Tag Archives: Write Club

Chicago Live Lit Makes Books

Hotshot in the audienceIt’s a scene we all know. Some young hopeful needs a major pep talk backstage, because tonight, there’s a hotshot in the audience, someone who could catapult you to stardom overnight. Usually, the young hopeful is a wannabe movie star or rock star and the hotshot is a famous critic or music producer. But live lit has made it possible for us to imagine a future in which writers are discovered by publishers not just in slush piles, but also in bars, cafes, libraries, bookstores, and even concert venues. Whether or not this is even more improbable than the rock star fantasy, public storytelling is a great way to develop your writing chops—and it can sometimes lead to publication. Just take a look at these local kids who made good. Here are five books that grew out of live lit in Chicago.


BARE-KNUCKLED LIT: THE BEST OF WRITE CLUB | Edited by Lindsay Muscato and Ian Belknap | December 16, 2014

Bare-Knuckled LitI’m a religious fanaticism survivor. The church I grew up in, it was of the “God-hates-fags” variety and I’m a better, happier person for having escaped it. But there are things I missed: the ritual, ceremony, fellowship, and passionate language that can sometimes lead to a sense of spiritual transcendence. More than a decade later, I still felt the loss—until Write Club. For me, this live lit series is like church, only without the bigotry and intolerance. And Bare-Knuckled Lit, well, maybe I won’t go so far as to say it’s the Bible, but it’s a damn good book.

In it, founder, host, and “overlord” Ian Belknap lays out Write Club’s genesis story, rules, and mission in the introduction, training the unversed: each installment has three bouts of two opposing writers on two opposing topics. But, unlike most real ministers, Belknap quickly steps aside to share the pulpit with some of the best “combatants” who have graced the Write Club stages of Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco, each presenting a short, lucid, and compelling persuasive essay. Leaving out the photographs, sidebars, and pull quotes one might expect from a book about such a raucous, popular show, Bare-Knuckled Lit makes it clear that, in the end, like church, Write Club is about beliefs—only, the ones we figure out for ourselves.

— Reviewed by Alba Machado


UGLY GIRLS: A NOVEL | Written by Lindsay Hunter | November 4, 2014

Ugly GirlsPerry and Baby Girl are fake-ass thugs. They blast tough music; they joyride through their double-wide, poverty-saddled rural town in a stolen red Mazda; they are teenage girls who aim to raise hell.

Let me put it out there: as one of the nerdy, stay-in-at-night good girls these two despise, I was ready to hop in the backseat and blaze off after Lindsay Hunter’s partners-in-crime. But Ugly Girls is not a glorification of the wildchild days. This debut novel from one of the founding hosts of the now-defunct Quickies reading series struck me, beyond all else, as a study in claustrophobia, where every environment has its own chokehold—from prison walkways to truck stop donut stands to quarry drops—and each character rides out flight-or-fight instincts, looking, not always hopefully, for a way to get free.

The prose combines gristly fragments and vicious dialogue; Hunter writes with a clammy realism and tough, punchy swagger I ate up in two sittings. She doesn’t deny it; the ugly girls are headed for disaster. But knowing that made the final lap of their race no less of a heartbreak—a violent, upsettingly abrupt ending that left me feeling, like Baby Girl, perturbed, itchy, and disgruntled. And maybe like I ought to try sneaking out my bedroom window some night.

— Reviewed by Jess Millman


ONCE I WAS COOL: PERSONAL ESSAYS | Written by Megan Stielstra | May 20, 2014

Once I Was Cool with BordersThere’s a certain intimacy inherent in this collection of personal essays. Honed, perhaps, from Megan’s time on the stage, where she stands, or sits, as comfortable as silk. But also in the way in which she opens the compendium of her life to show strangers: “This is who I am, and this is how I got here.”

For period of time—I don’t know how long it took to read Once I was Cool, I read slow, reread multiple essays, did everything in my power to prolong the experience of this book—I had this partner in crime. I was the passenger in the journey of her life. The Robin to her Batman, except with pants. The short-round to her Indiana Jones, except slightly taller, by like an inch—seriously I am so short. Megan made me feel like an important fixture in her life. This almost seems absurd to type, but the blend of her voice on the page with the structure of each essay made me feel as if we had always been friends.

