Guts & Glory Reading Series

Samantha Irby reading from her Love Letter to White People

Samantha Irby reading from her Love Letter to White People

Location + Time:

On June 18, 2014 I attended the Guts & Glory live lit event at Schubas Tavern located on 3159 N Southport Ave.— a third Wednesday of the month series featuring storytellers spilling their guts through prose, essays, and poetry.

Atmosphere + Feel:

The show took place in Schubas upstairs room. Walking up the wooden stairs to the right of the entrance made me feel like I belonged to a secret club. Upon entering, I immediately cursed myself because even though the room was a decent size, every folding chair had been taken or somebody had laid their light saber-length umbrella across the row. Thankfully, a fully stocked bar sat to the left helped me forget about my rain-sodden shoes, and I found an unoccupied large leather chair situated in the back of the room. I suggest arriving thirty minutes prior to avoid being the individuals standing in the corners of the room.

The venue was dimly lit, with a string of fairy lights strung around the performer’s stage. Overall, the upstairs room felt intimate, reminding me of the secret room I had just entered, and the secrets the performers were about to share.

Performers + Quality:

As the Facebook event promised, this spoken lit series was all about “badass storytellers telling badass stories.” Those badass storytellers included Kate Duva, John Burger, Renee Albrecht-Mallinger, Samantha Irby, Janna Sobel, Dina Walters, and Keith Ecker. Topics ranged from infertility and abortion, to identity and class social structure, to bachelorette parties and popping doodoo bubbles. Each story was highly personal, but related in such an informal, refreshing way. The audience felt free to converse with the speaker, as the speaker felt free to break from their reading and laugh or point out an audience member. This structure may not appeal to everyone, but I found it lovely and refreshing to be able to move about, laugh, and generally not feel as if I were listening to a eulogy. The whole performance felt as if I were sharing secrets with friends.

John Burger, as he retells the tale of love and 'doodoo bubbles'

John Burger, as he retells the tale of love and ‘doodoo bubbles’

Kate Duva reading a graphic story about a bachelorette party gone awry.

Kate Duva reading a graphic story about a bachelorette party gone awry.

The Marble Room Reading Series

Location + Time:
On April 13, 2014, at 4 PM, I attended the Marble Room Reading Series, a third Sunday of the month series, located at Wicker Park’s The Parlor. $5 at the door, the venue/location is located at 1434 N. Western Ave.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The Marble Room, started by writer and professor Kathleen Rooney and Olivia Lilley and co-curated by Timothy Moore, began on June 16, 2013. By far, this series was one of the most enjoyable, laid-back, and engaging reading events I have been to in all of Chicago. Whether I am biased because Kathleen Rooney was my former professor at DePaul University makes little difference (okay, maybe it makes some difference). Upon walking into the space, I was immediately welcomed and thanked for attending. The space itself feels like a living room because, well, it is a living room! This characteristic makes a huge difference in the listener’s comfort level. There was something so intimate and rewarding about the setting, certainly something that sets The Marble Room apart. Rooney, Lilley, and Moore encouraged attendees to have cheese and crackers, wine, and cake while we watched, grinning, with the alertness of a deer. Yes, cake. Yes, a deer. Leave the stuffiness at the door.

Performers + Quality:
Aside from a warmth and intimacy permeating from the space itself, the handful of readers were absolutely fantastic. They included Angela Narciso Torres, author of her first book of poetry, Blood Orange, Kathleen Rooney herself, author of her debut novel, O, Democracy!, Ladan Osman, author of her chapbook, “Ordinary Heaven”, and David Maclean, author to his memoir, The Answer to the Riddle is Me. All readers were varied in their styles but still engaging in their own distinct ways, as attendees (a full crowd) soaked in poetry and prose, fiction, non-fiction, and something in-between. That something in-between is what kept us wanting. An unceasing, ongoing want.

Wit Rabbit Reading Series

Location + Time:
On February 4, 2014, I attended the Wit Rabbit Reading Series located at Quencher’s Saloon, on the corner of Fullerton and Western in Logan Square – first Tuesday of the month series that showcases prose, poetry, and other dramatic written genres.

