by Sienna Ballou and Lauren Scheck, Literary Arts interns
Literary Arts hosted Unchaste Readers Series on January 17. The series creates a space for women, gender non-binary, and queer folks to share their stories. This particular reading was centered on the topic of teen motherhood and featured writers Katie Kaput, Jessica Standifird, Nina Packebush, and Ariel Gore, who shared poetry and prose that gave the audience insight in to the thoughts and experiences of teen mothers. Host Jenny Forrester introduced each reader with personal anecdotes and reverent descriptions of their work, which created an atmosphere of comradery that lasted throughout the entire event.
Katie Kaput opened the reading with a piece that focused on family, identity, and politics. Featuring tender lines like “ever since I met you I want to sleep outside,” “I’m interested in being a shoreline,” and “you came home and put the beach in my hands,” Kaput’s poem was packed with imagery from the natural world that linked the concepts of love and family with an incredible sense of opening and expansion. At the same time, lines like “remember I went to fireman’s school and made them rename it to be more inclusive” were a reminder of the importance of expanding one’s political beliefs.
Jessica Standifird’s poem centered on the ways in which the birth of her child changed her life for the better, with lines like “statistically, I should have been a junkie.” Standifird told the audience that she would be reading a draft of a finalized poem that was erased from her computer, saying “it’s okay, because being a teen mom is kind of like being unedited.” Standifird’s piece was at once raw, complicated, and brimming with love, unedited or not.
Nina Packebush read from her 2017 young adult novel, Girls Like Me, telling the story of Banjo, a queer, pregnant sixteen-year-old, who in the read excerpt, is found in a Woman’s clinic with her mother. With poignant and surreal descriptions that stretch from the judgmental gazes and smiles of others to the uncomfortable pastel colors of the walls, the pressures of what Packebush describes as a “heteronormative, middle class, shiny white world” that are felt by Banjo, were creatively brought to our attention. Packebush provoked laughs with jokes about “have you seen Juno people,” and soft nods in response to honest dialogue and a relatable narrative voice.
Ariel Gore concluded the event with a reading from her novel, We Were Witches, which places a young, queer mother named Ariel in a college setting, persevering through the barriers of debt, the shaming words of people who just don’t seem to get it, the expectations of professors, and the challenges of motherhood. In Gore’s reading, the strength of a women’s lit professor’s words, “You are Magnificent,” was felt, alongside the touching image she provides of “the texture of a child’s hunger.” Mothers, students, teachers, and children alike could have identified with the anxieties, desires, excitements, and realities of the autobiographical character Gore shared with us this evening.
Jenny Forester returned to the microphone to end the evening with the words, “thank you for being, for writing about your being.” This Unchaste Readers event was certainly a celebration of being; an opportunity to listen, connect, and reflect on the necessary prose of four mothers and writers. The series will continue on February 21, at 7:00 pm, at Literary Arts. We hope you will consider coming to hear the voices of writers who inspire a “de-centering of the CIS Man narrative,” the undertaking of Unchaste Readers.