On Monday, November 12, I attended the Modern Masters reading with author Randall Keenan. At this event, Mr.Keenan read us his newest short story, When We All Get to Heaven. This story features main character Ed Phelps, and a unique experience he has one day upon returning to New York City after thirty years. Ed and his wife, Isaline, return to the city for the National Baptist Convention. While Ed's wife attends the convention, Ed explores the city, and is eventually swept up in the confusion and excitement that is brought on by the approaching of a white limousine. In the midst of a large crowd, Ed is somehow ushered inside a theater with the commotion-causing celebrity, who is simply referred to as "Billy." Once inside the theater, Billy, a musician, begins to inquire if Ed has any musical ability. Ed ends up playing guitar and singing a song he once learned from his grandfather as a child, which to his surprise sufficiently impresses Billy, who insists that Ed accompany him on stage at his show later that evening. While Ed doesn't end up singing with Billy, he does find amusement in the whole experience he has with him. He is especially amused by seeing himself on television at the concert later that evening at the hotel, when he returns to share with his wife the details of his crazy day.
I found this short story to be extremely captivating and also very funny. I loved how Mr. Keenan read the story, giving special voices to each character during dialogue. The British accent Keenan used when he voiced "Billy" helped the audience to figure out that the musician in the story was Billy Idol, despite this never being directly stated. One of the most impressive aspects of the story was Mr. Keenan's great talent for describing everything in the story with vivid sensory detail. At one point in the story, he described a hot pastrami sandwich from the Carnegie Deli, and I could almost taste it. He also described the sights and sounds of New York City in such a way that I could imagine just what he was describing, despite that I've only been to New York a handful of times.
Something I learned from attending this event is the difference between listening to an author read their work, versus reading it on your own. Just as it gives us a different perspective and better understanding when we read poems aloud in class, I think that all of the details and character development in the story were amplified by Keenan's voice. He added a degree of humor, emotion, and voice that would not have been as significant had I simply read the story on paper. This week's event gave me a greater appreciation for detail development, along with a degree of theatrics which can make experiencing a story completely different.