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Feature Wed Jan 19 2011
Answers and Questions is a biweekly column that asks Chicago writers to remember the funniest or strangest things they've been asked in a question-and-answer session, during a talk, or in an interview.
The protagonist in Cris Mazza's 2011 novel, Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, shares a name with a notorious adulterer from an oft-banned literary classic. Perhaps Mazza felt a connection with the ostracized character after having a Scarlet Letter experience of her own:
The most astonishing thing ever said to me at a reading was nothing -- utter silence. Not that I always consider silence to be an affront or expression of disrespect. A silent audience could have retreated inward to think, privately. Could be embarrassed, shaken, moved -- all things a writer who isn't really all that funny can hope for at readings. (Although I realize, when it comes to readings, funny is best.) But one time the silence was different:
In the late '90s a group of writers associated with independent, innovative presses planned to read together to celebrate Banned Books Week at Left Bank Books in St. Louis. I thought we discussed what we would read: material that might have been banned in previous eras. So the reading happened, and I read a very short story titled "Hesitation," from my 1997 collection Former Virgin.
I vaguely noticed that other pieces being read didn't seem to fit the "would have been banned in previous eras" theme. Maybe I made that up. After the reading, the authors sat in the reading space and the audience circulated, bringing books to be signed, asking questions, expressing their pleasure or appreciation for the piece an author had read. Not one soul talked to me or brought a book to be signed. When anyone came to talk to the writer I was sitting with, they did not look at me. To this day I don't understand what happened or what code I broke.
Join Mazza at the January 27 Various Men release, 6-9pm at May Street Cafe (1145 W. Cermak Road).