English grad students organize live literary events
TAMPA, Fla.- Tampa Bay’s only live literary event, First Draft, was initiated by one of University of South Florida's own creative writing master’s
students. This event takes place at 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at Southern Brewing.
Second-year M.F.A. student Jessica Thompson, along with the support of fellow M.F.A. students T.J. Murray and Colleen Kolba, are reimagining Tampa’s
literary scene with First Draft.
“Live lit is similar to a [literary] reading,” Thompson explained, “but there’s something extra that’s live about it, [something] that you wouldn’t be able
Inspired by the live lit events in her hometown of Chicago, Thompson wanted to bring their spontaneity to Tampa’s literary scene.
“I’ve been to a lot of readings where the audience is all writers” Thompson said. “I think that’s pretty unique to writing. You go to a concert and the
audience isn’t all musicians. You go to a comedy shows, the audience isn’t all comedians…my goal was to create a literary event that appealed to a public
First Draft was born in Thompson’s apartment, where it ran a year-long trial, performed and attended by USF graduate students and professors.
“It’s a positive atmosphere. We’re not making fun of people,” Thompson said. “It’s like play and pretend for adults.”
And the people of Tampa want to play; about 50 people attended the first public event.
“Writing is like play,” Murray said. “Little kids tell stories all the time. It’s how they play…but then as we grow up we stop playing so much…getting back
to that imaginative state is what I try to do. First Draft is a very play-centered event.”
“For the most part, faculty or people who [are reading] are published authors,” Thompson said. “People who don’t even live in the Tampa area coming to
read…[and the event] is all free so no one gets paid.”
College of Arts and Sciences professors like Ira Sukrungruang and John Fleming have been very supportive, attending and participating in the events, even
lending audio equipment.
What really separates First Draft from traditional readings are the games.
“We have games like ‘On the Spot,’ where people have to come with ideas on the spot. But there’s no judgment,” Murray said. “Usually you’d be embarrassed,
but people are willing to do goofy things because everyone there is goofy.”
Each month has a new theme the games are built around. The theme for March was beer because the event fell on St. Patrick’s Day. April’s theme is ghosts.
May’s theme is prom.
First Draft is expanding the creative community beyond majors, but it had to begin with a strong internal community. In addition to the faculty, Thompson
said her classmates always help one another, reading and commenting on each other’s work and supporting each other’s events.
Filed under:English Arts and Sciences