Atmosphere + Feel:
Upon walking into the space, there appears to be two separate rooms dictated by a red curtain: the bar area and the performance area. The bar space has a popcorn dispenser (because really, what good is a bar without popcorn?), various intermingling smells, a calendar/chalkboard of monthly events, flags and beers associated with that particular country, a small bookshelf lined with newspapers and magazines and, last but not least, the head of a deer overlooking the bar counter (and giving the patrons a death stare). The overall vibe in this room is friendly and energetic and I appreciated its vibrancy without any tangible sense of over-crowdedness.

The stage/performance area is separated by a curtain and upon gliding in, the room here isn’t too large and isn’t too small. There is a quaint intimacy evident but it is still a breathable and accessible space. There are a few benches, stools, and tables along the perimeter with a general open standing area in the middle. It is mostly dimly lit with several blue and orange spotlights directed onto the mounted stage area. There are bar beer handles situated atop the perimeter of the ceiling, a piano in the corner, a ‘Quencher’s Ave’ sign, a large mirror on one wall, a TV in the corner, cathedral-like panels on the ceiling, large speakers above the stage, and a chalkboard of the day’s readers/performers. All of these details certainly do not overwhelm; rather, there is much to appreciate aesthetically here.

Performers + Quality:
Although one reader was not able to make it to this event due to inclement snowy weather, the host was quite gracious for everyone who was in attendance: “Thanks for being here in the slushy advent of February!” + “Thanks for braving the elements!” While some performers read directly from passages in their own books, others read from poetry collections and first-person non-fiction essays. I enjoyed the variety of genre and though some readers chose to explain their work more heavily than others (due to their teaching background), most readers were vibrant and engaging.

Essay Fiesta (February)

Location + Time:
On February 17, 2014, I attended the monthly literary reading series Essay Fiesta, located at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. This event starts at 7 PM on every third Monday of the month.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The last time I went to Essay Fiesta at The Book Cellar, it was in the glorious tresses of a fall October and it was themed as mostly Halloween-esque. This time around, the bookstore was neutral in its theme but ever so vibrant, as always. Although not as many people were in attendance as last time around, most seats were filled and there was still a lot of energy in the room. Hosts Willy Nast and Karen Shimmin certainly did not fail in bringing the funny: they began with their unique Essay Fiesta theme song, Nast on an accordion, Shimmin singing and on a mini xylophone. Basically pure magic. One aspect about the reading series I appreciate is the charitable donations to 826CHI, a non-profit organization for children/young adults between the ages of 6-18 in support of the growth of their writing skills. What more could you want from a FREE event that also supports the excellence and success of our youth?

Performers + Quality:
When the clapping and excitement commenced, the six readers performed various real-life accounts of a particularly serious, sentimental, or humorous event in their lives. Both hosts performed as well, sharing stories that are always engaging. I appreciated how some of the performers took the time to consider their audience and engage/react to them, such as blurting out, “Everyone’s making faces!” which got a laugh out of the crowd. Simply put, Essay Fiesta is thoughtful, warm, and cozy, just like your favorite blanket. It is almost impossible to have a bad time here.

LitCity312 Review: That’s All She Wrote

Location + Time:
On February 9, 2014, I attended the That’s All She Wrote reading series located at their new venue The Savoy in Wicker Park – every 2nd Sunday of the month event featuring non-fiction essays.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The new home of That’s All She Wrote is a snazzy oyster and absinth bar and restaurant on Milwaukee Ave. Upon walking into the eating area, I was immediately immersed in an array of warmth and fancy. The hostess led me to the back nook of the restaurant to a curtained-off room. Here is where all the magic happened! I was surprised by how small the actual audience and pseudo-stage area really was, but this wasn’t necessarily a negative trait. I enjoyed the intimate feel of the arrangement. The walls are adorned with brick and the long and short tables laid out along the perimeter are made of cherry dark wood and the leather bench on one side is like something out of a Z Gallerie boutique. The most striking part of the entire space is the long, vertical beautiful paintings of various women on the opposing walls. They seemed to have a mysterious, melancholy mood and are enhanced by the candle-light that quietly illumines the room. This is truly a very adult atmosphere. I was mostly impressed by the bar manager who approached everyone who attended the event (including me), asking if they are able to consume alcohol. Moments later, he revealed a tray of absinth/cocktail shots (called miniature Moscow mules), free of charge for everyone! It was not long before the faint trickle of oyster and alcohol enveloped the room in a warm embrace. Although I didn’t quite enjoy the taste (it was a conglomeration of flavor, floral and otherwise), I certainly appreciated the thought and gesture. I realized then that The Savoy planned this celebration of sorts because this was the re-launch of the series at its new home.

