The Written Image: Last Night's Reading

Part of the appeal of literary readings is the chance to see in person the writers behind the books—to see how they carry themselves, to listen to them speak, and to witness their offhand moments of humor or insight. Illustrator Kate Gavino captures these moments in her new illustrated book, Last Night’s Reading: Illustrated Encounters With Extraordinary Authors, published this month by Penguin. The book is based on Gavino’s popular Tumblr page of the same name (lastnightsreading.tumblr.com); since 2013, she has attended hundreds of literary readings in and around New York City and documented each event by drawing a portrait of the featured author along with one of the author’s best quotes from the night. “Writing is a solitary activity, but at a reading, writers are with their audience, talking about what matters most to them,” Gavino writes in the book. “They are excited! They are tipsy! They are wise!” With her portraits, Gavino captures a writer’s moments of unscripted wisdom (Richard Ford: “Love isn’t a thing, after all, but an endless series of single acts”), honesty (Louise Glück: “My work would not exist without the envy that, in time, becomes gratitude”), writing advice (George Saunders: “Get more confused”), and tough love (Lev Grossman: “Don’t explain it to death—or it ceases to be magic”). Gavino started the project after attending a particularly moving reading during which Junot Díaz spoke about the importance of bearing witness. “Observation doesn’t always have to be passive,” notes Gavino, “which is why I like sharing my drawings with fellow literary enthusiasts and burgeoning writers. It’s my way of bottling up a short moment from that crowded bookstore or dimly lit bar, when I heard a quote that resonated with me, and opening it up for others.”