TAF Writer’s Salon features three up-and-coming authors

Last Wednesday night, at around 6:30 p.m. and after a descent of not one, but two levels down in the Central library downtown, I found a cozy little basement reading room. It was complete with hip, modern looking chairs, a bar and a separate conference room. At the back of the basement abode was a stage with three chairs and a podium, there so that three authors could read from their works at this meeting of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship Writer’s Salon.
The writers, in order of appearance, were Simon Han, who read a short story, Melanie Gillman, who showed us cartoon strips and Anna Badkhen, who read from her work of literary nonfiction.
The reading was, at first glance, like any other: awkward, perhaps dull. That’s not to disparage the idea of authors reading from their own works, it’s just probably a side effect of my own personal preference to reading by myself instead of having things read to me. That said, I enjoyed for the most part all of the readings that night, particularly the short story by Simon Han, which I’ll detail first.
Han’s story, entitled “NC-17,” speaks exactly to the disconnect I feel at author readings. He read the piece authoritatively but slowly, easy for us all to get a feel to the characters and to follow along well enough, but when he walked off the stage to a round of applause I couldn’t help but feel like I’d missed something. Now, don’t misconstrue: I loved the story. The part missing, I feel, is that a certain part of it went over my head and I couldn’t go back and reread it.
The story, soon to be published in the Fence Magazine of Art, is advertised on Han’s website to have won first prize in fiction with Summer Literary Seminars and a Fence contest. It’s described by Han as being about “an immigrant child growing up in the ‘90s, trying to make sense of the world.” The child in question finds a VHS tape of “Last Tango in Paris,” an erotic drama starring Marlon Brando, which serves as a backdrop for all the boy’s sexual confusion and curiosity as the story progresses. The story ends with him confronting his father about it. He responds only with confusion, at which point his mother steps in and says “It’s a love story, but you’re too young.”
Melanie Gillman, the next reader, described herself as a “queertonist,” a portmanteau of “queer” and “cartoonist.” Her cartoons, naturally, reflect on queer identity. The first three pieces she displayed and read, “Escape from Emma,” “Bill Leroy” and “Mountain Charley,” were very short. This is probably due to the lack of information she had when writing the comics, given that they revolve around queer figures in the 19th century, a period of time in which Gillman is interested given the poor documentation of any and all queer people.
She read next a piece about a monster and a human named Tumeric, two characters both presumably gender-neutral, given that they both go by the pronoun “they” in the story. The comic, of which I did not catch the name, comes from an anthology of comics entitled “The Other Side.” She lamented the current popular young adult take on queer fiction, apparently dark and full of death. To remedy this, she wanted to put together this anthology, the goal of which she stated was to have “all the fun of queer paranormal romance, but make it hella gay!”
Her pieces were all hand-drawn with colored pencils. They were crisp and popped out with a faintly unique character design. Each dialogue bubble carried a little humor and childish charm, which is to say that all the comics were a little silly, but it’s clear this was intended. Her comics seem to be an effective start to introducing queer culture to the young adult population.
The last author of the night was Anna Badkhen, who went straight into her reading without any exposition. The excerpt she read was from her work of literary nonfiction, “Walking with Abel.” Without context I was at first only able to glean that she was with a nomadic tribe of some sort, driving cattle and playing music from cell phones and boomboxes. After finishing this first excerpt, she explained the nomadic tribe was the Fulani people of Africa, with whom she stayed to gather information for her book. She read two more excerpts, one in which she described the origin and nature of the universe (i.e. The Big Bang, heliocentrism, etc.) to a few tribesmen, and another in which she explained the evolutionary origins of man.
It was interesting to get the almost naïve perspective of the Fulani, who adhered to the plausibility of both of her explanations and ended both subjects with “Good story.” Her intention wasn’t to educate the Fulani people, but rather to live alongside and learn from them; the subjects about which she read just happened to come up in her time with them. Her work was tactfully and fluently written, making for a work of nonfiction that can keep a reader engrossed and interested.
When all the readings were done, I expected the three authors to come sit in the chairs on stage for a Q&A. This didn’t happen; TU’s own Grant Jenkins, who hosted the event, bid us farewell and the crowd around me got up and mingled. A little disappointed, I left and considered the three works I’d heard from, hoping maybe to have my own time to digest them fully at a later date.

Post Author: Savanna DeWeese