By Sabina Mollot and Maria Rocha-Buschel
For the past year, a group of writers led by Stuyvesant Town resident Leigh Anne O’Connor have been meeting monthly at East Village restaurant Ciao for Now where they take turns reading from new works.
In recent months the writing workshop, dubbed the East Village Wordsmiths, has grown in numbers, though O’Connor said there is still plenty of room for more.
“It would be great to have a steady group of performers,” she said. “Sometimes we’re there and we have an hour and 20 minutes but sometimes we’re done inside an hour. I want it to expand into having a solid show.”
O’Connor, who works as a lactation consultant for breastfeeding mothers, says she had been doing writing on the breastfeeding and other issues that involved raising children. One of her motivations for starting the group, though, came from a writing class that she took at the Tribeca 92nd Street Y where she got the opportunity to perform some of her work.
“My background is as a performer,” she said. “I did standup years and year ago and I love being able to share what I’ve written.”
She got further motivation to start up a writing workshop after being invited to a workshop that was held in Washington Heights.
“I loved it and I thought this is what we need in the East Village,” said O’Connor, who likes to write memoir-type narratives, mostly nonfiction.
O’Connor said that she spoke with the organizers of the group in Washington Heights, called Above the Bridge, about taking the idea downtown and they encouraged her to do so. She expanded the idea to include poets and musicians in addition to writers sharing narrative prose.
“It’s Moth-like in that there’s a theme but un-Moth-like in that it’s open to a variety of types of performers,” O’Connor said, referring to the popular nationwide event that invites participants to share five to six-minute true stories.
O’Connor said that she also had a personal writing group but was looking to expand it.
“My husband is also a musician so when we have friends over, he performs, and I thought we needed a space to share all of this,” she said.
Since she knew the owners of East Village business Ciao for Now, Kevin and Amy Miceli, O’Connor asked about the restaurant becoming the venue and they agreed.
The Micelis made some adjustments on their business operations to concentrate on catering last year but as the Villager reported in May 2018, they decided to open the restaurant portion back up once a week on Tuesdays for “soup nights,” which O’Connor said was a great way for people in the neighborhood to continue patronizing the popular mom-and-pop business, which is on East 12th Street between Avenues A and B.
The spot operates as a community space for other events as well, with O’Connor noting that she also hosted a graduation party for her daughter there when she graduated high school earlier this year.
O’Connor said that one of the ways she spreads the word about the Wordsmiths is by talking with people at the soup nights, also inviting prospective participants through Facebook and email.
“I’m a chatty person so I’ll just tell people about it,” she said.
Since starting about a year ago, the Wordsmiths has been open to story tellers as well as poets and songwriters of all age groups, including teens. Each month has a different theme, which O’Connor said that she usually comes up with by discussing different possibilities with the Ciao for Now owners and her husband, Rob. The theme for the upcoming workshop in September is “It’s not fair.”
Anyone interested in participating should first submit their works (or a synopsis) to O’Connor via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Writers should also know that while talking about sex is okay, it shouldn’t be overly graphic or raunchy, or curse-laden.
“In the beginning, it was borderline open mic. I want it to be more curated,” said O’Connor. “The goal is to have original work.”
Writers should be prepared to share it for about 5-10 minutes and while the workshop is free, they should order some food and/or drink from the restaurant. Usually there are 4-8 participants on any given night.
The next workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, September 18.