2011 City Guide: Lit

Perry Nicholas

Literary café conjures up an image straight out of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, or maybe a Greenwich Village coffeehouse in the fifties—passionate writers reading their work to devoted audiences in an intimate setting. And that’s not altogether incorrect, for the Center for Inquiry/Just Buffalo Literary Café offers just such an experience. Readings are held on the first Wednesday of every month at the Center for Inquiry on Sweet Home Road in Amherst and generally include two or three featured writers reading from their work. Occasional open readings flesh out the season.

The man who runs the show is Perry Nicholas, an English professor at Erie Community College’s North Campus. An acclaimed poet with a second book due this fall, Nicholas was a recent recipient of the 2011 President’s Award for Outstanding Classroom or Alternative Instruction. The Literary Café has become one of his passions, and his enthusiasm is evident at every event.

"It will be four years in September that I’ve been organizing and hosting the Café, though it existed for years before me with Livio Farallo and David Musella," says Nicholas. "The goal is to give quality writers the opportunity to present a small body of their work to an intelligent, appreciative audience. Also, we mean to create a comfortable environment with excellent sound, a venue where writers and the general public can socialize and network." Some of the names are heavyweights—Carl Dennis, Mick Cochrane, Irving Feldman—in addition to over 100 other area writers. More than 2,500 audience members have passed through the doors in the last four years alone.

"Ever since the format for the Literary Café has changed—and I thank Just Buffalo for both their sponsorship and their support in this change—there are anywhere from thirty-five to a hundred people in attendance every month," Nicholas says. "The audience is always a mix of writers supporting other writers, students, and people in the community who simply have an interest in hearing quality writing. Many times they are recognizable faces, but it’s always exciting when someone new sees a listing for it."

The venue is part of the charm. The Center for Inquiry provides a comfortable, intimate setting, and Nicholas says the CFI has been supportive. And as it has grown, Nicholas believes the Café has begun to serve an important role in the local literary scene. "There are twenty-plus open readings in Buffalo, but I wanted the Café to fill the need of strong writers to present a substantial body of work, and the need of our literary community to have a comfortable venue where they’re assured they will hear quality writing in a finite amount of time. I know as a poet and an audience member that an open reading can sometimes feel like too much for a creative mind to digest. Think about it: twenty or thirty diverse voices changing rapidly for two to two-and-a-half hours. It is too much to appreciate at times. The Café allows the audience to enjoy the work of two or three writers who have carefully thought out the sequence, tempo, and tone of the work they will present. In other words, you get to savor each writer for twenty minutes each. … This format promotes the reader-audience relationship to its fullest, and the Café is an attempt to take that a step further and allow the featured writers to shine for a night. They get a chance to present their hearts to the world."

For information and monthly schedule, visit www.justbuffalo.org.

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