A cool wind swept down the corridor of Sixth Street, pushing away the thick, lingering heat that had been pressing down on the circle of readers gathered in the street outside of Kleur in downtown Winston-Salem on June 3. The breeze rustled the pages of The Little Prince, from which Christina Tyler read aloud to a quietly attentive audience of eight. Her voice carried over the social hum of First Friday, pausing to allow a fire truck to wail past.
“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them,” Tyler read. “One must not hold it against them. Children should always show great forbearance toward grown-up people.”
Tyler’s whimsical French choice opened and bookended an intimate evening of readings themed around nostalgia, the third installation of the Night Passage monthly reading series on First Fridays forged through a shared vision by recent Winston-Salem transplants and publishing partners John Gosslee and Andrew Sullivan, and Kleur’s co-founder, Molly Grace.
Gosslee and Sullivan sought to cultivate what they thought was an absent literary scene when moving here, finding a willing partner in Grace, who had been planning on hosting readings at the retail and workshop space since before its opening last fall.
“On one of my first nights here, we struck up a conversation,” Sullivan said.
Gosslee and Sullivan edit Fjords Review, a literary magazine, and helm the C&R Press, which publishes fiction, nonfiction and poetry, while still finding time to work on their own writing. Gosslee is also the editor of Pank magazine, an experimental prose and poetry publication founded by Roxane Gay, an influential author most recently known for her New York Times-bestselling 2014 essay collection Bad Feminist.
As the sun set around 8:30 p.m., no cohesive collection of people had gathered for the 8 p.m. reading, but a purple gorilla-suited spaceman working the small crowd at the comics shop next door got caught in a scuffle with the indignant owner of the private parking lot across the street over a car parked there without permission.
Grace, unaffected — “It starts whenever,” she said — offered a guest a cup of wine and eventually moved the chairs out of the muggy shop and into the blocked-off street.
For an evening centered around literary memories of adult readers’ angst, teenagers out for First Friday provided an appropriate backdrop for the readings. Ethan Green, a photojournalist who hasn’t yet hit his 18th birthday, stopped into Kleur to say hello with a camera slung around him, mentioning his very un-teeny-bopper documentary filmmaking club at A/perture Cinema. He didn’t stick around.
Later, while Andrew Hachey earnestly read about the torments of love from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, some young guns across the street behind him started yelling “Hardcore parkour!” and clumsily flirting with each other. The purple gorilla attracted plenty of selfies from bold girl gangs. And as the evening closed on a final note of whimsy from The Little Prince around 10 p.m., teens played a large game of duck-duck-goose in the blocked-off intersection of Sixth and Trade streets.
Hachey, undeterred by hooligans, read his Rilke selection with the earnest passion and diction of a professional actor.
“It didn’t get to me until my twenties,” Hachey said, explaining the book afterward. “[But] it wasn’t until my early teens that I wanted to be an artist. It became a manual.”
Grace selected “The Zoo Story” by Edward Albee, a one-act play.
“I haven’t read this since 10th grade drama class, which was a notorious blow-off class,” Grace said. “So I’m going to stumble through.”
That wasn’t the case, and when she finished growling through a monologue about a dog, she explained to those assembled why she chose it.
“I loved it because it was wildly inappropriate for the age,” she said. “As a teenager, it all made a lot of sense.”
The most transporting moment of the evening arrived when Andrew Martin recited a portion of the Lord of the Rings. He committed it to memory five or six years ago to give himself a mental break from studying classics.
“In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl,” Martin began, leaning forward and shifting into a narrator’s timbre. “A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.”
As he musically told the story without stumbling or pausing, his small audience listened raptly; a brief, transcendent moment made of nothing but words in the warm summer air.