Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For some, an evening of literature means the clothbound Penguin classics edition of Pride and Prejudice, a cup of hot tea, and a crocheted afghan.  WRITE CLUB—while still an evening of literature—is emphatically not that. Its all caps title should be the first indication that it will, in fact, bear no similarity to Ms. Austen’s work.

The host of WRITE CLUB, Ian Belknap, describes his reading series as “bare knuckled lit” because it pits writers against one another in a throw down for the audience’s affection and applause. Each WRITE CLUB takes the same basic shape. There are three “bouts” consisting of two opposing ideas represented by different writers. The winner is chosen by applause and earns one third of the door money for his or her chosen charity.  

While the performers vary from poets to fiction writers to comedians to bloggers/essayists, their objective is always the same—convince the audience that their topic trumps their opponent’s. This Christmas Naughty was pitted against Nice—Santa took on Jesus. When discussing how he chooses these binaries, Belknap says, “The opposing ideas of a good WRITE CLUB bout have requirements - they need to be broad enough to afford the writer/performer leeway to interpret it; they need to be specific enough to have teeth/constitute satisfactory oppositions; the best ones are also familiar-seeming, too; and they need to be a word or phrase around which ideas and associations can cluster.” Belkap’s keen eye for divisive pairings can instinctively rile his audience. Who is better Jesus or Santa?  One has fun-sized indentured servants and a flying sleigh while the other has healing powers and millions of adoring fans.    

The upcoming WRITE CLUB will take place Tuesday February 28th. (Consider it a pre-party for AWP). All three bouts focus on class warfare and if you’re familiar with live literature in Chicago, you may recognize Second Story’s Megan Stielstra and the Paper Machete’s Ali Weiss from its list of contributors. 

I will leave you with one last comment from Belknap that fully encapsulates why I love performance-based literature. He argues, “there is no substitute for sharing space with other humans in real time and getting your socks knocked off by the a deft turn of phrase and a dazzling set of ideas.” It is for this reason that this Chicago reading series is expanding and holding regular events in San Francisco, Atlanta, and (soon) Los Angeles.