The Writers’ House hosts a book exchange party

Zoe DiGiorgio
Guest Writer

When in the mood to find something new to read, a person often finds him or herself browsing the spines of books in a brightly-lit bookstore, while jazz music flows lazily from a store radio. On Wednesday night the crowded Dorchester Hall basement offered an alternative to usual book shopping with the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House book exchange. Those in attendance had the change to trade in their old favorites for some new reads.

The book exchange party also offered a free concert from a few University of Maryland alumni. There were performances by Ms. Fridrich and My Son Bison, two local bands formed by alumi Sarah Fridrich and Joel Sephy, respectively.

Sung-Min Kim, a first-year Writers’ House student, thought the piano and low vocals of Ms. Fridrich was reminiscent of Fiona Apple. “It’s got a nice poppy melody as well,” he said.

Leigh McDonald, a Writers’ House alumna, enjoyed My Son Bison’s set, noting their southwestern influence. She described them as surprisingly polished compared to other bands she has heard on-campus.

Bathed in the soft glow of floor lamps, Dorchester’s basement was filled with constant chatter throughout the evening. Guests brought books of all kinds to swap, and even those who arrived empty-handed chose a few to take home. The books were spread out on three tables around the basement: comic books from the 80’s comprised most of one table, poetry collections on another, modern favorites like Cormac McCarthy and Colm Tóibín, and there were also classics by Henry James, Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

As the night went on more books joined the tables, but the snack table, consisting of boxes of cereal, crackers, chips, pretzels, pizza and assorted fruit, was nearly empty by the end.

Johnna Schmidt, the director of the Writers’ House and coordinator of the event, said Sephy, the keyboardist for My Son Bison and a Writers’ House alumnus, had contacted her to arrange a performance at a Terpoets event. The bands had one free day from touring to promote My Son Bison’s new EP. Instead, Schmidt arranged for a separate event to bring the two bands to campus.

“It sort of happened by accident,” Schmidt said.

Sarah Fridrich, also an aluma of the university and the vocalist and pianist for Ms. Fridrich, said after touring and performing in strange places it was “nice to be in a place where I’m familiar.” Preparing to perform a Virginia Woolfe-themed set in Hyattsville for “The Skin of the Day” in April, a musical and spoken-word event, Fridrich said she is all about books and was very comfortable with the audience in Dorchester. She enjoys being around “super nerdy people.” 

It was very strange for Sephy to go back to Dorchester, where he used to live a few years ago. But returning for a show seemed obvious, he said. “It’s a really easy place to perform and have a crowd,” he said. “It’s a great place to live.”

When he was in the Writers’ House, his peers provided him with a strong audience, eagerly listening to him when he performed. Being in the Writers’ House challenged him to listen to things and read books that he wouldn’t have otherwise, which in turn impacted his lyrics.

Exploring new books and music seemed to be the theme of the night. As My Son Bison was wrapping up their set, guests raved about the performance. “Both of these bands are totally awesome,” Schmidt said.

Though the event fell together by a stroke of chance, Schmidt was ecstatic with the result. “We should do it every year,” she said.

My Son Bison and Ms. Fridrich will be in Philadelphia and New York later this week.

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