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A Working Musician Turned Aspiring Author Applies a Music-Scene Ethos to the New Flyleaf Reading Series Voice Rising

Brian Howe Jan 24, 2018 7:00 AM

When Michael Venutolo-Mantovani moved to Chapel Hill from New York City three years ago, he was fleeing the precarious existence of a rock musician for the safer, more stable pastures of ... wait for it ... freelance writing. (Disclosure: Venutolo-Mantovani has written two freelance pieces for the INDY's new sports blog.) Armed with a musician's experience in booking shows, he looked around for a reading series to test out the memoir he hopes to publish and didn't see what he was looking for. So, with help from UNC English professor Marianne Gingher and Flyleaf Books events manager Amanda Ibarra, he hustled Voice Rising into being. It's a series in which established writers headline readings filled out with less-known writers. The first installment, on January 29, features Big Fish author Daniel Wallace with fiction writer Diana Mellow, essayist Heather Wilson, and Venutolo-Mantovani himself, who recently brought us up to speed on the venture.

INDY: What led you to do a reading series presenting well-known authors alongside less-known ones?

MICHAEL VENUTOLO-MANTOVANI: Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I was looking for a series to read my own stuff, to be honest. There was stuff around, but it was more workshops or storytelling events. I mostly write creative nonfiction. I come from a background playing in bands, and, growing up on the Jersey shore, it was like, there's nowhere to play. So we'd do our own shows in basements or VFW halls or whatever. That's the ethos I carry on.

How do you lure in the more established authors?

Again, grafting my experience as a musician, that's how you book a show. If you're a lesser-known band, you try to get on a bill with a bigger band. The first reader is Daniel Wallace, and I just found his email on the UNC website and pitched him the idea. He said he loved it, and here we are. The crux is that everyone's supposed to be reading stuff that's never been published, so that's a draw for fans of Daniel's. It seems like writers, more than any of the other creative endeavors, are much more inclined to help people who are getting started. I don't know what it is. They have a sense of where they came from.

Because even the successful ones are just clinging to the hem of a viable living, so we all feel like we have to clasp each other!

Yeah, even people who are hugely quote-unquote successful, a lot of them are working day jobs. So now we're about to announce our second event, and the featured author is Thomas Mira y Lopez, who is a visiting writer at UNC. He recently published The Book of Resting Places, which is a work of nonfiction about the death of his father. I went to his reading at Flyleaf and we struck up a bit of a friendship. My manuscript is basically about the last two weeks of my mother's life, so we kind of bonded over that.

So the less-known writers obviously get a nice boost, and the established authors get to test out some new material in a low-stakes setting.

Yeah, and if you look at it like a rock show, Diana is going to be bringing her friends, Heather is going to be bringing hers. My friends and family are going to be exposed to Daniel Wallace's work. So we'll have some cross-pollination. That was also at the core of my rock shows—we're trying to turn our audiences on to other stuff.