This past week was so cold and inhospitable that the Gumbo Fiction Salon felt the need to knock down their already low cover by half, hoping to get people to brave the weather and come out to the cozy Galway Arms for their usual once-monthly reading. They needn’t have bothered—the crowd may have been small, but they were dedicated and welcoming, and as warm and enthusiastic a crowd as I have ever seen in an open mic. Watching them react was almost as entertaining as listening to the readers.
As a veteran of coffee-shop open-mics, where half the patrons are simply trying to get through their own work, and ignoring the writer on stage, the Salon was almost refreshing. Here there was nothing but interest, and even before the readings the regulars were more than willing to strike up a conversation and welcome you into their set. I’d made sure to wear a Doctor Who shirt to grease the wheels, since I’m not an effortless extrovert, and I was almost immediately drawn into conversation. Between the generous air of the Salon’s usual crowd and the comfortable atmosphere of the Galway Arms’ second floor, all warm colors and wood panels, I hardly felt my awkward self at all.
The bent of the Gumbo Fiction Salon, which calls itself a “Chicago’s Multi-Genre Story Stew” is crooked decidedly towards the fantastic genres (fantasy, science fiction, horror); Isaac Asimov was a guest of honor on the book table towards the back, and most of the readers listed that way. But the Salon doesn’t limit itself merely to what we call genre fiction. The featured reader, or readers I should say, were Polarity Ensemble Theater actors Rian Jairell, Allison McCorkle, and Margo Chervony, and Richard Engling, preforming from Engling’s novel, Visions of Anna, which deals with the death of a loved one and the presumed hereafter. From those who braved the ten-minute slots of the open mic, I heard bits of novels and grand adventures in foreign climes, and short stories: a young boy witnessed his brother’s sacrifice for their village, a bartender sent his patrons out to kill complete strangers made to look like their ex-lovers, a vegetable expedition was lost to the briny deep. Anything and everything was represented in some fashion or another, even in the writers themselves: experienced short story writers, playwrights, and novelists shared the stage with those still learning the craft.
One thing that the Salon founder and host, Tina Jens, made a point of doing was getting each reader’s autograph after they finished their turn at the mic. It’s a vote of confidence, as if she knows they’ll all go on to do great things and wants to get in there early. And from what I heard that night, I’m sure quite a few of them will.
I definitely recommend the Salon for new and upcoming writers, from those who want a little publicity for their latest published piece, to those who just need a few friendly ears for what they’re working on now. The regulars of this Galway Arms staple will be more than happy to provide. Just remember to bring a little cash if you want to get past the first floor.
The Gumbo Fiction Salon is held at Galway Arms, 2442 N Clark St, on the third Wednesday of each month, starting at 7 pm, and will feature Rhysling winner and author of The Breaker Queen, C.S.E. Cooney on March 11, and the authors of Exigencies: A Neo-Noir Anthology from Dark House Press on April 15. The cover is $4 per person, $2 for students of every stripe.
EVENT: GUMBO FICTION SALON | GALWAY ARMS | 2442 N CLARK ST | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2015