Back in November, I answered a bunch of questions that Kevin Moreau asked me for an article on Atlanta’s literary scene he was writing for Creative Loafing. The finished piece is here. I’m shamelessly taking a cue from Randy Osborne who has posted his full interview here. Think of this as part of the DVD extras.
1. Tell me about how Write Club came to Atlanta (feel free to give a brief history of its origins in Chicago) and how you came to be involved.
Founder and Overlord Ian Belknap was lured down by PushPush Theater to perform his one man show “Wide Open Beaver Shot of My Heart.” While he was in town doing that, he figured he’d put up this other show he was doing up in Chicago called WRITE CLUB (always capitalized, because WRITE CLUB is always yelling at you). I remember I got an email asking if I wanted to participate in that, but I balked because I had no idea what the show was and I was under the impression that I’d be expected to write something on the spot. I did go to that first show though, and immediately regretted not jumping in.
There was this small crowd–maybe about thirty people–and this angry man shouting at us about writing. This is the 21st century, so this is all up on YouTube: http://youtu.be/tIRbx2nsBoI
It was kind of like what is said about the Velvet Underground that everyone that went to see them started a band. Jami Howard went up against Belknap that night and she’s running WCAthens now. Bill Taft went up against Tecosky and he’s now doing the Krog Tunnel readings with Brian Bannon. It was a really good show and creatively energizing in a way that I hadn’t seen before. One of the things I loved about the show right away was that it was conceptually so simple and so dead on that I was mad that I hadn’t thought of it.
So Belknap did three or four more WC shows and I think that Tecosky participated in all of them. At some point, Belknap got in touch and asked him if he’d start one up down here. Nick said sure and gave me a call to help him out. I think that was April of 2011. Our show started in June.
Me being in radio, there was never a question about whether we were going to record these and make a podcast, that just seemed like the obvious thing to do. So you can actually hear our first show online: http://writeclubatlanta.com/podcasts/page/3/ (all the way at the bottom of the page). You can hear the crowd in those recordings–they’re amped up. It was awesome, like we’d been given this gift of a show that people already loved. There was a little bit of buzz from the Belknap-curated shows months before, so people had seen it of heard of it and heard that it was good. The room was pretty full that first night and they were into it and the power nearly went out and the whole affair was like an underground punk gig. It was fantastic.
2. There are a lot of different events in Atlanta today with a literary-performance vibe: Write Club and its offspring, Jayne’s stuff with Hyde, Kate Sweeney’s True Story, Carapace, etc.–some of them not technically literature-based at all (like Carapace, which is a bit more extemporaneous) but all of them, at root, about telling stories. I assume you’ve paid attention to a lot of these as they’ve come up. How do you think Write Club differs from them, and what’s your perspective on this scene in general?
WRITE CLUB is the best.
I’m kidding, but WCA is definitely fueled by bravado. And liquor. It’s meant to be a Kick-Ass Show with the loud music and the shouting (so much shouting) and the hype and the brevity. The show clocks in at right under an hour. You’re home in time for the Daily Show. And that’s all purpose-built to separate it from other lit events–not specifically the ones here in town, but the idea of a Literary Event or a Poetry Reading or a Slam in general. I used to run a reading series in college. Those affairs were always small and subdued and in coffee houses, attended by this insular crowd of undergrads. And I think that is what a lot of people’s conception of what a literary event is. Something dull, attended by fops, which is definitely not entertaining. WRITE CLUB is dedicated to the destruction of that idea.
Fortunately, the scene in Atlanta is certainly not boring. True Story! is like your friend’s awesome older sister–the really smart one with the L7 t-shirt who lent you her copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Kate gets like real writers with books out and everything. Carapace is fantastic and one place where you go in having no idea what you’re going to get and it’s always great. Hyde’s events hold a very special place in my heart for being very much in the WRITE CLUB spirit of being raucous shows in bars. Hell, a fight broke out at the one in July at the Star Bar! Some dick got kicked out. Of a literary event. That was a good show.
But apart from the shows themselves, there is some sort of vibe around them that I think people have picked up on–the recognition that something is happening.
