One of the longest ongoing free writers series in town is the Contemporary Writers Series at Canisius College. English professor and writer-in-residence Mick Cochrane hatched the idea for the series in 1997, and he’s remained at the helm ever since, attracting a mind-boggling array of authors—everyone from contemporary giants like Richard Russo, Junot Diaz, Ha Jin, and Edwidge Danticat to highly esteemed regional talents such as Connie Porter and Lucille Clifton. Such literary celebrity could easily fetch big-city box office prices, but due to a number of private endowments, the CWS—typically encompassing four readings each year—remains free and open to the public. Tickets are required, though, and you should inquire early: the rooms for the readings tend to overflow, not only with the author’s adoring fans clutching dog-eared copies to be signed, but also everyday book lovers who show up simply because they can’t believe they get to see some of the world’s best writers for absolutely no cost. Check the website for complete series information: www.canisius.edu/oishei/writers_series.asp.
These days, Just Buffalo Literary Center may be best known for running the highly publicized, glossily advertised Babel writers series, and so sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Center started because of a single poetry reading way back in 1975, and that even today it retains its stature as one of our city’s shining exemplars of community outreach. Can’t afford a subscription to Babel? Don’t sweat it; Just Buffalo sponsors a number of free literary events to satisfy any serious book junkie or aspiring writer. Think of these events as a great way to introduce yourself to local artists and to broaden your social network.
On the first Wednesday of every month, Just Buffalo runs a literary café out of the Center for Inquiry on Sweet Home Road in Amherst. For the last four years, the café has been run by Erie Community College English professor and poet Perry Nicholas, who views the café as a refined alternative to the open mic format. Rather than overstuffing the evening with dozens of readers, Nicholas usually invites only two or three established local writers to read from their work for about twenty minutes, and then socialize with the café’s curious and receptive audience. For upcoming cafés, head to the Center for Inquiry’s website: www.centerforinquiry.net/amherst.
One of Just Buffalo’s more innovative projects has been to organize open mic nights for young people, ages twelve to twenty-one, as part of the Center’s “Spotlight on Youth” mission. The events, which take place at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, encourage young Western New Yorkers to express their voices through poetry, song, dance, drawing, or any other artistic medium. Two more open mics have been scheduled for the fall, on Wednesday, September 21, at 6:30 p.m., and on Wednesday, November 16, at 6:30 p.m. The artists are allowed to show up an hour before the show to hone their craft with one of the Center’s writing professionals; parents, family, and friends, meanwhile, can wander around awestruck at the grandeur of Shea’s. For the complete open mic schedule, visit www.justbuffalo.org.