Considering Ayana Mathis’ and Justin Torres’ unusual paths to fiction writing (between them, they’ve have had past turns as college dropouts, a waitress, a psychiatric ward resident, and a translator for Italian wineries), the fact that both authors’ debut books became best sellers merits consideration. How did they do it? Well, the two writers share more than an uncommon biography: Both are masters of pathos and poetry. Torres’ We the Animals is a violent and mournful coming-of-age tale that includes luminous lines like “We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight.” And Mathis’ The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, which chronicles the lives of a black family transplanted from Georgia to Philadelphia, would be unremittingly sad if it weren’t so beautifully written. Mathis and Torres will read from their novels and talk about their pasts with another successful debut novelist: D.C. resident Elliott Holt. The event begins at 7:30 p.m. at Folger Elizabethan Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. $15. (202) 544-7077.