Performers + Quality:
Although there were some technical microphone difficulties that ate up a lot of time at the start of the event, the hosts and the audience took it in stride until everything was eventually taken care of. At one point, I overheard one of the hosts say, “There is a pubic hair” (on the microphone). This, of course, made everyone laugh. By the time the event went underway, the six readers all provided real-life anecdotes of a particular moment(s) in their lives. I was impressed by how funny and theatrical some of the performers ended up being. I also appreciated how there was generally a very good balance between serious subject matters and light-hearted subject matters. It made for a well-rounded reading series, bound to please most audience members in one capacity or another.

LitCity312 Review: Uptown Poetry Slam!

Location + Time:

On January 26th 2013, I attended the Uptown Poetry Slam at the famous Green Mill Cocktail Club. Every Sunday from 7-10, Marc Smith and Company hold an open mic including a featured artist and a slam competition. 

Atmosphere + Feel:

The venue feels straight out of the 1930s. Half-crescent booths and white cloth tables are scattered through the floor. As I walked in the brute bouncer asked for my I.D. and seven dollars. After paying, I rushed to find a seat, seeing that the place was filling up quick. Other than the fifteen or so table booths, the venue had a large bar for you to grab a quick cocktail. I got to Green Mill quarter to seven and the only seats available were at the bar, so get there early if you want to grab a booth. The place itself is pretty large with a stage at the end with two mics and a band. The band played smooth jazz throughout the night. The lighting was low so it was hard to get a look at most of the audience, but generally it was people in their 20s and 30s. It wouldn’t be the best place to bring your kids especially because of the vulgarity on stage. Green Mill doesn’t serve food but feel free to bring your food, they welcome it! As a whole the atmosphere was really relaxed and it’s definitely a place to bring a larger group. 

Performers + Quality
 

The event started right at 7:00pm exactly. The eccentric, but famous Chicago Slam Poet Founder Marc Smith ran onto stage. From the start you could tell this was a very audience-involved event. People would yell at Marc and he would yell back. They had chants and phrases only true regulars would know, but it doesn’t feel too intimidating for first timers. The event started out with newcomers getting a chance to read their poems. Poets got to decide if they wanted the jazz band to play behind them while they perform. Cliché as it sounds, it really did make the poetry sound more artsy. The one unique part of this open mic is that the audience has a say if the poet can keep on reading. If the audience starts snapping they want the poet to stop. If the audience starts stomping, they want more. The quality of the beginners was hit and miss but in general it was fun to just be a the part of the audience. After a short intermission, the featured poet, Joel Chmara, performed his slam poetry. He was the hit of the night with strange but hilarious poems such as “You Are What You Drink.” After Joel was a slam completion. Each participant had three minutes to recite their poetry and each poet would get a score from the audience, one to ten. The event as a whole was hysterical. As an audience member, you felt as if you were on the stage and you get a wide variety of very good slam poets. I recommend this place to anybody that wants to see the birthplace of slam and get a taste what the city offers!

LitCity312 Review: Essay Fiesta!

Location + Time:
On October 21, 2013, I attended The Book Cellar’s monthly literary reading of Essay Fiesta! –the third Monday of the month event that hosts about seven local readers to read their first-person original stories.

Atmosphere + Feel:
The stage area was stationed in the general seating area by the magazines and adjacent to the bar/café with purple and red pumpkins hanging from the lights above, respectively. Since I attended about an hour earlier than the start time (7 P.M.), I was able to witness a few of the staff members move the chairs aside to set up a proper stage and seating area, which was quite efficient as they made it into a good use of limited space. As the clock approached 7, more and more people started to enter, the store becoming livelier and louder by the minute, a stark contrast to the much quieter appeal earlier on. While people munched on cupcakes and scones and cookies and slowly sipped on coffee and hot tea, the main readers began to set up their podium, microphone and stage area. Generally, I was impressed by the incredible energy situated in the room as well as by how quickly the seats filled up (luckily, I was able to snag a seat right in the middle!). I enjoyed the fact that some parents brought their small children with them to experience these readings, the diversity of the listenership to be quite different and vast, something you typically don’t get to see throughout live literary adult readings, such as this.

