Those preparing to undergo the challenge of the Cooper River Bridge Run each year observe rituals and rites of passage. Running shoes are purchased and laced just so, rope is skipped, hamstrings are stretched, and short stories are read aloud.
Stories — yes, telling the tales is equally a preparatory step toward the famed 10K run from Mt. Pleasant to Charleston.
"When I did my first reading for the Bridge Run, in 1999, I had an idea for a story, sort of influenced by the movie What About Bob, about a guy and his former shrink," says local writer Jonathan Sanchez, who is headlining this year's eighth annual Bridge Run Reading — which, to be fair, doesn't really include any other writers, so headlining it eight consecutive times isn't as rare as one might initially think.
"I wrote the story in the context of the race. It was one of those things when the race was coming up, I had an idea, and I had to write it real quick."
"The next year, I was doing a reading at Café Lana and Mitchell Davis suggested I write another Bridge Run story because the race was coming up. Once we had two, we had a series started." The series, in turn, expanded into his book Bandit, a collection of nine short stories themed around the race.
The Bridge Run Story reading has been hosted by a variety of Lowcountry venues in past years, moving to Millennium Music in 2005. Those too pumped by the thought of the upcoming race to sit still at home can jog on down to the corner of King and Calhoun for a fictional re-imagining of people's lives in the context of thousands of shoes slapping down across the span of the bridge. Sanchez will also be signing copies of Bandit after the reading.
Sanchez, a longstanding veteran of public readings for Charleston's literati, wrote for The Post and Courier before launching into his freelance career. A frequent City Paper contributor, he has also written for Charleston Magazine and is the director of the Write of Summer camp for children in Charleston and Florida. "I love working with the kids," says Sanchez. "They're creative and can really open up with their writing."
South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth, who, like Sanchez, serves on the board of directors for LILA (Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts), sees the reading as a great way to celebrate the Bridge Run. "People really look forward to it," she says. "Listening to a new story each year is a fun way for people to approach it. And Jonathan gives it a spin like no one else."
"We all love stories, and linking storytelling to a community event is a unique twist," she adds. "Jonathan is always entertaining and funny. Not only that, after the reading, he actually runs the Bridge Run."
"I've missed it a few years, due to injury," Sanchez admits of the run itself. "But I've been getting better at it. I feel like now, with the annual readings, I need to do it for research."