3. Where and/or why do you think this groundswell for these kind of events started? Why do you think they’re so popular in Atlanta right now?
I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to where, but I think Atlanta is a natural place for this kind of thing to take hold. We’re a city of neighborhoods, populated by a whole host of carpetbaggers, expatriates and out-of-towners. So the melting pot makes for a rich community of folks looking for their people. We’re also an international city-on-the-make with something to prove. People aren’t jaded. If something new pops up they want to check it out, so it’s not that hard to get noticed. Especially if you set your hair on fire and wave your arms around like we tend to do.
One reason that WRITE CLUB has sustained itself for almost a year and half now is through the generosity of this community. Randy and Joyce with Carapace, Kate with True Story!, Jayne with Hyde, Melysa Martinez (and now Kory Calico) with Kill Yr Darlings, Laura with Vouched Books…all pooling resources and working cooperatively to keep these shows going. A few months ago, Kate came down ill and couldn’t make it to host her own reading and Randy stepped in to do it. This is a big family. And that cooperation has helped build the audience. All those people I mentioned up there have all done WRITE CLUB and we’ve read at their events and we’ve definitely seen, for instance, regulars in Carapace’s audience show up for a Hyde reading because someone they like from WRITE CLUB was reading.
Ultimately it’s hard to pin down why something is popular, but I think it has something to do with how much ass we’re kicking. These events are smart, they’re social, they’re open and inviting and they involve talent from all over the spectrum of Atlanta’s art scene. There’s always going to be a place for entertainment that isn’t stupid.
4. Related to that, what is it about Atlanta, in your opinion, that makes it such a fertile ground for these kind of events?
Atlanta has the soul of a small town. It’s easy to run into people, it’s easy to meet a lot of people really quickly and it’s hard to escape. When we popped up with a competitive philanthropic writing event, there weren’t seven others all over town to contend with. The fact that Atlanta’s a hub of some sort keeps us in fresh talent. And once the city finds something it likes, it tends it like a little fire it doesn’t want to go out.
Also, housing is cheap and so is the beer.
5. I believe I heard that you’ve participated in True Story, and I know you’re doing the Urban Legends thing on Friday. Have you taken part in any other similar events? And what’s your take on them as a participant as opposed to being part of the hierarchy of Write Club?
The Urban Legends show will be my third Hyde reading for Jayne–I did her Seven Deadly Sins reading (you can find the piece I wrote for that here) and the Independence Day one. I like her dedication to making these things Big Events. She wants to challenge her readers–which is why, like us, she hands out prompts rather than just asking us to bring anything we’ve got lying around.
I actually had kind of a mortifying experience reading at True Story, but that was because I chose to write about something that I hadn’t told a whole lot of people that I discovered was quite embarrassing to tell a room full of strangers. I still consider having done the reading to be an honor. Like I said before, Kate’s got a knack for curation and her show is great.
I’ve gone up at Carapace a few times and it hasn’t gotten any less scary to me. Telling a story with no notes and attempting to do so artfully is nerve-wracking. But man, it is exhilarating. Lance Colley is a really good host and Randy and Joyce are remarkable people who I am really fond of.
Honestly, before I became a part of WRITE CLUB, I had all but given up writing. I’d majored in creative writing for a while, then dropped out, worked, went and got an Audio Engineering degree. I didn’t make a place for it in my life, but finding my way into this community of seriously talented and excellent people has given me a reason to want to get my voice out there too. Being asked to read at someone’s event feels like I’m being asked to bring my A game. There’s a mutual respect in that. And it’s so great because it fulfills this thing that was always missing in the writing I used to do in college and that was audience response. You grow gaunt and pale in front of your computer and you put your work out there and nothing happens. Writing, in practice, is isolating and difficult. The doing can be tortuous, but I like having written. And in this scene, you sweat on your keyboard for days and then you get to get up in front of an audience that wants to hear what you’ve done. It emphasizes my favorite part of writing–the having written part. At risk of sounding foppish, it’s fucking magical.
My ultimate want for this scene though is for it to amount to more than just awesome events. I’m waiting for the first novel or screenplay to come out that began life as a WRITE CLUB piece.