By Ryan Cassirer
Joe Wenderoth took the microphone in his hands, stared for a few seconds at his audience, and said in his trademark voice that contains hints of lunacy: “Can you all hear me? I guess I don’t have to stay close to it … I guess this is an advanced microphone.”
Wenderoth was on campus as part of the Visiting Writers Series sponsored by ink, speaking to a packed library auditorium on Dec. 6. Some cackled with laughter as the writer read excerpts of his works like “The Holy Spirit of Life: Essays for John Ashcroft’s Secret Self” and “Letters to Wendy’s.” Others however, sat motionless in their chairs, completely shocked.
Wenderoth started off reading prose with the auditorium lights dimmed very low, taking long, dramatic pauses in which he seemed almost lost at times. He read his poetry in a way one expects an insane asylum patient to talk, and described peculiar instances such as personal attachment to things such as a possum that makes a home in your backyard, and how upset people become when we lose these things that aren’t even in our control.
“When I read prose I’m more the person I am,” Wenderoth explained while saying prose is a sort of liberation for him.
Unsettled chuckles arose from the audience as the lights went back on and Wenderoth began to read his critically acclaimed book, “Letters to Wendy’s.”
Those chuckles slowly turned into gasps and looks of astonishment as Wenderoth depicted, very graphically, sexual excerpts and unique points of view from his book. In a following Q & A session Wenderoth said was satisfied with the state of silence he had left the room, stating that the language he uses in his books are “flags, I hope, telling the reader, ‘Hey think about language.’ You know, this is just language — this isn’t like reading about someone who’s going to go and kill people. This is just language.”
In the excerpt Wenderoth read, he depicted Jesus Christ in a light that most people would not dare go near. The scene started off normally enough, until one of the Apostles asked Jesus if he had a penis like the rest of them. Jesus dropped his robes and replied, in Wenderoth’s raving mad voice, “No Thomas. I have a filthy cunt. Why don’t you get on your knees and have a closer look?” Jaws dropped in the audience as Jesus then proceeded to have sex with all his Apostles, one by one.
When asked about his attitude towards religion, Wenderoth explained that he grew up in a family with very traditional Christian values, which he said explains the hostility he shows towards it in some of his work.
In another excerpt, Wenderoth made the case that “everybody looks better with a dick in their mouth.” This brand of humor was a great relief to some members of the audience, who were able to laugh at this comparatively innocent statement after hearing the main figure of Christianity being put in a pornographic scene.
Freshman English and history double major Albert Cavallaro didn’t see a problem with Wenderoth’s reading: “I saw how it could be offensive, but I’m not particularly religious. I would be interested to read more, but perhaps not in public or where people could see me.”
Many of those in attendance were there to take notes for their English classes at the College. Others came from further away.
“Half of the auditorium sounded like they couldn’t wait for this guy to make another appearance,” said Montclair State University student Nathan Bajar. “The other half probably hopes they’ll never see him again.”
Kailyn Reamy and Kevin Schlittenhardt contributed reporting.