Performers + Quality
While the event did not start at exactly the said time, once it did, the two main hosts, Willy Nast and Karen Shimmin, began playing their theme song for Essay Fiesta! – the only live literary show, in which they claim, that has an original theme song. While Nast played his accordion, Shimmin sang in a flurry of funny and exuberance that made the entire audience laugh. From there, readers, such as Satirist James Finn Garner, Actor Jane deLaubenfels, Comedian Mary Lorenz, Writer/Poet/Playwright Chris Bower, and YA Author Molly Backes, spilled their hearts and voices into real-life first-person narratives and we were invited. This event is a must for anyone interested in a light-hearted, unpretentious approach to literary readings within the city of Chicago. You’ll leave with a smile on your face; I know I sure did!

For more about Essay Fiesta, check out their website.

LitCity312 Review: CHIRP Radio Present First Time: First Scare!

Location + Time:
On October 9, 2013 at 8 P.M., I attended CHIRP (Chicago Independent Radio Project) Radio Presents First Time: First Scare! This event was hosted at Martrys’, a bar on 3855 N. Lincoln Ave. in the North Center area. CHIRP is a non-profit community organization, and though I had to pay $10 to attend the event, the funds went to their streaming costs, as this was essentially the reboot of the organization. This CHIRP series itself, The First Time, started in 2010.

Atmosphere + Feel:
Considering that October is the time of year when spooky stories are in order, I thought it was a good idea for them to establish a First Scare series. From the moment I walked into Martrys’, I was immersed in frightful, Halloween-themed decorations, ghosts hanging from ceilings, spider webs, candles, and a dark and moody atmosphere/lighting. The music was pretty mellow and standard for what you’d expect at a bar (at least before the actual event started), but overall I had the sense that it was a pretty sophisticated, adult-ish, spooky experience, especially with the Martyr paintings/mural along the back wall. A large stage area with red curtains (David Lynch style) took up one half of a wall, tables and seating situated in the middle, and the bar was nestled in the immediate back corner of the room. Though the event did not start up exactly at 8 sharp, by the time it was underway 20 minutes later, it ended up being a pretty delightful experience. (Side note: my bag ended up being in the way of the host’s, Jenn Sodini, time-keeping clock – and she touched and shifted my bag. I quickly apologized, of course, though she seemed pretty nervous and scatterbrained).

Performers + Quality:
Seven readers total were scheduled to read original stories of their first frightful experience: Adam Burke, Steve Frisbie, Ellen Lekostaj, CHIRP DJ Helean Lee, Shannon Cason, Scary Lady Sarah, and Ji Suk Yi. The show as a whole was pretty well organized and timed, as far as when it actually took off. What surprised me the most is that the stories I heard were not about experiences with ghosts or spirits or anything of the Halloween sort. Instead, these stories were incredibly real, honest, and heartfelt, undeniable first human experiences of absolute dread or fright. I found this to be especially successful because the stories were also exceptionally varied in topic and mood: while Adam Burke and Helean Lee’s readings were quite humorous at times, Ellen Lekostaj and Steve Frisbee’s readings were horribly chilling, and quite emotional (especially the latter). Another aspect of the show that also stood out to me in a positive way was that after each reader, a band called The First Time Three, who are associated with CHIRP, played two-minute cover songs regarding the mood or theme of the piece that was just read. I felt like it was a great way to express, on a musical level, the story or reading the audience just heard, as the musical pieces seemed to envelope them fully. Some of the cover songs I heard were “Breaking Glass” by David Bowie and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers, so those were nice surprises. I’m glad I attended the CHIRP Radio Series, as I felt like it was an all-encompassing event of those horrible, frightful first-time experiences which are both distinct to us, yet entirely relatable to all. Would do again!

For More Information:
chirp
radio.org/
www.martyrslive.com/