After the last page had been read and the book was shut I found myself a little heartbroken.

— Reviewed (again) by Scott Eagan
(for his full review, see “The Power of Story“)


MEATY: ESSAYS | Written by Samantha Irby | Released October 1, 2013

MeatyI’m always a little confused whenever I read that Samantha Irby, Bitches Gotta Eat blogger and live lit performer, has only a cult following. That’s because I feel like everyone I know is a fan of Sam’s. But maybe I’m just lucky in my friends.

Irby wrote Meaty, a hilarious and poignant collection of essays in 2013 that is still cracking me up this year. I was turned onto her blog by fellow LC staffer, Alba Machado, a few years ago, and that was it for me—every week I hit up BGE for Irby’s multi-hued (and often ALL CAPS) posts covering everything from “manecdotes” to reading lists (she’s as much a hermit as a charmer).

She worked with Curbside Splendor on the raucous and bittersweet array of personal tales, including “My Mother, My Daughter,” the devastating story of caring for her mother from a young age. Meaty’s the culmination of years of shocking and awing on her blog and taking her incisive storytelling on the road: Irby has slayed at Write Club, and founded her very own live lit show, Guts & Glory, with Keith Ecker. It’s also raised the bar on personal narratives.

— Reviewed by Danette Chavez


BRIEFLY KNOCKED UNCONSCIOUS BY A LOW-FLYING DUCK: STORIES FROM 2ND STORY | Edited by Andrew Reilly and Megan Stielstra | Released November 12, 2012

Briefly KnockedIf I had to pick a Chicago reading series for my first-ever live lit experience (and I sort of do), it would be 2nd Story. Hands down. No other series better prepares its writer-performers for a show. Committed to the mission of “building community” and using stories to “connect people to one another,” members of its large staff work for up to four months with each storyteller, editing content, directing delivery, and coordinating sound and music. And the care and attention each story is given is as apparent in this collection as it is at their shows and in their podcasts. This is personal narrative at its best.

Although I might be somewhat biased here, since scanning the table of contents gives me a this-is-your-life-in-Columbia-College’s-creative-writing-program-so-THANK-YOUR-LUCKY-STARS feeling (thank you, STARS), this line-up would impress the hell out of anyone who follows the Chicago literary scene: Once I Was Cool’s Megan Stielstra, The Bradbury Chronicles’ Sam Weller, Bedrock Faith’s Eric Charles May, The Temple of Air’s Patricia Ann McNair, and a number of others who have made names for themselves as inspiring teachers and powerful live lit performers. But even if these names mean nothing to you, these stories, they’re ours, they’re the stories of what it means to be human. Inside each of them, you’ll see, there’s a story of your own waiting to be discovered. That’s why they call it 2nd Story.

— Reviewed by Alba Machado

RELATED VIDEO

Ugly Girls Author Lindsay Hunter Reads at the Hideout,” Chicago Magazine 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tis the Season for Literary Events

Holiday Mic

Make storytelling one of your holiday traditions. It’s easy in Chicago. This week, there’s a different literary event happening every night of the week.


Monday, December 15, 2014


ESSAY FIESTA
“An Essay Festivus For the Rest of Us,” featuring performances by Moth Grandslam champion Lily Be, Curbside Splendor managing editor Naomi Huffman, comedian Dave Stinton, This Old Neighborhood author Bill Hillmann, and writer Mike Manship. Hosted by Willy Nast and Karen Shimmen, Essay Fiesta is humor and heart—first person, nonfiction essays that benefit 826CHI by bringing together a cross section of Chicago’s art and writing communities. Bonus: it takes place in a cool independent bookstore that serves booze. Book Cellar | 4736 N Lincoln Ave | 7pm | FREE | All ages | Website


