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Looking Back at Greedy Reads’ Lost Weekend

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I had been contemplating the meaning behind the name The Lost Weekend ever since I first heard about the community literary festival organized by Greedy Reads, one of Baltimore’s independent bookstores. But when I asked Julia Fleischaker, the owner of Greedy Reads, about it, she replied, “It’s not too deep! We liked the idea of losing a weekend to a celebration of books. Forget about your errands and the work you have to do and fall into our little celebration.” 

Books tend to loom large at times, evoking the Pulitzer or the Nobel for literature, the stamp decreeing “New York Times Bestseller” or “Oprah’s Book Club,” the mandatory hush between library stacks, and the rows of encyclopedic tomes on display in the office of any given “very important person,” which are assembled, presumably, to communicate the person’s highly specialized education. But the second annual Lost Weekend was an intimate and fun event featuring something for Baltimoreans of all ilk.

From spooky drag story hour to a book launch featuring Baltimore City activists to historical fiction to queer horror to a poetry showcase by Baltimore youth poets, the emphasis was on books, authors, and topics that reflect the community which makes Baltimore what it is—a kaleidoscopic city inhabited by a sundry of talented folks and a bright spark shared by its various residents.

This includes the youngest, who had congregated on Saturday across the floor of Greedy Reads’ Remington location, hands wrist-deep in Cheerio containers, to listen to three spooky picture books for drag story hour. Mx. Bella kept the young audience interested by bellowing the lines theatrically and in tandem with oversized arm gestures. The storytelling was collaborative: Interacting with children and sharing a personal connection kept the young listeners attentive. “Have you ever felt shy?” Mx. Bella asked, discussing Gustavo, the shy ghost from the book; “Me, too.”

You wouldn’t think it from the sparkly jumpsuit featuring a bare shoulder and a single voluminous sleeve or the perfectly pink locks, but that was precisely what drove the point home for this sensitive and perceptive crowd.

 

Spooky Drag Story Hour featuring Mx. Bella
Left to right: Adam Jackson from Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Letrice N. Gant from the Baltimore Peace Movement, J.M. Giordano, Tawanda Jones- Tyrone West's sister and organizer of West Wednesdays
We liked the idea of losing a weekend to a celebration of books. Forget about your errands and the work you have to do and fall into our little celebration.
Julia Fleischaker

Next up was the book release for 13-23, authored by J.M. Giordano, whose black and white photographs document the activist movements born in Baltimore in 2013, a year when the city suffered an increase in homicides, and follow them through 2023. Giordano, an award-winning journalist based in Baltimore, was in conversation with Letrice N. Gant of the Baltimore Peace Movement and Tawanda Jones, sister of Tyrone West, who was beaten by police in 2013 and died at the scene. The talk revolved around changing the narrative about Baltimore City and taking it back from the mainstream media. 

“This is spiritual work,” Gant remarked, speaking of the Baltimore Peace Movement, an organization enabling community members to support one another, work together, and share resources to nurture and expand joy, love, and peace in Baltimore. “What we focus on increases,” she said while wearing a Baltimore Lives Matter hoodie with the letters LIVE accented in red. “Baltimore is not The Wire or Inner Harbor.” The trees outside the bookstore seemed to sway in agreement.

Jones spoke with determination of her massive undertaking to hold the police officers involved in her brother’s death accountable, her voice saturated with traces of anger and pain she must have experienced over the past ten years. West’s supporters have held West Wednesdays weekly, rallying for justice that remains elusive. 

The contrast of going from a children’s story hour to a conversation about gun and police violence seemed jarring initially, but the more I listened, the more it became clear. These Baltimore stories affect us all: the children taken by gun violence in the city, Tyrone West’s children, but also those children nestled on pillows while listening to stories an hour before. Thinking about the kind of world we want to live in is what talks like these are all about. 

 

The Hopkins Review at Greedy Reads' Lost Weekend outdoor fair
Fly Nerd Apparel at Greedy Reads' Lost Weekend outdoor fair.
Greedy Reads, The Lost Weekend
Baltimore is a very bookish city that deserves literary festivals and events that encourage community members to take their reading experiences beyond print text.
Bry Reed

I took a break from author events to explore the outdoor fair stacked with local vendors. I visited with the Baltimore Museum of Art, promoting their exhibition Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400-1800; The Hopkins Review, a journal of literature and culture by the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, published by Hopkins Press; and Yellow Arrow Publishing, which strives to create diversity in the literary world by supporting artists identifying as women through publication and access to a variety of literary programming.  

The Lost Weekend’s Saturday MC was Bry Reed, a charismatic writer and scholar from Baltimore who was raised with a deep love of books. “My mother and grandparents encouraged me to read after early struggles with literacy, and ever since, I’ve been enthralled by storytelling,” Reed told me. “Baltimore is a very bookish city that deserves literary festivals and events that encourage community members to take their reading experiences beyond print text.”

