This week, forty-nine Michigan students will begin reading their own writing at the Undergraduate Library. The event, known as Café Shapiro, gives students a space to experience reading their work to an audience along with the opportunity to have their original work published in an anthology. This year’s readings will occur at seven o’clock on the evenings of February 10th, 11th, 17th, 18th, and 20th. Performances are located on the ground floor of the library behind the information desk.
Initially started as part of 1997’s “Year of the Humanities and Art,” Café Shapiro has been running annually for the past twenty-three years. According to its page on the University library website, the program wants to help students “participate in an authentic art of creation, speaking possibility, expressing belief, and imagining the future.” I sat down with Project Manager Theresa Stanko, Student Engagement librarian Amanda Peters, and participating student Sanjana Ramesh to learn more about the program.
When asked about the goals of the event, Stanko and Peters each stressed the importance of supporting humanities on campus, as well as offering students a place on campus to read in front of an audience and the opportunity to get a taste of the publishing process. Ramesh echoed their sentiment, saying that although she has experienced reading her work to an audience in the past, Café Shapiro will help her by giving more experience for “grad school and if [she] ever has [her own] books out.” All three were eager to walk me through the process.
Each year, professors nominate undergraduate students from their classes to participate in the event. Once nominated students confirm their interest, they have the freedom to prepare any piece of writing for their performance— as long as it is under the ten-minute time limit. Most participants end up choosing to read a piece previously submitted for class and then working with their professor to make revisions before their reading.
Students nominated to read are typically English or Residential College Creative Writing majors reading poetry or short stories. Recently, however, the program has been expanding to include more alternative forms of stories, as well as screenplays by students in film programs. Before performing, participants submit a copy of their writing for the Café Shapiro Anthology that gets published every April. This year, there are over one hundred submissions from all the poems and stories that will make up the five nights of reading. Giving a reading is required to get published in the anthology, so participants always make sure they get their time on stage. This year, some students studying abroad are actually going as far as to submit videos of themselves reading their pieces if they can’t make it to the library in person.
Typically, audiences include other readers, friends and families of those participating, and other members of the English community. While mainly advertised to those in the English and creative writing programs, the readings are also open to anyone who happens to wander by and be drawn in by the free coffee and snacks that are offered. If you’re in the mood for some good writing, stop by the library this week or the next to experience Café Shapiro for yourself!