FUQUAY-VARINA — Walking into open-mic night at Stars Theater & Arts Center is like walking onto the set of a long-running sitcom, complete with a motley crew of characters.
As emcee, 62-year-old Jan Parker, stylish in her jeans and knee-high boots, peers over her glasses and holds out a sign-up sheet for participants.
She’s collected dozens of those papers over the past four years. They serve as an unofficial log of literary talent around the Triangle.
Across the room, one writer tries to wheedle one more minute of reading time from poet Glenn Cassidy, who is serving as the official timer. Each writer gets five minutes to read their work. Those are the rules.
But like everything else, the rules are flexible. The atmosphere at Parker’s open-mic nights are meant to encourage creativity.
Every third Thursday of the month, professional and novice writers from all over the Triangle gather for readings in Fuquay-Varina. They share everything from memoirs, poetry, self-proclaimed “trashy” romance excerpts, dream sequences and six-sentence short stories.
During readings, audience members add their personal audio track of laughter and gasps. Between readings, they catch up on gossip.
The two-hour sessions are part literary showcase and part community catharsis. They are also an opportunity to find authors.
Charlotte-based Main Street Rag Publishing Company puts together an annual anthology of authors’ works who show up to the open-mic nights. Proceeds from the book sales go to charity. For the past two years, the anthology has raised about $400 for InterAct of Wake County, a nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence.
Parker, a published author and trustee for the North Carolina Writers’ Network, started the open-mic nights four years ago inside the old Mitchell building as a way to “pay it forward.”
Over the years, the venue has changed names. It was Lazy Lion Books before it became an arts center, but the idea behind the open-mic nights hasn’t changed.
It’s all about encouraging writers, Parker said.
“It’s easy for established authors to get a reading,” she said. “For emerging writers, those venues aren’t open to you. There’s always room for an open mic. We have crazy talent here in North Carolina.
“This open-mic night is known for not being afraid. We go beyond the cliche. We don’t tolerate it. We write about real things.”
A sense of community
Parker’s work has appeared in several publications, and she has secured an agent for her novel, “Trading Moons.”
Now she’s working on her second book.
Luke Whisnant, a creative writing professor at East Carolina University, travels from Greenville to take part in the open-mic nights.
“I drive two hours to get here,” he said. “I come here for the sense of community.”
Parker is the main force behind it all, he said.
“She embraces writers of all levels,” Whisnant said. “She’s very nurturing. It’s a very relaxing and welcoming group. There’s no judgment at all.”
Whisnant said he looks forward to hearing the dream sequences of local writer Jason Roscoe or the latest excerpts of Sonia Usatch-Kuhn’s memoirs.
“You hear a little bit of something one month and people usually pick up the next month where they left off,” Whisnant said. “You keep waiting to hear what will happen.”
Roscoe, who lives in Garner, said he was surprised to find out there was an open-mic night in Fuquay-Varina.
“I still think of Fuquay-Varina like when I first saw it in 1982 when the only thing here was a McDonald’s,” he said. “I immediately noted the camaraderie. These people really like each other.”
Nancy Young of Fuquay-Varina is under contract with a publisher for her new paranormal romance, “Seeing Things”.
“I’ve been to all the area readings,” she said. “I can tell you that the talent here is far superior.”
Ramos: 919-460-2609; Twitter: @AlianaCaryNews