It’s an ambitious project and an impressive lineup. The Cracked Walnut Reading Festival, brainchild of St. Paul writer Satish P. Jayaraj, opened Monday night at Coffee Shop Northeast in Minneapolis with Sheila O’Connor, Susan Thurston and others, and will gallop around the Twin Cities area (with a side trip to Duluth), ending April 12 at Coffee Bene in St. Paul.
During that time, writers will gather at 21 different spots on 21 different afternoons and evenings, and read.
Cracked Walnut began two years ago when Jayaraj, who was studying for an MFA at Hamline University, talked with other students about the need for an outlet for their creativity.
“It started off as an experiment,” he said, “to do readings in unorthodox locations.” He staged readings wherever he could secure space, including a grocery store, skating rink and funeral home.
“The funeral chapel one is our crown jewel right now,” he said. Writers tend to read to the space — the grocery-store reading involved lots of pieces about food — and the funeral home reading, he said, brought out powerful stories and poems.
The Cracked Walnut reading festival is a little more orthodox, held primarily in coffee shops. “The very basic idea was that if anyone is curious all they have to do is walk one or two blocks to their local neighborhood coffee shop,” Jayaraj said.
He has lined up an impressive bunch of writers, including novelist Charles Baxter, poets Ethna McKiernan, Katrina Vandenberg, Kris Bigalk and Wang Ping, fiction writers Thomas Maltman and Erin Hart, and many others.
“I tried to get six people to each reading,” he said, “so, roughly, 120 writers. No writers will appear twice, and I tried to mix it up — poets with fiction writers and performance poets.” Readings will last about two hours.
A traveling daily literary festival might be a good way to endure this cold and reluctant spring: a nice hot drink, and someone to read out loud to you. Like a good cup of coffee, it’ll be both soothing and invigorating.
Here’s the schedule. Go to www.crackedwalnutreadings.org for the list of readers.
Tuesday: 6:30 p.m., Angry Catfish Coffee and Bike Shop, 4208 28th Av. S., Mpls.
Wednesday: 6:30 p.m., Cahoots Coffee Shop, 1562 Selby Av., St. Paul.
Thursday: 7 p.m., SubText Bookstore, 165 N. Western Av., St. Paul.
Friday: 6 p.m. Groundswell Coffee, 1342 Thomas Av., St. Paul.
Saturday: 6 p.m., Maeve’s Cafe, 300 13th Av. NE., Mpls.
Sunday: 7 p.m. Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, 308 E. Prince St., St. Paul.
March 25: 6:30 p.m. Common Roots Cafe, 2558 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.
March 26: 6:30 p.m. Diamonds Coffee, 1618 Central Av. NE., Mpls.
March 27: 6 p.m., Fire Roast Cafe, 3800 37th Av. S., Mpls.
March 28: 2 p.m., Black Sheep, 705 Southview Blvd., South St. Paul.
March 29: 6:30 p.m., J. Arthur’s Coffee, 2441 Rice St., Roseville.
March 30: 6:30 p.m., J&S Bean Factory, 1518 Randolph Av., St. Paul.
March 31: 6:30 p.m., The Coffee Grounds, 1579 Hamline Av., Falcon Heights.
April 2: 6:30 p.m., Nina’s Cafe, 165 N. Western Av., St. Paul.
April 3: 6:30 p.m., Prove Gallery, 21 N. Lake Av., Duluth.
April 5: 6:30 p.m., The Nicollet, 1931 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.
April 6: noon, Jerabek’s New Bohemian Coffeehouse, 63 W. Winifred St., St. Paul.
April 7: 6:30 p.m., Room 100 E, GLC Building, Hamline University, 1536 Hewitt Av., St. Paul.
April 10: 6:30 p.m., Hamline-Midway Public Library, 1558 W. Minnehaha Av., St. Paul.
April 12: 6:30 p.m., Coffee Bene, 53 S. Cleveland Av., St. Paul.