Joey Oliver and his daughter Lydia Oliver drove about an hour and a half from Hayden, Ala., to see Neil Gaiman speak at the Bama Theatre Thursday night.
At the beginning of the event, ushers picked up notecards they had distributed at the door for people to write questions on. Lydia, a sixth grader at Hayden Middle School, asked, “When did you figure out you were a writer?”
It was one of dozens of questions on dozens of notecards Gaiman carried to the stage to the applause of more than 1,000 attendees at the Bama Theatre, which sold out in two minutes. Gaiman was invited as part of the Bankhead Visiting Writer’s Series, sponsored by the English Department and Creative Campus.
Gaiman came on stage to raucous applause, a six-inch stack of notecards filled with audience members’ questions in one hand. Gaiman said he was pleased by the amount of questions he received. He held up his hand to indicate the size of his usual stack — far smaller than his current one. Gaiman shared the very first notecard he read with the audience before starting his reading: “So, dude, you’re in Alabama. Did you lose a bet or what?”
Before beginning his reading, Gaiman offered the audience a choice: disturbing or goofy? The cheers for disturbing won by a large margin.
Gaiman started the readings portion of the night with his short story “Feminine Endings,” which he said was inspired by his fascination with human statues.
“It’s a letter, a love letter,” he said.
After the story, focused on a statue’s fascination with an American woman, finished, Gaiman reminded his audience what kind of story they’d picked.
“I said it was creepy,” he said.
Gaiman then read several other short stores and pieces of poetry, including a brand-new unpublished short story entitled “My Last Landlady” and a goofy piece.
Following his reading, Gaiman began answering audience questions. In response to Lydia’s question, Gaiman said his realization came after having a bad night.
“I realized what would have killed me wasn’t if I tried being a writer and failed,” he said. “What would kill me was if I was lying on my deathbed, 85 years old, and saying to myself, ‘I really could have been a writer’ And not knowing if I was kidding myself or not.”
Gaiman was less than enthusiastic about the chances of the cinematic version of “Coraline” winning an Oscar.
“Nope. Not a hope in hell,” he said.
Gaiman was tight-lipped on information regarding his recently penned “Dr. Who” episode, but said it will probably be the second or third episode of the series’ sixth season.
Though Gaiman answered questions about everything from film adaptations to beekeeping, Donovan Reinwald, a junior majoring in English, said he couldn’t come up with one to ask.
“I’ve Internet stalked him enough that I feel like any questions I would have asked would have been pretty unoriginal,” Reinwald said. “I liked everyone else’s questions because it was stuff I would have never thought of.”
Reinwald also said he liked the rapport Gaiman established with the audience.
“He was hilarious,” Reinwald said. “He was super personable.”
Mariah Denard, a freshman at Tuscaloosa County High School, said she was a fan of Gaiman’s book, “Coraline,” so she asked him on her notecard what inspired him to write it.
“He said it was for his daughter,” Denard said. “We were entranced. All you could hear was his voice, and nothing around him.”
Lydia’s father, Joey Oliver, said he was a fan of Gaiman’s in the ‘90s when he worked on the “Sandman” comic book series, and as such, he had shared the experience of reading Gaiman with her. So, he said he would always remember sharing Gaiman’s reading at the Bama Theatre with her.
“It was just like a holy experience,” Joey Oliver said.