The Rapidian

Grand Rapids Reading Series Puts Fresh Spin on Literature

A literary reading series that features local writers explodes with excitement.
Underwriting support from:

The Next Bomb

What: "Cruelty" 

Where: Bar Divani, 15 Ionia Street SW, Grand Rapids 49503

When: Monday April 4th, Doors open at 6:30 p.m., 7:00 p.m. start

Writers and enthusiasts of fiction will gather at  Bar Divani in downtown Grand Rapids on April 4th for a unique combination of literature, entertainment and surprise, courtesy of Grand Rapids fiction reading series Cherry Bomb.

The brainchild of Christina Olson and Elena Passarello, visiting professors of writing at Grand Valley State University, Cherry Bomb was founded in 2009 and is a reading series that strives to provide a different atmosphere for guests, preferably one that includes cocktails.

"We wanted a different setting: something less traditional where people could have a drink, something more downtown," said Olson.

Olson, who has been a part of readings in the past, is originally from Buffalo, New York and is the author of "Before I Came Home Naked." Recent work of hers can also be found in "The Normal School," Wake: Great Lakes Thought and Culture, "Passages North," "Water~Stone Review," and "Anti-."

The most recent event held in January featured fiction writer Matt Bell and student writer Hazel Foster whose piece, "Milkweed, Bowling, and the Japanese Bomb," was chosen as the winner of the first annual Student Bomber contest.

Foster graduated in December of 2010 with a bachelor's degree in writing and wants to pursue a graduate degree in creative writing. According to Foster, the experience with Cherry Bomb was a positive one.

"It was a lot of fun, and a big adrenaline rush because they've had some really great writers in the past, so it was awesome."

The performances are usually presented in three parts. Two readers take the stage: one a more established, published author and one a featured student writer. A third part of the evening is an entertainment segment. The entertainment for this particular night fell through, so improvisation was in order.

"We were supposed to have a lounge singer doing cover songs by Michigan artists, but now Elena is going to play the auto-harp," said Olson.

After Foster's reading, Passarello took to the stage and performed "Night Moves" by Bob Seger to a wealth of applause from the crowd. During a second break in between readings, Passarello commanded the stage again for an impromptu performance. She had accompaniment from Matthew Frank, another visiting professor of writing at GVSU and a past Cherry Bomb performer.

The pair performed a loud, hyper-excited version of "The Big Three Killed My Baby" by the White Stripes. Frank wore a yellow and purple knit Guy Fawkes mask while performing. After the performance, Olson introduced Matt Bell, and as a comment on the musical interlude said, "writers." The crowd cheered and cat-called before falling silent for the next reader.

Passarello is a 2008 graduate of the University of Iowa's MFA program and her first collection of essays, "A Very Fine Piano," will be published by Sarabande next year. She gives insight into Cherry Bomb's most intriguing and exploratory element.

"Before turning to the "dark side" of writing, I was a theatre actor and a voiceover artist, which is probably the reason why Cherry Bombs always feature a "performance element." Dance, theatre, burlesque hula hooping, angry banjo yodeling, etc."

Each bi-monthly event has a theme, chosen at random by the duo, with that night's being 1.31:131, a musical tribute to U.S. 131. The next bomb, themed "Cruelty," will feature headlining writer Darrin Doyle and playwright Randy Wyatt. Also featured will be poet and professor of writing at GVSU W. Todd Kaneko, a multi-talent who also does the artwork for Cherry Bomb's posters.

With Olson and Passarello's contracts up at the end of this semester, the final event, "Cherry Prom," will take place in June and will feature fellow professor of writing at GVSU Caitlin Horrocks.

Even though Cherry Bomb is still a small venture with the attendees mostly being GVSU students and faculty, Olson hopes the remaining events will continue to draw a crowd with its unique take on literature and performance.

"I think it's the most fun reading series in Grand Rapids," said Olson.

The twists and improvisation is a part of what separates Cherry Bomb from other reading series. As Olson puts it, "it's always a surprise with Cherry Bomb--you never know what you're going to get." 

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