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?”

ROUND 1: Fate vs. Free Will

On behalf of Fate, Rachel Claff takes the stage with what seems like hesitation. Despite her Neo-Futurist and BoyGirlBoyGirl credentials, Claff admits to having “very little invested” in Fate. She calls it a “fuck buddy” and says, “I don’t know how I feel about it except that I like to have it around.” This doesn’t stop her from putting up a fight that is funny, fiery, and creative. She tells us that in her quest to discover the hidden virtues of Fate, she used Facebook to approach the members of Fate, a Danish heavy metal band formed in 1984, and she asked them one simple question: “Do you believe in Fate?” We learn quite a bit about this band – how, for example, it fashioned a femur bone into one of its microphone handles – but, unfortunately, this information comes at the cost of finding out what all of its members had to say on the subject of Fate. Time is up, the bell rings, and the Overlord does not compromise.

On behalf of Free Will, Whitney Dibo is calm and cool in her delivery. Dibo works in the Education Department of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company and has written for Time Out Chicago and Newcity. She begins by referencing Notting Hill and other Hollywood movies that romanticize the concept of Fate, her opponent’s idea. Then she abruptly changes course. “This is just a sickness. Fate is just another word for predestination.” She warns that voting for her opponent would make audience members “defeatists,” and she shares the personal story of how free will plus circumstance allowed her great uncle, a Russian immigrant, to choose her family name at Ellis Island. Sucker punch and intimidation followed by heartwarming family tale. Nicely played.

Whitney Dibo
Free Will
Proceeds go to Young Chicago Authors

ROUND 2: Hello vs. Goodbye

On behalf of Hello, Danny Thompson dares to oppose the Overlord himself. He is a former ensemble member of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck. In a move similar to Dibo’s sucker punch, Thompson starts out by playing devil’s advocate, denigrating Hello before he builds it up. He calls it “the linguistic equivalent of half a paper clip” and says, “You know the word, but none of us really needs it.” Of course, the danger in bringing up your opponent’s arguments is that you may, in fact, inadvertently persuade your audience of their validity. This may lead to Thompson’s downfall, since he devotes a disproportionate amount of time to the insignificance of Hello before he explains its power in certain contexts: saying “Hello” at a grave, for example.

On behalf of Goodbye, Ian Belknap is in his element. Although he’s one of the most visible members of Chicago’s literary community, regularly lending his presence to not one, not two, but three local reading series – Write Club, The Encylopedia Show, and The Paper Machete – he is far more a Goodbye person than he is a Hello one. “Goodbye,” he says, “is one of the greatest words there is because it is filled with fuck this and fuck you and fuck no . . . It is an unyielding nugget of never again.” Alternating between Hello and Goodbye, he emphasizes their dichotomy: “Hello is always a supplication, always asking for something. Goodbye is a declaration.” “Hello is a kiss. Goodbye is a used condom.” He describes the moment in so many action movies when a hero walks away, in slow motion, from an exploding building, and then invites us to picture ourselves as this hero, if only for a moment, saying, “Every one of us has at one point in our lives wanted to say the big goodbye.”

Ian Belknap

ROUND 3: Rain vs. Shine

On behalf of Rain, Jen Ellison clearly has her work cut out for her. After a record-setting month of rainfall here in Illinois, it’s unlikely that anyone in the audience will be convinced to cheer for Rain over Shine. As a writing instructor for DePaul University, Columbia College, and The Second City, however, Ellison rises to the challenge. She speaks directly for Rain in apologetic tones, saying, “I know that you kind of don’t like me. It’s okay. I get it . . . Yeah, I showed up uninvited to your kid’s little league game. That was a hard day for everyone.” Then she demands that we take responsibility for getting caught in the Rain. “Someone should have carried an umbrella the day they had to pick up dry cleaning and scrapbooking supplies.” She talks about second grade terrariums and the delicate balance of the ecosystem. Respectful of time, she closes by explaining a few of the things that rain does for us, like “saving you from the scrapbooking thing” and allowing an injured little leaguer to heal so that he can help your kid with the game. “When the entire city smells of tailpipe and halitosis, I’m the one who comes.”

On behalf of Shine, Mary Fons reaches back to the earliest civilizations, those that believed that the sun in the sky was God. She is the author of a blog called Paper Girl, an ensemble member of the Neo-Futurists, and a workshop teacher for a number of Illinois high schools. In agreement with the ancient civilizations to which she alludes, she says, “God is the sun and the sunshine is proof . . . Without it, we would die.” She lists the things that rain ruins, like picnics and baseball games. Then she lists the things that people love that are related to the sun, like KC and the Sunshine Band. “No one has said, not even the Overlord, ‘It has been sunny all week – what the fuck?’ We sport no gills; we have no webbed feet – we are not made for a world of water.”

Jen Ellison
Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy Program


The next installment of Write Club is scheduled for June 21st. Details will be posted on our calendar as they become available.

Related Blog Post
Write Club by Don Hall, 1/31/2011

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Punch-drunk lit by Whitney Dibo, 7/14/2010

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Jen Ellison as Rain


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