Why would anyone host an open mic?

I returned from living in Europe, with my three-year old daughter around 1990. We lived together in a one-room studio on 11th Street. I was writing short biographical stories at the time, retelling herstory in a Lord Buckley inspired style.

Bob Holman was already a seasoned open mic host on Friday nights at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. I gave his slam a try, a crowded and boisterous event with strict rules that got me thrown off the stage to a chorus of “BOO” before I could finish my retelling of Cinderella.

Me and my daughter Crystalsoon after we returned from Europe in the early nineties.

I had no idea who he was at the time, but Pedro Pietri approached me after my humiliation, to tell me that he thought I was unique and creative, and shouldn’t quit. He saved me from deep depression that night, something for which I remain grateful. It seems to me, from the vantage point of a 59 year-old woman, that some of the most brilliant people are also some of the most kind and encouraging. Maybe I wouldn’t have started Sunday Afternoon Stories if he hadn’t spoken to me that night. A few years later I was being featured at events at the Nuyorican. He listened to me. He heard me. He gave me a message, and I took it to heart.

So, I was looking for an audience. It seemed clear that the audience at the Nuyorican wasn’t interested in what I was offering.

How do you get people to come to listen to you if they have never heard of you? I thought to offer them the same opportunity to share what they have to offer. So if you want to be heard, listen first.

I tried the theory out. I printed some fliers, and I went up to WBAI Radio in person. I asked the Arts Director, Anthony Sloan, if I could talk about my event, and I wound up telling a story live on the air that day. And more about all that, next time.

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