date for Moon Tunnel will be held in the gallery upstairs as a sendoff to graduate students in their final year. It usually attracts a larger audience of 60 to 70 people supporting the readers.
Moon Tunnel also seeks to engage local writers and readers and, as Robbins said, “build a literary community which is something we would love to do. We are opening ourselves up to the public to watch Ph.D. students for five years with connections to the Athens community.”
Minor further explained this wider aim.
“We are not trying to be in an insular department and engage with the community,” Minor said. “We intended to get away from campus. Our department feels very separate from the college and we want to have people see writing as a thing living and in the world.”