St. Petersburg-based journalist Tiffany Razzano expanded her event series to Sarasota's The Reserve to reach a new literary scene
Writers aren’t always the best speakers. They can craft the most beautiful, breathtaking prose that would ignite any reader’s soul, but when it comes to reading it onstage, panic ensues.
That’s why Tiffany Razzano started Wordier Than Thou, a Tampa Bay publishing conference and event series, the latest of which is a monthly open mic night for narrative storytellers at The Reserve.
The St. Petersburg-based editor at the Seminole Beacon and Pinellas Park Beacon was meeting several community members through her newspaper job, and at one point some sources started inviting her to speak at events — not her forte.
“I’m a terrible public speaker and moderately a control freak,” Razzano says. “Six years ago I found myself asked to events at elementary schools, etc., and it didn’t matter where they were, they were all terrifying … I was like, ‘This is something I need to get used to and better at.’”
Thus the Storytelling & Prose Open Mic night was born, first in St. Petersburg. Unlike other open mic events, this program is exclusively for narrative storytellers, so no musicians or poets allowed.
Participants get 10 minutes to share any longform piece they want. Some read a chapter from a book they’re working on, some share personal essays, and there’s even been a few comedians workshopping story-based jokes, Razzano says, but all forms of narrative are welcome.
Why make it niched? Razzano says she’s filling a void in the Tampa Bay literary scene.
“There wasn’t really something for writers — there’s some slam poetry stuff, but nothing for longer narratives or stories in any form,” she says. “It came out of a very selfish need, and I found a lot of people gravitating toward it.”
Many of those people were writers driving up from Sarasota for the event, and that’s when she decided to expand south.
Marisa Mangani was one of the first Sarasota writers to become a regular. She had heard about a new open mic series for storytellers while at a writers’ conference on Sanibel, and at that point, it was held at Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center. She started going with her writing group and was hooked — until it petered out.
“I kind of caught the bug, so I said, ‘Damn it, I’m going to start my own,’” Mangani says. “I asked Fogartyville what happened and they said it didn’t work out but told me to call Tiffany ... she just needed a venue.”
Together, the pair organized the open mic’s next iteration at Big Top Brewing Co., then at Sarasota Brewing Co. The breweries weren’t bad, but the first was an outdoor-only situation with lots of noise and the second was a private room separate from the taproom, so something was off.
“We had grand visions of a bohemian bar-type situation,” Mangani says.
One way to achieve that was a venue closer to the colleges, and when Mangani moved to The Reserve, they found their ideal fit.
“There’s some kind of magic because it’s different every time, the dynamic of the different people we have,” she says. “There’s always me and my writing group but one night there were badass women over 50, sometimes there’s college students ... every time there’s a different sort of atmosphere.”
They’ve had anywhere from 12-40 people come out, but Razzano says she doesn’t feel she’s reaching as many people as she could in Sarasota. She wants locals to know it’s an enjoyable experience whether you’re in the spotlight putting yourself out there or just sitting back and listening.
“If you’re a writer, then this is a great place to share your work, whether you have something that you’ve finished and polished or something new,” she says. “It’s a good place to get feedback because you feel the room.”
In an intimate environment with other storytellers and fans of storytelling, she’s noticed how willing audiences are to engage in a conversation about the piece if the writer is interested.
“When people are shy to read I say, ‘Listen, I had a stutter but now I can get up and read,’” Mangani says. “It’s really good for writers to get up and read their stuff.”
And there’s adult beverages available for purchase, so you know it’s going to be a good time.
“If you like bedtime stories and a drink, it’s good for you,” Razzano says.
As a storyteller herself, Razzano says she’s passionate about hearing new narratives and helping fellow writers hone their craft. But when it comes to explaining this passion, she says it’s (ironically) hard to find the words.
“I was that kindergartner who said, ‘I’m going to be a writer — what else is there to be?’” she says. “I just really love stories … they’re a better way to understand yourself and the world around you.”