Baltimore writer Rafael Alvarez hosts monthly reading series

By SARAH Y. KIM | September 8, 2017

Bird in Hand, a cafe-bookshop in Charles Village co-created by local bookstore The Ivy Bookshop and Baltimore coffeehouse Artifact Coffee, welcomed Baltimorean writer Rafael Alvarez on Tuesday night as part of his monthly reading series, Readings with Ralphie.

Alvarez writes fiction and has also served as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and wrote several episodes for The Wire, a crime drama television series set in Baltimore. He spoke to The News-Letter on the conception of Readings with Ralphie.

“I was invited [by The Ivy Bookshop] when [Bird in Hand] opened,” he said. “They wanted to get a lot of attention for it.”

The series, which began about six months ago, consists of readings held the first Tuesday of each month. At each reading, Alvarez hosts a number of different colleagues. This week, writers Christine Higgins, D.R. Belz and Ann Bracken accompanied Alvarez.

“I’ve been putting up readings in Baltimore for a long time and I’ve been in the Baltimore writing community for over thirty years,” Alvarez said. “So I have contacts with literally scores of writers. One of the challenges is to put together a bill of different writers that isn’t redundant in any way.”

Through these readings, Alvarez hopes to promote the work of his friends and local writers.

“I try to feature friends or locals who have a new product coming up,” he said. “I know what it’s like to need to and want to sell books.”

Alvarez reflected on his journey as a writer, crediting his experiences with journalism for improving his writing skills and reflecting on the instability that comes with trying to be a writer.

“Becoming a writer is not like being a doctor,” he said. “You’re not going to study your ass off and take a test. You’re going to learn and fail and learn and fail. It’s far more exciting.”

He hopes that with the help of his monthly readings, Hopkins students will be able to interact more with local writers and learn about their career paths.

Higgins, who holds a master’s degree in Writing Seminars from Hopkins, read three of her poems. She has had poems published in a variety of journals and has also written creative nonfiction. Higgins also won the Maryland State Arts Council Award for poetry.

Belz, a Baltimore satirist and writer of essays, fiction and poetry, spoke next. A teacher of writing since 1977, his work has been published by publications such as The Baltimore Sun and The Baltimore Examiner.

Before reading a piece titled “Underachievers in Heaven,” he gave a short speech on the differing sign languages and etiquette of different cultures.

“It’s not better or worse, it’s just different,” he said.

Bracken, who is an educator and expressive arts consultant as well as a poet and author, spoke after Belz. Bracken reflected on her stories of students and teachers in today’s schools.

“When you hear about failing schools or students who don’t achieve, you can think about these stories and think there’s a lot more in the backpacks that kids wear than just a bunch of books,” Bracken said.

Students saw the reading as a way to familiarize themselves with the Baltimore arts scene. Sophomore Grace Ren appreciated the opportunity to explore disciplines outside her usual field of study.

“I wanted to get involved in arts and humanities this year,” Ren said. “This year I’ve taken a lot of science-y classes and a lot of school related things and I want to stay connected with arts and humanities.”


Katherine Logan contributed reporting.


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