Volunteer Alisha blogs about a great nonfiction reading event – The New Mercury Reading Series in Baltimore.

Nonfiction writing is alive and well in Baltimore! Held at the Windup Space and sponsored by the CityLit Project, the monthly New Mercury Reading series features four nonfiction writers. The series is intended “to celebrate the creativity and the integrity of independent writers and journalists,” according to Deborah Rudacille and John Barry, co-curators of the series.

After I graduated with my master’s in writing from Johns Hopkins University, I found that I missed the camaraderie of my writing classmates. I sought out the New Mercury events to help fill some of this void and to find a sense of community among fellow writers. At the time, I had also just become an associate editor at the Potomac Review and wanted to hear what others were writing and how contributions we receive at Potomac Review compare. I’ve attended the series regularly for about a year and have yet to be disappointed. The topics vary widely, and I often find certain passages will cross my mind days or even weeks after a reading.

This month’s reading on February 25 featured vivid, thought-provoking and compelling work from four journalists. Stacey Patton, Ben Hellwarth, Wayne Countryman and Rodney Foxworth read to an audience of nearly 60 people at the Cyclops bookstore, a venue change just a few doors down from the regular location at Windup Space.

Ben Hellwarth opened the evening with excerpts from his first book, Sealab: America’s Forgotten Quest to Live and Work on the Ocean Floor. Hellwarth, a reporter, sprinkled his reading with interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits. He even treated the audience to a recording from July 20, 1964, of an ocean floor landing during the very first Sealab experiment, called Sealab I. Lester Anderson’s high-pitched, helium-filled voice can be heard from the depths of the pressurized Sealab habitat. Hellwarth paints vivid portraits of his characters, bringing them to life in just a few strokes. Sealab was recently featured in Parade Magazine as a Parade “Pick.” You can read more from Hellwarth at his Web site at: http://benhellwarth.com/.

Stacey Patton, a writer, academic and child advocate, read next from her Washington Post article, “Why African Americans Aren’t Embracing Occupy Wall Street.” Through her writing, she offers her personal perspectives as an African American woman, while also bringing in the voices of academics and others. “Although it strives to be, Occupy Wall Street is not a social justice movement,” she writes. “What it is, is a predominantly White, class-driven response to disillusionment caused by the economic collapse. Blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans aren’t visibly involved en masse in Occupy Wall Street, because we’re not disillusioned. We have never had the luxury of being illusioned when it comes to race, class and money in America.” In 2007, Patton published her first book, That Mean Old Yesterday, a memoir about her childhood experiences growing up in New Jersey’s foster care system. More about Patton and her work can be found at: www.staceypatton.com.

I had to duck out after intermission, so co-curator, Rudacille, generously offered her thoughts about the readings from Wayne Countryman and Rodney Foxworth. Wayne Countryman read a moving narrative about being a young reporter in the 1970s when he watched as an old-time editor named Woody lose his job when hot type and galley proofs gave way to screens and pixels. “Now I’m trying to avoid becoming a Woody,” Countryman joked afterwards. Change is a constant in newsrooms, and so are characters like Woody!

Rodney Foxworth read four pieces that showed the evolution of his thinking about his identity as a black man in the age of Barack Obama. One particularly compelling passage related to his empathy for the young working class white men in his gentrifying neighborhood of Hampden. Middle-class professionals are moving in while longtime residents struggle to find work and are forced to recognize that whiteness alone no longer guarantees social status. For more of Foxworth’s work, visit his site at: http://rodneyfoxworth.com.

In the coming months, two Potomac Review contributors will join the ranks of readers at New Mercury. Alexander Chip is scheduled to read at the July event, and Sue Eisenfeld will read in June. Stay tuned for more news, or join us at New Mercury. You may be inspired along the way and meet some interesting people all while enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail!