Stories on Stage in May featuring Karen Bender: It’s All About Money

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Karen E. Bender

This month’s featured writer, Karen Bender, is a much-honored novelist, and we’ll be presenting one of the stories from Refund, her first short story collection. But before I list all of her other accomplishments,  let me enthuse about her work a bit.

One of the best parts of being the coordinator for Stories on Stage is that I sometimes get to read books before they’re released. An advance copy of Karen Bender’s new short story collection, Refund, was sent to me six months ago. I devoured it, then read it again, and I still can’t get these stories out of my head. Not that I want to, because Bender’s tales grab you in the best possible way. She’s a master (mistress?) of understatement and the way she captures the most complex  of situations in just a few words is astounding. Her characters – men, women, and yes, even the children – are wonderful and awful at the same time. They teeter on the knife edge of survival in every imaginable circumstance. And in Refund, money drives everything, even in the stories that aren’t specifically about money. It’s a brilliant collection.

Okay, okay, so I’m a gushing fangirl. But I’m not alone. The New York Times Book Review says: “Money is ostensibly the fuel that powers Karen E. Bender’s new collection, “Refund…” but Bender’s subtler preoccupation is the eroding effect of emotional want…Bender understands worlds about marriage and emotional need.”  “…exquisitely composed portraits of modern life,” says the Chicago Tribune. Similar praise comes from the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and a host of others. Karen Bender’s short stories have twice been published in The New Yorker, she’s won two Pushcart prizes, been published in Best American Short Stories and two of her stories have been selected to be read on NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” Her novel Like Normal People,  was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.

Any wonder I’m so excited that she’s coming to Stories on Stage?

“The Third Child,” a story from the collection, will be read by Sacramento actress and teacher Deni Scofield.  Also appearing with Karen Bender will be Meera Klein, whose novel My Mother’s Kitchen is a finalist in the 2015 Beverly Hills International Book Awards in the Multi-Cultural Fiction category. Reading an excerpt from My Mother’s Kitchen will be Capital Public Radio’s Donna Apidone. 

This month’s reading will be held Friday, May 29 at The Avid Reader Bookstore, 1600 Broadway, Sacramento. Doors open at 7PM, readings begin at 7:30. A $5 donation is suggested.

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Stories on Stage in April: Ann Packer

WhAnn Packer 2at a year we’re having at Stories on Stage Sacramento!

In January, Tobias Wolff graced our season-opening event with his wisdom, humor, and masterful stories. And now, in April, we are thrilled and honored to bring you another leading American writer – Ann Packer.  She’s the award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, and now her new novel, The Children’s Crusade, is earning even higher accolades. In addition to starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, The Children’s Crusade was named “Book of the Week” by People Magazine, “Pick of the Week” by Publisher’s Weekly, and an Amazon “Best Book of April 2015.”  Enthused Dan Cryer of the San Francisco Chronicle: “I’ve rarely read a novel so astute about the jumble of love and respect, rivalry and envy, empathy and scorn that makes up family dynamics…Packer is also a superb storyteller. ”

In addition to The Children’s Crusade, Ann Packer is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. She lives in San Carlos, CA.

Reading the first chapter from The Children’s Crusade (praised in the New York Times Sunday Book Review as “some of Packer’s best and most rapturous prose”) will be  Matthew Rives. Matt is well-known in Sacramento as an actor equally adept at comic and serious roles.  Most recently he appeared as “Henry Higgins” in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.

Also appearing with Ann Packer is Lois Ann Abraham, author of the short story collection Circus Girl, published by Ad Lumen Press. Lois is a professor of English at American River College, focusing on literature and creative writing, both fiction & non-fiction. Her stories have appeared in Sojourner, Chico News & Review, Writing on the Edge, Inside English, Burning the Little Candle (Ad Lumen), Convergences, and elsewhere. She was a featured author at the 2015 Sacramento Public Library’s “Authors on the Move.”

Kellie Yvonne Raines will be reading the title story from Circus Girl. Kellie  is an Associate Artist with KOLT Run Creations where she has appeared in My Own Stranger, Vinegar Tom, Antigone, and Escape From Happiness.

Stories on Stage, with Ann Packer and Lois Ann Abraham, Friday, April 24, 2015 at the Verge Center for The Arts, 625 S Street, Sacramento. Doors open at 7PM; readings begin at 7:30. $5 donation suggested.

Please note that we’ll be at Verge Center for the Arts this month. 

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March at Stories on Stage Sacramento: Sharma Shields, Ana Cotham, and readers Blair Leatherwood and Michelle Champoux

Sharma ShieldsDoes Sasquatch exist? Most of us would be skeptical, but in Sharma Shields’ imaginative, lightning-struck debut novel, everything is possible. In The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, a young boy’s lifelong hunt for the creature who stole his mother affects every relationship he has in his long life—with his father, with both of his wives, his children, grandchildren, and colleagues. There’s magic, unicorns, hexes, curses—and the mysterious Mr. Krantz—all  seamlessly twined with the story of Eli Roebuck and his family. O Magazine named The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac “one of 13 incredible books to devour in February.” Entertainment Weekly named Shields one of 25 “writers to watch” in 2015, and called the novel “…a story that easily qualifies as one of the most wonderfully weird debuts of the new  year. At heart it’s a family saga and a cautionary tale about frailties—greed, mania, ego, anger—that make us much too human…”

In addition to The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, Sharma Shields is the author of a short story collection, Favorite Monster. Her writing has appeared in Electric Lit, The New York Times, Kenyon Review, Iowa Review, Fugue, and elsewhere. She’s won numerous awards, including the Autumn House Fiction Prize. She received her B.A in English Literature from the University of Washington, and her MFA from the University of Montana. She lives in Spokane with her husband and two young children.

Reading an excerpt from The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac will be Blair Leatherwood. A Stories on Stage favorite, Blair is a Sacramento-based actor with over forty years of experience on the boards. He has been working most recently with Alma Theater in San Francisco, Livermore Shakespeare Festival and Sacramento Theater Company ( It’s a Wonderful Life: The Musical, Pride and
Prejudice, A Little Princess). He has also worked with Capital Stage, Sacramento Music Circus, and many other theaters. He also works as an improvisational role player for UCD Medical Center and the Institute for Criminal Investigation and as an audio describer for the visually-impaired for California Musical Theater.

This month’s emerging writer, Ana Cotham, is a familiar face to Stories on Stage regulars. She’s happy to take your donations and sell you raffle tickets, and this month we’re showcasing her considerable talents as a writer. Ana earned her BA in English literature from UC Berkeley and spent the next several years working admin jobs and writing fiction—i.e., being poor. Her general love of words finally paid off in the form of an actual career; she currently works as a technical editor and occasional freelance writer. She is honored, overjoyed and slightly panicked about having her second story, “Ebb and Flow,” read at Stories on Stage . Her first, “A Love of Olives, A Fear of Squirrels,” was performed in September 2012.

Reading Ana’s story will be Stories on Stage newcomer Michelle Champoux. She describes herself as a person who “hungers for written words.” Her favorite wordsmiths/poets/playwrights include: W. Somerset Maugham , Bertolt Brecht, William Burroughs, Sylvia Plath + Anne Sexton, Shakespeare. She holds degrees in Theatre Arts and Dance and attended the American Conservatory Theatre. She’ll travel anywhere, including skid row. Her current frame of mind? “Sans peur.”

Stories on Stage, the popular, award-winning series where actors perform short stories, has been delighting audiences for six years. The event has been named a “Reader’s Choice literary event” for five consecutive years by the Sacramento News & Review. Stories on Stage takes place on the final Friday of each month at the Sacramento Poetry Center, 1719 25th Street, Sacramento. Doors open at 7PM; the readings begin at 7:30. A $5 donation is suggested.

 

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February at Stories on Stage: Elena Mauli Shapiro and Tigh Rickman: readers Eric Baldwin and Cynthia Speakman

We’re very excited to bring  Elena Mauli ShapiroElena Mauli Shapiro back to Stories on Stage Sacramento. Elena’s a Bay area writer whose first novel, 13 Rue Therese, was praised as a “sensual treat” by USA Today, and a London Times reviewer said of her “…Mauli Shapiro writes not so much like an angel as an imp: hot, jabbing and naughty, with a tight grip on the senses….” Her second novel, In The Red, was highlighted in “A Year of Reading” in The Millions as “…spectacular…a dark story about a bright young woman’s descent into a criminal underworld, realism interlaced with fairy tales…. an expert meditation on money, morality, and belonging.” From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “…Shapiro’s deft leaps forward in time and frequent use of eerie Romanian folks tales help make this dark story a multilayered literary treat.”

Elena was born in Paris and moved to the US at thirteen.  She amassed several degrees in literature and writing at Stanford, Mills College, and UC Davis.  Both of her novels were published Little, Brown:  13 rue Thérèse,  in 2013, and  In the Red,  in 2014.  Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as Zyzzyva, Five Chapters, and Farallon Review. She lives in the Bay Area with her scientist husband and two elderly half-Siamese cats who spend all day following sunbeams around the house. There’s more about Elena, her life,  and her work on her website http://elenamaulishapiro.com/

Her short story”Vanity,” which appears in the current issue of Farallon Review, will be read by Sacramento actor Eric Baldwin.  A Stories on Stage favorite, Eric has worked locally, regional, nationally and internationally. He served as the Artistic Director of Quantum Theatre in Los Angeles from 2000-2004 and founded Sacramento’s Resurrection Theatre. Favorite roles include Henry V, Macbeth, Biff in Death of a Salesman, Prospero in The Tempest, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Pale in Burn This and Barry Champlain in Talk Radio.

We’re also pleased to introduce emerging writer Tigh Rickman. He’s a native Sacramentan and a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA at the University of Southern Maine. His writing has appeared in The Bradford ReView, The Conium Review, The Farallon Review, Celebrities in Disgrace and The Salty Beatnik. He lives with his girlfriend Kelly in Oak Park where they tend to a pair of spoiled rotten chickens, and he is currently restoring a 1950s Airstream travel trailer. In his spare time he frequents junk shops, looking for old objects and the stories they tell.

Tigh’s short story eViews.com will be read by Cynthia Mitchell Speakman, another Stories on Stage favorite. Cynthia has been performing with the spoken word group StoryVoices, and teaching children’s theatre for over 10 years. She’s appeared in plays ranging from The Glass Menagerie and Death of a Salesman to Harvey and Alice in Wonderland as the Queen of Hearts. She recently completed work in an independent film, In God We Trust, to be released in March. You may occasionally hear her in radio commercials or see her downtown giving a Segway tour or Hysterical Walk in Old Sac.

Stories on Stage Sacramento

at the Sacramento Poetry Center, 1719 25th Street, (25th and R Arts Complex,) Sacramento

Friday, February 27

Doors open at 7PM: readings begin at 7:30

$5 donation suggested

Copies of 13 Rue Therese,  In the Red, and Farallon Review will be for sale

 

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Presenting Janis Stevens and James Wheatley, readers for our season opener with Tobias Wolff

For our opening event – Tobias Wolff, January 30 – we are thrilled to announce a dream team of readers for two of Wolff’s best-known short stories.

Janis Stevens will read “In The Garden of the North American Martyrs.”

Janis is an inJanis Stevensternationally acclaimed actress and one of the leading lights of Sacramento theatre.  Talented and accomplished as both an actor and director, she’s currently helming a production of Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine for Big Idea Theatre. She has appeared internationally in Vienna, Austria, in such shows as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, and Blithe Spirit.  Nationally she has appeared in numerous plays at the Theatre at Monmouth in Maine where she is a member of the Resident Company and at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. She is an Associate Artist with Capital Stage in Sacramento, where she has directed productions such as reasons to be pretty, Fool for Love, American Buffalo, How I Learned to Drive and the Capital Stage adaptation Hedda Gabler.  Recent roles include Katharine Hepburn in Kate at Sacramento Theatre Company and Maria Callas in Master Class at Capital Stage. Janis was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for “Outstanding Solo Performance” in Rick Foster’s Vivien at the American Theatre of Actors off-off-Broadway and received the Elly Award from the Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance for Best Dramatic Actress for her performance in Becoming Julia Morgan and for Best Direction for Love, Isadora, both at California Stage.  A proud member of Actors Equity, she is also an Adjunct Professor of Theatre Arts at American River College.

James Wheatley will read “Bullet in the Brain”

James Wheatley

James Wheatley, actor, dancer, and musician  is Founder and Artistic Director of Celebration Arts.  He began the much-honored organization as a venue for dance in 1976 and expanded the organization to include choral performance and theatre in 1986.  For nearly three decades he has been the guiding spirit for this all-volunteer organization, which  mounts theatrical, musical, and dance productions and also provides training and performance opportunities for community residents. His original musical play for Celebration Arts, A New Song For Christmas, which he wrote, composed, choreographed and acted in, was presented last season to sold-out audiences. Among his many stage appearances, the most recent have been in Driving Miss Daisy at Chautauqua Playhouse, The Sunset Limited for Actors’ Theatre of Sacramento and The Train Driver and Jitney at Celebration Arts. He has won six Elly awards and a Chesley Award for his acting, an Elly for his original script Petra as well as an Elly for Lifetime Achievement.

His next project will be directing In the Red and Brown Water by Tarell Alvin McCraney, showing February 6 – March 14 at Celebration Arts.

 

Stories on Stage’s sixth season opening event will take place at Verge Center for the Arts, 625 S Street, Sacramento. Doors open at 7PM, readings begin at 7:30PM. A $10 donation is suggested.

(None of this is possible without our superb casting director, Peggi Wood. Thank you, thank you Peggi!)

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Inaugurating our sixth season…Tobias Wolff!

When we met last summer to plan Stories on Stage’s sixth season, I asked everyone to write down a dream list – writers we loved, writers we fantasized might accept an invitation to be our featured author. Writers – truth be told – we never expected to lure to Sacramento.  Tobias Wolff was on everyone’s list. I took a deep breath and e-mailed the invitation. I waited. I expected a polite rejection, but within days, I received Tobias Wolff’s gracious acceptance.

And so – as simply as that –  Stories on Stage is very pleased to announce that Tobias Wolff is the featured writer for the inaugural event of our sixth season.

tobias wolff 2

 

Presenting

An Evening with Tobias Wolff

The date: Friday, January 30, 7:30 PM

The location: Verge Center for the Arts, 625 S Street, Sacramento

The format: two of Wolff’s most powerful short stories – In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, and Bullet in the Brain will be read by two of Sacramento’s most prominent actors.

Suggested donation: $10

We’ll have more about this event and the other writers featured at Stories on Stage this coming year (some of the other writers on our dream list also accepted!) in future posts.

Mark your calendars for January 30: you won’t want to miss a chance to see, hear, and meet one of America’s foremost writers. 

 

 

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Happy Holidays from Stories on Stage

BookTree1-550x550Happy Holidays and Merry Bookmas from Stories on Stage

We’re taking a break this month, but if you’re looking for something to do with your December Final Friday, may we suggest a glass of wine, a lively fire, and a good book? Or, several good books – all from the wonderful writers who made 2014 such a great season. Here they are, in order:

  • January –  Marisa SilverMary Coin, Alone With You 
  • March –  Natalie Baszile, Queen Sugar
  • April  – Peter Orner, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, Love and Shame and Love
  • May  – Kate Milliken, If I’d Known You Were Coming and Joey Garcia, When Your Heart Breaks It’s Opening to Love
  • June  –  Tom Barbash, Stay Up With Me
  • July  –  Kirstin ChenSoy Sauce for Beginners
  • August  –  Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
  • September –  Michael Spurgeon, Let The Water Hold Me Down, and Anara Guard, Remedies for Hunger
  • October  –  Katie Crouch, Abroad
  • November  – Evan Morgan Williams, Thorn, and Valerie Fioravanti, Garbage Night at the Opera

Coming up soon: our 2015 season announcement! Watch this space….and mark all the Final Fridays of 2015 on your calendar as must-attend Stories on Stage events!

Many, many thanks to our sponsors and volunteers – The Sacramento Poetry Center, The Avid Reader, Pushkin’s Bakery, our casting director Peggi Wood, Tatiana Morfas, Ana Cotham, Tim Foley, Geoffrey Neill, Ruth Blank, Kevin McKenna, Corinne Litchfield, David Hagarty, Joey Garcia, and to Valerie Fioravanti, founder and guiding spirit.

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