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Interview with Jenny Forrester of Unchaste Readers

Jenny Forrester is the curator of Portland’s Unchaste Readers series, which has its new home at Literary Arts! She is also an award-winning writer; she won the 2011 Richard Hugo House New Works Competition, was a runner-up in the Indiana Review 2011 Flash Fiction Contest, and won the 2012 Monkey Puzzle Press Flash Fiction Contest. She’s been published in Penduline Press, Unshod Quills, Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, Small Doggies Press, Nailed Magazine, Hip Mama Magazine, and Indiana Review. She edits for Hip Mama Magazine and in Ariel Gore’s Literary Kitchen. She is most recently published in Listen to Your Mother (Putnam, 2015).

Jenny graciously answered all of our questions about her work and the series, and you can read our interview below. We’re so excited to be hosting Unchaste Readers every third Wednesday of month in 2016 (click here for the full calendar) at 7:00 p.m. at Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington St. in Portland, Oregon. Join us!

What was your inspiration for the creation of Unchaste Readers?

I’ve always wanted to be involved in a community of women artists, but I’d envisioned living on the land in yurts and having composting toilets. Running a reading series is a lot easier and just as fun. I’m also dead serious.

What has been challenging?

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by politics, squabbles, disagreements, and by the pain-filled realities of women’s lives. I mostly avoid political entanglements by simply doing the work of curating the series. I’m aware that at every reading there are cliques who usually despise each other, but at Unchaste, it’s impossible to tell from where I sit. That’s such a beautiful thing.

How do you stay motivated?

This is easy 99.9% of the time because I feel so fortunate to hear the word “yes” to my requests for people to read. Very few women have said no to reading at Unchaste, which is beyond blissful and deeply inspiring. I’m too grateful not to be motivated.

How can someone participate in Unchaste Readers?

Connect with me via the Unchaste Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/UnchasteReaders/ or check out the blog: https://unchastereaders.com/wp/. You can send email via the blog, too.

What have been your favorite moments at readings?

When Melanie Alldritt read while her family was on the phone because they’d never heard her read. When Sara June Woods told us what it means to be a woman, and everyone cried. When Golda Dwass read about her sex life. When Ijeoma Oluo said, “White men ruin everything,” and some man got really angry and we laughed so hard at his expense. And maybe I shouldn’t have picked this question because I could go on more than 160 times which is how many women have read.

Why do you think reading work in front of an audience is important?

We hear ourselves. It’s another way to know our stories are real and true and we’re not alone and our judgment and perceptions can be trusted.

What do you envision in the future for Unchaste Readers?

To keep doing this work. But, also: Wouldn’t it be great if we could pay the readers? Wouldn’t it be great if we could put together a website that takes submissions and pays for the work accepted? Wouldn’t it be great if what I call “Unchaste University” took hold and provided the opportunity for author-teachers to connect with writers and clean money changed hands?

What part of the project are you most proud of?

Everyone reads at the series, including women who’ve just gathered the courage to share the work they’ve been doing for years as well as the published authors whose many works we all know and love.

Why “unchaste”?

We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, so we may as well be ourselves. We are Unchaste by default because we’re women. Let’s be that then and embrace our many ways of navigating our wondrous and frightening and complex experiences and our many realities.

What current projects are you working on?

I’d love to start a fundraising campaign to pay all of the Unchaste as a celebration of four years of the series in April, 2016. I personally am working mostly on a book I’ve been writing for a long time. I like it.

Any thoughts on the tension between being a writer writing (alone with desk) and a writer reading (performing with crowd)?

They are two different things, that’s true. Preparing something to be published for a lone reader and preparing something to be read for a group of listeners are different activities with many different elements to rearrange and pay attention to. The tension is in which direction to take with the artistic endeavor in question and how much time to spend writing for submission/publication and writing for performance. Some types of writing work better than others for the stage. For example, it can be tricky to read fiction for an audience because of the many elements the listener must hold in their minds for seven minutes, the time allowed each reader (with some exceptions). It can be done, but it’s challenging. Some writers are great on the page and not as strong at performing while other people read really well, maybe better than they write. I’m not naming names. I think we all need to decide where we’d like to focus our efforts. Some people can do it all, but we don’t all have to. That’s the beauty in that tension. I do think the goal (my goal) is to ultimately provide another place to make us stronger storytellers in whatever form we choose to use.

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