NEW YORK (AP) — For a reading jointly hosted by award-winning writers Sherman Alexie and Edwidge Danticat, the night began with three microphones and a guitar on stage.
A piano, bass, drums and saxophone soon followed.
Think of it, Alexie told the hundreds gathered Wednesday night at Manhattan's Symphony Space, as a literary version of the old Sid Caesar variety show.
Alexis and Danticat, who have written fiction and nonfiction, for young people and adults, presided over a two-hour "Selected Shorts" program that included readings and musical performances, with some commentary and jokes added by the two featured authors. "Selected Shorts," a longtime favorite both as a local stage performance and nationwide audio broadcast, pairs literary works with prominent actors and other artists.
Marsha Stephanie Blake of "Orange is the New Black" among other shows gave a spirited reading of Danticat's "Reading Lessons," the story of a Haitian immigrant teaching at an experimental school in Miami. Jeremy Shamos, a Tony nominee for "Clybourne Park," found laughter and tenderness in Alexie's "South by Southwest," a farcical and yearning road tale about a white man and American Indian that begins with a robbery at an International House of Pancakes in Washington state and ends with a robbery at a McDonald's in Arizona.
Music and the spoken word took turns Wednesday. Wesley Stace, sometimes known as John Wesley Harding, set Alexie's picture book "Thunder Boy, Jr." to a folk rock melody while the Pauline Jean Ensemble transformed Danticat's poem "Their Blood, Bondye" into a haunting torch song.
Alexie's works include the young adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," for which he received a National Book Award, and the novel "War Dances," a winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award. Danticat's novel "Breath, Eyes, Memory" was selected by Oprah Winfrey for her book club and her memoir "Brother, I'm Dying" won a National Book Critics Circle Award.
The authors are both returnees to "Selected Shorts" and shared memories of hearing their works read aloud. Alexie acknowledged that he once resisted any outside narrators, especially after a Shakespearean actor attempted one of his stories about Indian reservation life.
"I'd like to think it was 'King Lear' ensconced in my story, but I didn't want King Lear reading it," said Alexie, who then noted that listening to John Lithgow, B.D. Wong and other actors read his work at Symphony Space changed his mind.
"Not only do I get star struck, I get to hear new things inside the story, based on somebody else's performance," he said.
Danticat said she liked the feeling of sitting in the dark, taking in her words like any other member of the audience.
"It always sounds better than it did in my head," she explained. A previous time Danticat was at Symphony Space, Tony winner Anika Noni Rose read her story "Claire of the Sea Light."
"The audience was not really happy with my ending so I went home and changed it," Danticat confided.
"It might happen again tonight."