Tuesday, December 16, 2014


WRITE CLUB
Chapter 65: “War on Xmas/Book Release-travaganza!” Celebrating the publication of Bare-Knuckled Lit: The Best of Write Club, the holiday installment promises to be extra exciting. Its line-up consists of the following “combatants”: David Isaacson (GIVE) vs. Susan Karp (RECEIVE), Dave Stinton (NAUGHTY) vs. Emily Rose (NICE), Samantha Irby (SANTA) vs. Ian Belknap (JESUS). Hosted by “overlord” Belknap, Write Club is “literature as bloodsport”—three bouts of two writers each, who get seven minutes apiece to defend one of two diametrically opposing ideas. At the end of each show, there are three victors, three charities benefited, and three “Loving Cups of Deathless Fucking Glory” awarded. The Hideout | 1354 W Wabansia Ave | 7pm | $20 in advance | 21+ | Website

STORY CLUB
“Stories About Things that May or May Not Happen in the Future.” Hosted by Dana Norris, Story Club is a nonfiction storytelling show that aims to “mix the spontaneity of an open mic with the experience of live theater.” In addition to open mic performers, this installment’s featured performers are comedian Kirsten Clifford and writers Maura Clement and Bill Drew. Co-Prosperity Sphere | 3219-21 S Morgan St | 7:30pm | $10 suggested donation | All ages | Website


Wednesday, December 17, 2014


CURBSIDE SPLENDOR
The inaugural “Curbside Yuletide Book Thing” features an all-star line-up of storytellers, including Gina Frangello, Rebecca Makkai, Kathleen Rooney, Halle Butler, Susan Hope Lanier, Ryan Kenealy, Dmitry Samarov, Ben Tanzer, James Tadd Adcox, Jac Jemc and Jessie Ann Foley. It’s also got a “holly jolly raffle” for fun surprises and a City Lit book table for seasonal shopping. Beauty Bar Chicago | 1444 W Chicago Ave | 7pm | FREE | 21+ | Website

A SURVIVAL GUIDE TO THE HOLIDAYS
Pivot Arts continues its Pop Up! Performance Series with its first-ever Holiday Show. Featuring holiday stories by Jeremy Owens and Alan Neff from Story Sessions, as well as Ike Holter, Sharon Lanza, Mia McCullough, Tanya Palmer, and Julie Ganey—and music by River Rising. Uncommon Ground | 1401 W Devon Ave | 8pm | $10 | 21+ | Website


Thursday, December 18, 2014


POETRY OFF THE SHELF: WRITE CLUB EDITION
Because once during a busy holiday week is just not enough. Because they’re hyping their newly released book, Bare-Knuckled Lit: The Best of Write Club. Because they are tireless. And still they manage to pull together a killer line-up: Whit Nelson (PAGE) vs. Jessica Anne (STAGE), Robbie Telfer (READ) vs. JW Basilo (WRITE), and Patrick Carberry (PROSE) vs. Barrie Cole (POETRY). Again, hosted by “overlord” Belknap, Write Club is “literature as bloodsport”—three bouts of two writers each, who get seven minutes apiece to defend one of two diametrically opposing ideas. This time, though, the bloodsport is free of charge. Poetry Foundation | 61 W Superior St | 7pm | FREE | All Ages | Website

GROWN FOLKS STORIES
“More formal than an open mic and less orchestrated than a performance.” Hosted by Cara Brigandi, this series is natural storytelling—no readings, no poetry, no judging, no theme. All guests are welcomed to share a story, each getting no more than five minutes on the mic. The Silver Room | 1442 N Milwaukee Ave | 8pm | FREE | 21+ | Website


Friday, December 19, 2014 AND Saturday, December 20, 2014


2ND STORY
“Home for the Holidays with Lakeview Orchestra.” With rotating hosts, 2nd Story is personal storytelling that is both carefully crafted and fresh and surprising. Rehearsed with directors and set to music, its performer’s piece is the “first story,” and it’s meant to inspire another from each of its listeners—the “2nd Story”—told to friends during breaks, over food and drinks. For the second year, 2nd Story and Lakeview Orchestra will team up to present a symphonic story sampler, featuring stories by Jessica Young, Julie Ganey and Vince Pagan. Rocks Lakeview | 3463 N Broadway St | 7pm | $20 at the door, $15 in advance, and free for students while inventory lasts | 21+ | Website


