Before Pulitzer-prize winning author Junot Diaz began his reading and Q&A at Gallery Josephine on Friday night, he called gallery co-owner Nyama Wingood to the floor to discuss the purpose of the fledgling art space. “We’re still a baby,” Ms. Wingood said. “We’re still figuring it out.” But by the time Mr. Diaz had finished his reading and passed the microphone to Grammy nominated artist John Forte, the foundation had been laid for a venue with a promising future of intimate performance and socially pertinent conversation.
Mr. Diaz, best known for his 2007 novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” read “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” a story from his most recent collection “This is How You Lose Her.” Before doing so, Mr. Diaz turned the typical book reading on its head, opening the floor for questions almost immediately. He spoke on the writing process and his recent trip to Cuba before moving into more complex social issues, including immigration and race relations in the United States. What most concerns Mr. Diaz, he said, is not just apathy about the issues, but an “energetic looking away” from the problems at hand. “We all have an ethical responsibility,” he said. “We allow ourselves to get caught up in our own bullshit so we don’t have to address it.”
Following an intermission for refills of summer cocktails and passed apps by Down Island restaurant, John Forte took the corner stage of the intimate gallery for an acoustic performance. Mr. Forte achieved fame with his work on the legendary 1996 Fugees album “The Score,” and has since gone on to write and produce with members of the Fugees and as a solo artist. Mr. Forte moved to the Island last year, where he spent the winter hunkered down writing new material. Friday’s audience at Gallery Josephine was among the first to hear the fresh songs in addition to Forte’s most popular solo hit “Give Me Water.” Mr. Forte had recently returned from a panel at the Democratic National Convention, and his socio-political inclinations were apparent in his lyricism, which fretted if the future of America would be a war of the stars, or a celebrity circus of stars warring.
By the end of the set, several audience members were moved to tears, yet the mood was not heavy. There was a seriousness about the evening, a sense of purpose and collaborative energy, solidified by two performers who genuinely seemed to enjoy interacting with each other and their fans. Even if the little Oak Bluffs gallery that hosted the event didn’t know its purpose yet, the audience had a pretty good idea.
Tickets for the event raised over $3,000 for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ New Paths Recovery Program, an outpatient addiction program for adults seeking alcohol, drug, and behavioral addiction recovery, which focuses on education and skills development. “We would have hoped to raise so much more for the cause, and of course we encourage people to donate directly,” Ms. Wingood told The Times later. “It was indeed an incredible evening, the performances personal. How deeply grateful we are. All persons present created a rich and dynamic experience.
Junot Diaz will also appear at the Islanders Write conference on August 8. For more information, visit islanderswrite.com.