Talking with Michele Filgate, Writer and Bookstore Events Coordinator Legend

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Michele Filgate has written for just about everywhere. A bookstore events coordinator of legend, Filgate now focuses on writing and teaching, which she does at Catapult and Sackett Street Writer’ Workshop. Her new reading series, the Lit Hub-sponsored Red Ink, looks stupendous—the first event is next Monday, May 9.
You are a prominent Internet book nerd. What’s been the most rewarding experience you’ve had being a book person online? What’s been the most surprising?
I really enjoy connecting with other voracious readers and recommending books. Twitter and Facebook feel like a natural extension of being an indie bookseller. I’m no longer a bookseller, but I still get to handsell books to friends and strangers—and encourage them to support their local bookstores! If lonely and somewhat misunderstood 12-year-old Michele knew that in the future, she’d be able to talk about books any time of the day with people all over the world, she wouldn’t have believed it. The community (and it really is a community) of book nerds delights me and surprises me all the time.
What’s the coolest books event you’ve ever been to or organized? What about it made it successful?
It’s hard to choose a single event! I’ve curated thousands of events over the years. One of my fondest memories is when we hosted Karl Ove Knausgaard in conversation with Nicole Krauss at Community Bookstore. There were so many people there that we had to turn some fans away. But holding it in an offsite larger venue wouldn’t have been as fun. There’s something magical and intimate about an event held in an independent bookstore. And for that event particularly, there was a devoted, excited energy in the room. We, the readers, all shared a moment together. Another favorite memory is when Jeanette Winterson read at McNally Jackson, and she stood on toadstools from the children’s section so that everybody could see her.
How does your writing compliment (or maybe conflict with) the work you do as a literary citizen?
Being a literary citizen and a writer go hand in hand, in my opinion. I teach and am on the board of the National Book Critics Circle and write because I care about words. Words are as fundamental to me as breath. (Hence my Twitter handle: @readandbreathe).
So I’d love to hear the story of you and Tinkers and the Pulitzer. How did you find this book? Did you know when you were handselling it up in New Hampshire what would happen?
I was working at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the time, and I was intrigued by the cover of the book. It’s stark and beautiful. I couldn’t help but notice Marilynne Robinson’s blurb, too! I still remember sitting on my couch and devouring the novel. When I read the last page, I felt a deep loss, because I didn’t want to leave the world of the book. There isn’t a wasted word in that novel. It’s a masterpiece. I couldn’t stop talking about it: both online and off! One day, I attended a book reviewing workshop at the New Hampshire Writers’ Project annual conference. Rebecca Pepper Sinkler (the former editor of the New York Times Book Review) gave a great talk, and we really bonded. I told her about Tinkers. When the Pulitzer was announced, I found out she was the head of the fiction jury that year. A New York Times reporter called the bookstore to interview me for an article about Paul Harding, and I thought someone was pulling a prank on me at first. Flash forward to 2016: I’ve become good friends with Erika Goldman, the wonderful editorial director and publisher of Bellevue Literary Press. We have Tinkers because of Erika. (And because of Paul, of course!) She is one of the smartest people in the book world. I’ll read anything she publishes.
Tell me about your new reading series, Red Ink.
I left bookselling and my events job a few years ago in order to focus on my writing career, but I’ve always wanted to host a series dedicated to women writers, past and present. There are a bunch of amazing reading series in NYC (including my very favorite: Franklin Park Reading Series, led by Penina Roth, one of my lit heroes). I wanted to do something a little bit different—four curated panels a year that I will moderate. BookCourt is my local indie, and I’m thrilled that Andrew, their wonderful events coordinator, is as excited as I am. The first event is on May 9: “Finding Solitude in a Noisy World” featuring Katherine Towler (The Penny Poet of Portsmouth), Angela Flournoy (The Turner House), Molly Crabapple (Drawing Blood), Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams), and Valeria Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth). Kings County Distillery and Archer Roose are providing bourbon and wine; Lit Hub is co-sponsoring the series and will publish edited transcripts of the events. The title of the series comes from my friend Lauren Cerand, who came up with it after reading this quote from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: “He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink…” For those of you who want to know more about Red Ink, follow the Twitter account: @RedInkSeries or visit our website.

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