The Writer’s Center hosts an open mic


Steve Goldman reads from his smartphone during a Writer’s Center open-mike session. It was the government employee and aspiring novelist’s first time at one of the sessions. (Mia Enns)
March 21, 2013

In an old rec center reminiscent of your friendly childhood library, an eclectic group sat quietly in soft blue chairs.

“Welcome to the Writer’s Center,” Sunil Freeman, the center’s assistant director, said to the group of writers — both published and unpublished.

The Writer’s Center, a nonprofit organization in Bethesda that hosts writing workshops and literary events, holds Sunday afternoon open mikes about every six weeks, inviting writers to give their words even more life.

Standing at a podium, framed by two typewriters on a mantle, 20 writers read their poetry or prose into a microphone in front of a few dozen other writers. Afterward, the group gathers over coffee and light snacks to discuss writing. Not all of the writers read. Some just come to watch. It’s an opportunity to meet other writers, talk about writing and, potentially, find others interested in forming a regular writing group.

“This is mildly terrifying,” Steve Goldman, 36, of Takoma Park confessed as he stepped up to the microphone and pulled out his smartphone, from which he read part of his novel about New York.

Each writer gets five minutes at the podium, and Freeman is diligent about the limit. “One minute,” he told Goldman, who was speaking fast, looking down at his phone, trying to fit his many words into the short time.

Goldman, who works for the government, began writing his book in August. “Sometimes it’s tough to get the perspective of how you’re doing,” he said, which was why he was coming to the open mike for the first time. Goldman wanted to see how his words worked, which parts got reactions and which parts didn’t.

“Speaking dialogue is different, and you don’t know if it feels natural until you feel it on your breath,” he said.

Standing at the podium, Nnamdi Cole, 20, of Silver Spring put his head down, took a breath and then rapped for five minutes, rhyming strings of sentences together about being an African American. He did it all from memory, occasionally looking up at the ceiling, as if the next sentences were imprinted on the tiles.

“I’ve been writing since I was a little kid,” Cole said later. It was his second time at the open mike. “Everybody liked it [before], so I came back,” he said.

The writers at the reading were talented, even those who were new to the writing community.

“I’m a beginner, so I’m learning from you all,” said J.A. Anderson, 53, before she read her poem about riding the bus. She lives in New Carrollton and doesn’t have a car, she told the crowd.

The Writer’s Center was established in 1976. Its founders, Freeman said, wanted to create “a space for nonacademic literary support that is open to anyone, people starting out, people with experience. That philosophy guides us through.”

The open mike, he said, is an opportunity “to let other people hear your work. Writing is such a solitary practice. [The open mike] lets you get feedback.”

Where: The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda. Go to the room to your left as you enter. The sign-up sheet is outside the door. Parking is free on Sundays in the parking lot across the street.

When: March 24 and May 19. Sign-up begins at 1:30. Reading is from 2-4 with a reception afterward.

How much? Free.

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