Reed facilitated the Q&A sessions that followed the conversations, creating a bridge between the authors and the audience by kicking off questions when the audience felt momentarily shy or was still in deep thought. “There was something special about witnessing people leaning in, getting curious, and speaking with writers they’d long admired,” she said.

I returned for Nicole Chung’s conversation with Baltimore author Jung Yun. Chung’s latest memoir, A Living Remedy, is “a book about grief,” she said, but it is also about public assistance, disability, class, and the lack of access to medical care. The memoir also recounts the decline of her parents’ health while laying bare the deceptive stability of working-class families so common in America today.

“Memoir justifies its existence by getting the readers to think about their own stories,” Chung said. When we view societal issues as individual problems, we let the systems off the hook; can reading memoir help us begin to recognize and change that? And are books, therefore, inherently political?

During the Q&A, the conversation turned toward craft, and Chung and Yun, author of the novels Shelter and O Beautiful, talked about the importance of not writing from a place of fear and how putting work out in the world helps build community. An audience member commented on how great it was seeing two Asian American authors having a conversation with each other. 

“There is no substitute for meeting and engaging with readers,” Chung reflected. “I really love in-person events for the energy, connection, and community they provide. I appreciate when readers can ask questions, share spontaneous thoughts, and be more actively involved in the conversation.” 

 

Nicole Chung and Jun Yun
Jamila Minnick reciting from the opening of her debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup
Kim Coleman Foote, author of Coleman Hill, preparing for her conversation with Jamila Minnicks at Urban Reads, The Lost Weekend
DewMore Baltimore poetry showcase: Youth Poet Ambassador Jay Le Rey and Baltimore Youth Poet Laureate A'niya Taylor

On Sunday, I arrived at Greedy Reads just in time to witness Jamila Minnicks reciting from memory the beginning of her novel Moonrise Over New Jessup. Eyes closed, her soft voice cast a spell over the room, and the audience fell completely silent. Storytelling really is a kind of magic, I thought, as Minnicks weaved scenes with her words and intensity while embodying the main character, head tilted and with a half-smile, and mesmerizing every person present.

Minnicks was in a thoughtful conversation with Kim Coleman Foote, author of the biomythography Coleman Hill. The two books have much in common besides being two of the biggest debut novels of the year. Both were born out of family stories and center Black people living amongst each other. Both authors referred to Toni Morrison when speaking about Black narratives in fiction. Foote talked further about the importance of oral histories that carry the stories of ancestral lives across generations, even though they have been widely less valued than official written records. It made me consider the role of the family stories I tell my daughter and whether I am intentional enough in choosing which stories to preserve and which ones to let fall into oblivion.

Between the author events, I found time to pet Audie, Fleischaker’s tall, elegant, and silky dog who slinked between the rows of seats, leaving the room with the slightest echoes of dog footpads making contact on concrete. The sun illuminated the bookshelves through the large windows facing 29th Street.

A DewMore Baltimore poetry showcase featuring A’niya Taylor, the Youth Poet Laureate of Baltimore, and Jay Le Rey, the Youth Poet Ambassador, closed the festival. The tenderness with which the poets talked about DewMore, their parent organization—which fosters engagement with historically marginalized people through art-focused programming and community organizing—made it clear that it was more akin to family. Their conversation was spectacularly genuine and full of affection as Taylor and Le Rey opened up about what it was like to be a youth poet in Baltimore City. The two disclosed, by way of sincere and curious inquiries replete with inside jokes, how poetry made them feel special. I was struck by how their conversation flowed seamlessly between the irreverent and the profound, imitating life itself.

The youth poets emphasized the magnitude of mentorship and mutual support in Baltimore’s poetry community. The elders are actually there for the up-and-coming artists; that’s unusual and special, they said. And the youth who came up through DewMore are now teaching artists in city schools to whom the younger folks look up. These were especially relevant ruminations to unveil at a homegrown Baltimore literary festival.

Taylor and Le Rey’s sweet interpersonal relationship radiated through their effervescent and confident poetry; and their  performances brought exuberance to the end of The Lost Weekend.

Left with a lightness uncommon to most Sunday evenings, I asked Fleischaker what made in-person literary events special: “For an event like the Lost Weekend, having it in person allows for a spontaneity that I really enjoy. Bumping into a neighbor you didn’t know would be there, or grabbing an empty seat for a conversation that caught your attention while you’re browsing the shelves. It’s so special to gather readers together with authors with no intention other than celebrating and learning from them. The events and conversations had the feel of gathering with friends in someone’s living room. That is, personally, my dream event energy!”

 

Photos courtesy of Greedy Reads and the author

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