A full audience of faded Pepto-Bismol-pink chairs is shoved into the ‘Literature’ section of the UC Irvine Bookstore, listening intently.
‘Humans get cremated. Animals just get burned.’
A woman wearing large round glasses stands behind a podium, between two bright blue banners spelling ‘Literary Break’ in sideways letters. Barely visible is her earth-toned, animal-print shirt, on which a miniscule cheetah leaps over the right side of her chest.
‘If an orangutan can think in aesthetic terms, a human should be able to … ‘
The speaker is Diane Lefer, one of three authors reading on June 1 from Volume 14 of ‘Faultline,’ UCI’s annual journal of art and literature. This year, however, two issues have been produced, one in dedication to Professor James McMichael, director of UCI’s master of fine arts in poetry program for the past 40 years.
Feet tap and knees move about, nervous reminders of a busy day, but all attention is focused on the speaker. Listeners range from esteemed professors and supportive graduate students to a sparse population of undergraduates sporting silver purses and pink tees.
Lefer didn’t take English in college, since, as she says, she could already speak it.
‘Before I knew how to write I made up stories in my head,’ Lefer said.
It wasn’t until Lefer was introduced to influences such as writers Oscar Hijuelos and Sharon Sheehe Stark that writing as a structured form began to interest her.
Now, a recognized author of plays, essays, short stories and novels, Lefer spends a good deal of her time working with words. Next year, her collection of stories and novellas entitled ‘California Transit’ will be published by Sarabande Books.
When she’s not writing, Lefer does publicity for a program for torture victims and works on an animal behavior observation team.
Allison Benis, the second reader, is a UCI native, having received both her undergraduate and MFA degrees here. She reads from her newly finished manuscript.
Benis peers down a long tan nose at a paper sitting on the podium, announces that her poems are out of order and begins to speak in a calm, deliberate rhythm.
‘It is common to rock the sick in your arms. It is common to rearrange the body into a comfortable position,’ Benis reads.
Benis’ subtle words don’t match the brightly colored bindings of the ‘Humor’ and ‘Mystery’ sections behind her.
The third author, Andrew Winer, reads a story entitled, ‘The Fish Whisperer.’ It is a humorous account of a fly-fishing trip spent with McMichael. Told with a remarkable sense of description, this piece is touching with honest self-deprecation.
After the reading, sitting among the rows of empty seats, Benis talked about her passion for poetry.
She admitted, ‘It was always poetry. I never had a choice.’ She began writing in high school, and cites Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton as early influences.
Upon the mention of the two poets, Benis and ‘Faultline’ editor Lisa Sutton erupt in exclamations and imitations of Plath’s dramatic poetic recordings.
The event seems to be dwindling.
The ‘Faultline’ journal is a collection of skill, thought and creativity that should not be ignored. Copies of both Volume 14 and the James McMichael special edition are available in the UCI Bookstore.