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Author! Author! Where to Hear Spoken Word

Readings can be some of the most inexpensive and entertaining events in New York. Many readings are free; most others charge a small cover (unless it’s for a big name).

Thorough weekly listings can be found in Time Out New York’s “Books” section. There’s almost always a major author in town reading at one of the local Barnes & Noble stores (www.bn.com). You can also stop by Housing Works Bookstore Café, Bluestockings, and Brooklyn bar Pete’s Candy Store for readings and discussions. There's also a great traveling literary events: The Moth live storytelling performances (www.themoth.org) that you may have heard on National Public Radio.

So who are you likely to see at these diverse literary venues? Everyone from bestselling writers (Candace Bushnell, John Irving, Augusten Burroughs) to slam poets and spoken-word artists (Patricia Smith, Anne Elliott) to whoever’s just scribbled a poem on the back of an envelope at an open-mic event.

  • The Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y, 92nd Street at Lexington Avenue (tel. 212/415-5740; www.92y.org; Subway: 4, 5, or 6 to 96th St.). The 92nd Street Y has had all the heavy hitters in its lineup since 1939. In addition to talks and readings by the world’s top poets, novelists, playwrights, and critics, the Y also offers Books & Bagels Sunday brunch series. Tickets are usually in the $20-to-$50 range. Some readings are in the 917-seat auditorium, which does on occasion sell out (for, say, a Nobel Prize winner or ex-president). 
  • Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E. 3rd St., between avenues B and C (tel. 212/505-8183; www.nuyorican.org; Subway: F to Second Ave.). For more than 30 years, the Nuyorican has presented poetry, drama, music, and film. The raucous, energetic Poetry Slams (the cafe fields a championship Slam Team) present poetry as a sport: Aspiring stars show up and throw down their work in front of mixed crowd and three teams of audience judges, who score them on the poetry and presentation. The Friday slams begin around 10pm and feature an invited slam poet. Slam Opens are held most Wednesdays. Cover charges range from $13 to $35. The storefront bar gets crowded quickly, so get there early on Slam nights. 
  • Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, at 1st Street, between Houston and Bleecker streets (tel. 212/614-0505; www.bowerypoetry.com; Subway: F to Second Ave.). “Poetry Czar” (as anointed by the Village Voice) Bob Holman opened his “Home for Poetry” in a classic 1850 Bowery building. It’s open all day for snacks, coffee, and that writerly essential, hanging out; a good happy hour precedes each evening’s festivities. Poetry and fiction readings and slams, open mics, monologues, words with music, and all manner of other spoken word is presented from about 5:30pm each night, with covers ranging from free to $10. National and rising stars on the poetry/spoken-word scene show up in this sizeable venue. 
  • KGB, 85 E. 4th St., between Second and Third avenues (tel. 212/505-3360; www.kgbbar.com; Subway: F to Second Ave.; 6 to Astor Place). This second-floor bar (sadly not wheelchair accessible) in an old East Village brownstone was once a Ukrainian social club and is decorated with vintage Communist memorabilia. There’s never a cover, so it’s affordable to refresh your drink often for the readings held almost every night of the week starting at around 7pm. It’s a tiny bar, holding perhaps 40 to 50 comfortably, and double that for a hot reader (think Kaylie Jones, Eileen Myles, A. M. Homes), with theme nights curated by individual writers for poetry, science fiction, and other genres. 

Festivals & Events

  • The New Yorker magazine (http://festival.newyorker.com) goes into the readings (and lecture and panel discussion) business with its New Yorker Festival every early October. You’ll pay around $30 for the privilege of seeing, say, Atul Gawande, Rachel Weisz, Sherman Alexie or Malcolm Gladwell talk about their work at one of several venues, but the events usually sell out in a flash. There are also free events and book signings throughout the festival. 
  • Every New Year’s Day, the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, 131 E. 10th St. (tel. 212/674-0910; www.poetryproject.com; Subway: N or R to Union Sq.; 6 to Astor Place), presents a marathon poetry reading starting around 2pm, and running till . . . whenever. Poets and performers ranging from Patti Smith to Eric Bogosian, Maggie Estep, and many (many) more read to welcome in the new year and raise money for the Poetry Projects’ year-round readings, workshops, and events. Tickets run about $20. 
  • Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, at 95th St. (tel. 212/864-5400; www.symphonyspace.org), is the home of both Selected Shorts (Oct–Dec) and Bloomsday on Broadway. In Selected Shorts, modern and classic short stories are read by professional actors like Blair Brown, Cynthia Nixon, and Denis O’Hare, who read authors like Truman Capote, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Curtis Sittenfeld. Tickets range from $20 to $30, with discounts for students and seniors. And each June 16 (the day Leopold Bloom took his stroll around Dublin in 1904 in James Joyce’s Ulysses), an ensemble cast of actors and avid Joyceans does a marathon reading from the masterwork. Its tickets are usually sold out well in advance.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.