Sunday, December 21, 2014


THE MARROW
Curbside Splendor Publishing continues “cutting to the bone” with its nonfiction reading series. Hosted by Naomi Huffman and Leah Pickett, this installment features storytelling by Curbside events and programming manager Catherine Eves, writer Susan Hope Lanier, comedian Tyler Snodgrass, and culture writer and Literary Chicago social media coordinator Danette Chavez. The Punch House | 1227 W 18th St | 7:30pm | FREE | 21+ | Website

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Word Weekend

MCA Chicago presents Word Weekend, an event that showcases Chicago’s active and diverse communities of authors, hip-hop artists, spoken-word poets, songwriters, and visual artists who explore the complexities and pleasures of words, text, and language. Features over the two-day event include a small-press book fair co-presented by Printer’s Ball, as well as letterpress, zine writing, and graffiti workshops; interactive installations, hip hop music, stand-up comedy, and film screenings; and readings, storytelling, and live literature performances by Write Club, The Encyclopedia Show, Red Rover Series. Museum of Contemporary Art | 220 E Chicago Ave | 312-280-2660 | Free with museum admission | Sunday, July 27, 2014 from noon to 5pm

Tagged , , , ,

Word Weekend

MCA Chicago presents Word Weekend, an event that showcases Chicago’s active and diverse communities of authors, hip-hop artists, spoken-word poets, songwriters, and visual artists who explore the complexities and pleasures of words, text, and language. Features over the two-day event include a small-press book fair co-presented by Printer’s Ball, as well as letterpress, zine writing, and graffiti workshops; interactive installations, hip hop music, stand-up comedy, and film screenings; and readings, storytelling, and live literature performances by Write Club, The Encyclopedia Show, Red Rover Series. Museum of Contemporary Art | 220 E Chicago Ave | 312-280-2660 | Free with museum admission | Sunday, July 27, 2014 from noon to 5pm

Tagged , , , ,

The Way of the Overlord: 6 Steps to Hosting Live Lit the Write Club Way
by Alba Machado

Write Club

PHOTO BY EVAN HANOVER, April 15, 2014

Taking over the Hideout for the last show of the season, in an installment entitled “Violence, As It Turns Out, IS the Answer,” Write Club continues to set a high bar for all reading series in Chicago. Here’s how we can learn from its example. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Performing Stories, Rather Than Just Reading Them
by Alba Machado

Page and StageA lot of people who know how to write a good story don’t know how to tell a good story. If you are Toni Morrison or José Saramago, then sure, there’s a good chance your audience will hang on your every word no matter how lifeless your delivery may be, its adoration assured by your tremendous body of Nobel prize-winning work. But if you are a relatively unknown writer taking to the stage in search of a wider readership, your words alone will not be enough. Minds will wander. Smiles will be empty. Applause will be merely polite. After all, when you are reading to an audience that is physically present, you are reading with your entire body—your posture, movement, gesture, facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice, inflection—and if you are just standing there and dictating lines from a page, then on some level you are conveying boredom and lack of conviction. You are saying, “I don’t care about this. Maybe you shouldn’t care, either.”

This Sunday, June 8th, at the 30th annual Printers Row Lit Fest, you can walk from one tent where an author is reading to another tent where an author is performing and you can easily gauge each audience’s level of engagement. There’s no contest. At the former, there is silence and stillness, maybe an occasional nod. At the latter, there is gasping and laughter, cheering and chills. And at the RedEye tent, you can start to discover why. That’s where The Encyclopedia Show’s Robbie Telfer, Story Club’s Dana Norris, and Guts & Glory’s Keith Ecker are talking to RedEye, Metromix, and WGN Radio’s Amy Guth in a panel discussion entitled “Page Meets Stage: How to Use Performance to Enhance Your Writing Career.”

“People who are at live lit are not there to see a specific writer,” says Telfer. “They’re not Joyce Carol Oates-ing it.”

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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?”

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,