Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SNEAK PEEK: Women of Letters!

If you haven't already heard of Women of Letters, you're missing out. Founded in Australia by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire in 2010, Women of Letters is a live storytelling event in which distinguished women artists, writers, and entertainers come together to share personal, intimate stories in the form of a letter, to, as the founders say, "revive the lost art of letter writing." Before the event each of the participants--which, in the past have included the likes of actress Edie Falco, musician Martha Wainwright, fashion designer Rachel Antonoff, and author Meg Wolitzer, among many renowned others--writes a letter along the lines of the night's theme and reads it aloud. Past themes include "To The Person I Misjudged," "A letter to the night I'd rather forget," and more. It provides a forum for creatively minded women to share their work and continue their evolution as artists in their fields while bonding with other women in a truly unique setting. Since it began, Women of Letters has gained a following that stretches from Los Angeles to Indonesia and back, and has spawned five books. All the proceeds from the shows go to charity, as well.

Tomorrow night, Women of Letters will be live in Manhattan, at Joe's Pub at The Public Theatre in the East Village, with readers Melissa Auf Der Maur (musician, singer/songwriter and former bassist for band Hole), Rayya Elias (filmmaker, musician, hairdresser, author of Harley Loco), Janelle James (writer, director, standup comedian), Maggie Ryan Sandford (scientist, researcher, writer for Smithsonian, Slate.com, The Onion and A.V. Club), Deborra-Lee Furness (actress, producer, director) and Megan Amram (screenwriter for Parks and Recreation, author of Science...For Her!). It will be hosted by writer Sofija Stefanovic. Tickets are $20 and the evening begins at 7pm.

Event founders Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire, who are both writers in their own right, were kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the event. Take a look below to learn more, and be sure to attend tomorrow night!  

Miss M: How did you come up with the premise of Women of Letters? How did it gain such a following? What was your goal when you started the event?
Women of Letters: We were inspired to start an event that would regularly showcase the work of brilliant women in some way, but it took a little while until we came up with the letter-writing concept. We’re both writers ourselves, and thought it was a nice device that other people might get excited about. Our goal was just to have more than 20 of our friends show up to the first event! From that first sold-out show we’ve gained a very loyal following, who love the event enough to keep telling their friends to buy tickets.

What made you decide to bring the event not just to New York, but to LA, Austin and Indonesia? How did you choose those locations?
In a way, they chose us - we got put on the SXSW bill in 2013 thanks to our dear friend Glenn Dickie, and then figured since we were flying so far we should do shows in other major cities in the US. Indonesia as a result of the wonderful Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. We love traveling the show.

Why do you think women need an event like this? 
As artists, women need more events where they can showcase their work to new audiences. The shows themselves are about a lot more than that though, and to be given an opportunity to openly share or bear witness to personal, intimate experiences, is incredibly powerful and unifying.

What effect do you hope it will have on your audiences?
Overwhelmingly Women of Letters events create a very tangible, human connection between reader and audience.  To be a part of something that exists only in that moment is a privilege, and we hope that the honesty inspires people to go home and write letters of their own!

How do you choose who will read at each event? 
We program women who are intelligent, interesting, hilarious and wise, in a manner that isn’t too dissimilar to formulating our dream dinner party guest list. We’ve got a long series of wishlists, starting with the most outlandish lineups to the more realistic. We’re constantly surprised by who agrees to take part in our shows, and that inspires us to keep asking because we can never predict who might say yes.

How long does it take you to assemble each reading? 
Anywhere between six to eight weeks in advance we start putting out invitations for a show.  Sometimes it gets right down to the wire, trying to lock in our final reader but we get there eventually!

What is one/ are some of your favorite moments from past Women of Letters events? 
Oh gosh, there’ve been so many shows, let alone so many favourite moments… Our first NYC show last year was extraordinary. 400 New Yorkers had lined up in the snow, on a Tuesday night in Gowanus, and those were the only people in the world who will ever hear Edie Falco talk about ‘The night I’d rather forget.’ The room was so quiet while she read, and I think everyone realised instantly that what she’d spoken about was never going to leave that room.  

What can audiences expect to experience at Joe's Pub on the 14th?
We're careful about how we curate every show - there's always a mix of comedians, writers, actors, and musicians.  The readings will range, as they always do, from heartfelt to hilarious to emotionally raw.

What is the most rewarding aspect of putting on this event? What about the most challenging?
Getting to meet the most extraordinary women, many of whom are our personal heroes, is endlessly rewarding. The charitable aspect of our shows is also obviously incredible rewarding. We’ve raised over $600,000 in Australia for an animal rescue shelter, and hope to turn a similar profit in NYC for the New York Women's Foundation. The most challenging aspect these days is dealing with the heartbreak of not being able to commute from Melbourne to New York for each show!

How has the event changed since you first started doing it?
Very little!  Since March 2010 Women of Letters has been a safe space for storytellers and a forum to share and listen.  With sold-out events across the world and five published books, we're not going to fiddle with a successful formula!

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