The writing life is inherently antisocial—long, solitary hours spent banging away at a keyboard while basking in the moody glow of a laptop screen (for purists: insert old typewriter and desk lamp). But, as Michael Kimball points out, "You can't write all the time."
Kimball and Jen Michalski are co-founders and hosts of The 510 Readings, Baltimore's only monthly reading series dedicated to fiction. Every third Saturday of the month, writers, as well as those who enjoy the written—and spoken—word, leave their dens and cram into the second floor of Minás Gallery and Boutique in Hampden.
Shortly after moving from New York City in 2005, Kimball, whose third novel, Dear Everybody, was published this past year, met Michalski, author of the story collection Close Encounters and editor of the online literary journal JMWW. A dialogue evolved and Kimball asked: "Where's the fiction in Baltimore?" He found it odd that, for the most part, fiction readings were absent.
"One reason we're doing this is community," says Kimball. "I've always been one who thought there was a lot to be gained by talking to other people about what you are doing. I see this as partly a function of that, and I see it also as a way to support the writers here."
The two writers found the perfect venue in the gallery above the boutique owned by Minás Konsolas and Peggy Hoffman, long-time champions of the arts in Baltimore. "Peggy and Minás both bring different talents to the table," says Michalski. "Peggy has had a great career in public relations for years, and Minás is an artist himself and understands the need to promote people's work."
This January marks the series' one-year anniversary. Over the last 12 months, nearly 40 regional and national writers have shared their stories, including Madison Smartt Bell, Rafael Alvarez, Larry Doyle (a former writer for The Simpsons), and Stacey D'Erasmo (author of the novel Tea, a New York Times Notable Book).
Out of the gate response to the readings, which appropriately begin around 5:10 p.m., has been overwhelming. Noted as part of the City Paper's "Best Scene" in their 2008 "Best of Baltimore" issue, The 510 has enjoyed packed houses since day one. "We didn't expect people to be sitting on the floor," says Michalski.
"There's a really lovely feel to the whole thing," says Maud Casey, author of the New York Times Notable Book The Shape of Things to Come. "It distinguishes itself by being not only a reading series but a meeting place . . . It's an invaluable asset to the Baltimore literary community."