By Caroline Jones
Of the hundreds of literary magazines published every year, the world seems to pay attention to a prestigious few. What if your work doesn’t fit the tone of The Paris Review or The New Yorker? Are you just supposed to give up? If you ask Mark Cugini, the answer to that question is a resounding no.
When he found himself feeling frustrated by the static nature of D.C.’s literary scene, he decided to create his own publication. Big Lucks, co-founded by Cugini and his girlfriend Laura Spencer in 2009, has now produced four print issues, a website, and a monthly reading series that is bringing together literary fans of all kinds.
Big Lucks wasn’t going to be anything major—-at first. Cugini moved to D.C. four years ago to attend the MFA program at American University, and started the journal as a hobby of sorts, a venue for more experimental writing that wasn’t so welcome in the realism-dominated environment at the college. Initially, the idea was to post work online and publish issues through an on-demand printer. It wasn’t until he attended the 2010 Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference that the idea of opening Big Lucks to a wider audience became more tangible.
Their coming out party of sorts was at a reading hosted by local lit mag Barrelhouse called “Barrelhouse Presents” at Wonderland Ballroom. Since then, they’ve grown into the role of Barrelhouse's adopted little brother. Soon, the Big Lucks team was receiving and accepting submissions from writers nationwide, and they realized that what was supposed to be a hobby was now something much grander.
But even with the journal growing, there was still a desire to interact with readers and writers in person. That’s when the idea of a reading series began to percolate. It would give local writers a chance to share their work, and readers would get a chance to converse with authors for longer than the few seconds they would share during a signing. “There was a separation between reader and writer that didn’t need to happen,” Cugini says.
His hope was to bring together the people who are reading and publishing in independent journals and get them interacting in the same room. Out of that idea came the Three Tents Reading Series, named after the three tents that hang above the stairs at the Big Hunt in Dupont Circle, where the readings are held.
In the year and a half since Three Tents began, more than 30 authors have been featured. Cugini’s motivation behind putting on a monthly series is to promote D.C.’s literary community, which, while somewhat established, is less bustling than those in cities like Baltimore. Here, the closeness that writers enjoy in workshop settings was missing. As the readings have gone on, and attendees have gotten to know each other, Three Tents has become a monthly ritual for some.
"That’s, to me, what the essence of Three Tents is," Cugnini says. "It’s more of a community-building experience than it is a reading series."
The next Three Tents reading is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 18 at 6 p.m. at Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free.