Category Archives: Reading Series

Story Stew Served Hot in the Chicago Cold
by Corey Klinzing

Gumbo Gater 2This 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.


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Guts & Glory: An Intro to Live Lit
by Julia Fine

Sam and Keith


On Wednesday night, between raucous mid-June thunderstorms, I ventured to Schuba’s Tavern for Guts & Glory, my first Live Lit experience. Now, I know that I am way late to the club—Guts & Glory’s Facebook page has over 800 followers, and when I spoke with co-founder Keith Ecker, he marveled at how quickly this Chicago community has grown. Two years ago, Guts & Glory was just a gleam in Ecker and co-founder Samantha Irby’s eyes—now, the June Edition is filling the upstairs room at Schuba’s (a room I’d like to dub the SXSW Roundup Room, given the impressive collection of said posters on its walls), and they’ll be celebrating a two-year anniversary in September. Continue reading

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Coming of Age in Chicago Live Lit: An Interview with Xavier Jordan
by Alba Machado

Xavier Jordan


Sometime in February, I braved the cold and snow to see Xavier Jordan tell a story at the Jazz Showcase. It was a true story about someone who is a school teacher and also a horrible person. He reveals himself to be a horrible person through a series of escalating incidents, starting with kicking a student out of his class for sneezing. Now, four months later, that story continues to stay with me. Of course, it’s not surprising that a story told by one of Chicago’s live lit performers is memorable. What is surprising is that this storyteller is seventeen years old. You may know a number of teenagers who can spin a hell of a good yarn. I certainly do. But how many of them tell stories on stage alongside local literary celebrities? Xavier Jordan is one of a kind. The son of The Moth Grand Slam Champion Lily B, he has come of age at the epicenter of the live lit movement and has performed at a variety of the city’s reading series so many times that everyone has lost count. He’ll be leaving Chicago for college come summer’s end, returning to perform only during breaks. But he’s a tireless storyteller, so keep an eye on the calendar for show announcements or come out to the Printers Row Lit Fest this weekend, where he’s featured at a special installment of Stoop-Style Stories taking place at the Guild Literary Complex tent at Dearborn and Polk on Sunday at 11am. This week, he performed at The LitMash on Monday, graduated from high school on Tuesday, and got together with me for an interview at Fabcakes on Wednesday. We ate triple berry cheesecakes because, as he put it, “Why would anyone get raspberry cheesecake when you can get triple berry cheesecake?” Continue reading

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Religion with Nerves of Steel
by Alba Machado


It is the night of July 5th and we are toasting the birth of America. We are listening to gospel music while digging through our pockets for money to contribute to the circulating basket.

By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll  tell the story how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

But don’t worry. We haven’t joined the Tea Party or anything like that. (Sorry, Tia, my aggressively “born again” aunt.) We are at the Hungry Brain for So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?, the literary variety show which was originally conceived of by Todd Dills and others at The2ndhand, and it’s just the kind of religious experience we need. Series host Harold Ray is our kind of minister (he is played by Jacob Knabb, editor of Another Chicago Magazine). “We let you in for free,” he says, “because we’re low-rent like that. But we are trying to raise money for a projector so we can show pornographic images.” (That’s a joke, Tia. Well, sort of.)

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Fighting Words at Write Club
by Alba Machado

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We are here at The Hideout for the three big fights of Write Club, Chapter 16. The place is packed. Clearly, previous audiences have honored the first rule of Write Club: those who attend Write Club must tell five to seven people about Write Club. If this keeps up, Ian Belknap, the host and “Overlord” of this “bare-knuckled lit” reading series will have to consider either taking its fights to another, larger venue, or amending the first rule of Write Club. The latter is unlikely, given Belknap’s penchant for rules. Since his first public match in January of 2010, when, at Prop Thtr, as part of Rhino Fest, he fought on behalf of Light in a match against fellow local writer Jenny Magnus (who represented Dark), he has come to insist that each bout conform to the following format: two opposing writers, two opposing ideas, seven minutes apiece, audience picks a winner, and winners compete for cash going to a charity of their choosing. With a large clock and bell to signal the end of each round, he begins the show by roaring, “ARE YOU READY TO WRITE CLUB?”

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Life After the Creative Writing Program
by Alba Machado

Mason Johnson

So you’ve earned a degree in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Now what? If you’re Mason Johnson, you start your own monthly reading series which presents writing on a theme of your choice. You call this series Piss Fanatics in honor of an inside joke, and perhaps to signal your predilection for bawdy talk. You arrange for your series to take place in a tavern called Moe’s, a place that’s no stranger to off-color language, a place with a pool table and a foosball table, two widescreen TVs and, during your second event, a large brown rottweiler. This demonstrates your belief that writing should not be confined to academic settings, or to cafes, theaters, libraries and bookstores. You make the theme of your second reading “Hair,” which is only natural, since your own hair seems to have taken on a life of its own, much like David Axelrod’s mustache (as revealed by Dan Sinker in his legendary Rahm Emanual Twitter saga). Also: certain types of hair can make for an awful lot of bawdy talk. Finally, you gather together a group of talented Chicago writers: Mairead Case, founding editor of Proximity Magazine; Mary Hamilton, winner of Rose Metal Press’ 4th Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest; Matt Rowan, editor-in-chief of Untoward Magazine; Samantha Irby, author of the Bitches Gotta Eat blog; Ian Dick Jones, co-host of Columbia College’s SilverTongue reading series; Mark Schettler, co-editor of the School of the Art Institute’s In Preparation magazine; and Dan Shapiro, Columbia College student.

All graduates of creative writing programs should be as industrious as you, Mason Johnson. But they should not all have manga/anime hair.

Related Blog Post
P. Fanatics Presents: Hair Reading Recap


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A Year of Essay Fiesta
by Alba Machado

A staple of any good literary community is the reading series. If, as Tim Yelvington-Jones has suggested, “writers should be rock stars,” then the reading series is an opportunity for them to rock out, connect with readers, and celebrate the written–and spoken–word.

Luckily, there is no shortage of excellent reading series in Chicago. From simple and straightforward, author-with-book-in-hand readings to feisty debates and whimsical performances, there’s something for everyone who’s interested in expanding the literary experience beyond the book or screen.

Essay Fiesta is as good a place to start as any other. Bringing together some of Chicago’s top artistic talent, including comedians, playwrights, authors, and journalists, Essay Fiesta began at a dinner party when comedians Alyson Lyon and Keith Ecker decided that “Chicago needed a storytelling series that provided a platform for a cross-discipline of artists to share funny, poignant and thought-provoking stories from their lives.” It’s one of the Book Cellar’s most popular events, and although it’s free, it uses a raffle to raise money for the Howard Brown Health Center, a citywide community health organization that focuses on the GLBT community. In honor of the one-year anniversary that Essay Fiesta will be celebrating on November 15th, one of its co-founders, Keith Ecker, took time out of his busy life as comedian, theater critic, and freelance writer to answer some of Literary Chicago’s questions.

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Encyclopedia Show for the Metrophobic
by Alba Machado

While figuring out how best to present sixth graders with poems last year, I discovered that the fear of poetry had become so common that a medical term was coined for it by the American Psychiatric Association: metrophobia. Many people feel that you have to be highly educated to understand poetry and highly pretentious to appreciate it. Its themes seem too lofty, its language grandiose, its structure complex and confusing.

Tonight at the Vittum Theatre, it’s apparent that no one in Chicago need suffer from metrophobia any longer. It’s nothing a single treatment of The Encyclopedia Show can’t fix.

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