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.
Before that evening, I had been to several readings, but nothing that I’d thought to call Live Lit. I came away from the Roundup Room a definite believer, and excited for next month’s round of Chicago’s “boldest, most bad-ass literary event.” The night featured seven performers, reading personal essays on topics ranging from pregnancy to reality-based TV. The readers were a mix of old-hats and newbies, like John Burger, who after years of attending Guts & Glory was finally sharing his own story: a tale of Being Bobby Brown and the oft-disgusting things we find ourselves doing for those we love.
Actually, every one of the stories that evening was about love, be they Renee Albrecht-Mallinger and Janna Sobel’s more subdued, yet still dynamically performed stories about learning to love and forgive themselves, Samantha Irby’s hilarious open love letter to white people (an excerpt from Meaty, her debut essay collection), Dina Walters’s candid discussion of pregnancy and conception, or Ecker’s tale of an epic stomach bug and the partner who nursed him through it.
The structure of the evening, the intimate setting, the widespread knowledge that we were in a safe space, seemed to encourage finding commonalities between each of the readers, but also between readers and the audience, which on Wednesday night was an avid, encouraging crowd, laughing and expressing sympathy in what I thought were all the right places. It is a special group that can respectfully jump from the hilarious to the heartbreaking while enjoying their many adult beverages, but Ecker and Irby have joined forces with the Roundup Room and created an environment that fosters just that.
Another wonderful theme of the night was these writers rebelling against what society told them they should be and feel, exemplified by Kate Duva’s saga of visiting a male strip club at eight months pregnant. (You can read and listen to this essay in extended form at Bird’s Thumb.) Hearing these performers speak candidly about their personal experiences, owning their difficult or vulnerable moments, defying the stereotypes they might fall into both as writers and as people was incredibly inspiring, and had me itching to go home and write my own exposés. Whether it was Irby’s acerbic acknowledgement that “if white guilt were currency, [she]’d be in the 1%,” Sobel’s heartwrenching evaluation of The Secret and the white middle class tendency to “conceal difficult realities in favor of sparkling appearances,” or Burger’s realization that “as it turns out, [he is] not so different from Bobby Brown” (the immediate caveat—only in certain ways!), each performer had me thinking hard about what they had to say and who they were.
And my reaction came from more than just the strength of the prose. Guts & Glory is a space for fabulous, dynamic performers, a theater for artists, and an event that I am very excited to revisit with a different group of writers next month.
EVENT: GUTS & GLORY| WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18, 2014 AT 7PM | SCHUBA’S TAVERN
Obsession-Worthy (an interview with Samantha Irby and Keith Ecker about Guts & Glory)