(More details & information at SideshowReadingSeries.wordpress.com.)
New York City: home to some of the best performance art, spoken word, poetry, and literary culture in the world. Also home of the freaks, the queers, the outlaws, the weirdos, who have all sought refuge from their narrow-minded little towns across America—across North America!—by congealing at the big cities on the fringes of the country.
It makes sense that thus, this little town of mine houses some amazing queer literary reading series, though few of them are explicitly queer—rather they are run by queers and promote queer voices and perspectives. Vittoria Repetto runs the Women/Trans Poetry Jam & Open Mic at Bluestockings, Rachel Kramer Bussel runs In The Flesh erotica reading series at Happy Ending, Audacia Ray co-hosts Sex Worker Literati at Happy Ending with David Henry Sterry, Kathleen Warnock runs Drunken! Careening! Writers! at KGB Bar, Charlie Vasquez runs Panic! at Nowhere bar, Shelly Mars runs the Bulldyke Chronicles at Dixon Place, Kelli Dunham and Gene Murphy run Queer Memoir at Collect Pond in Brooklyn. And that’s just off the top of my head.
Why does New York City need yet another literary and queer reading series? Despite the many other series, very few of them are explicitly places for queer’s marginalized voices to express ourselves. Perhaps these are actually a newer wave of reading series, born out of earlier waves of explicitly queer series, and these focus on a particular theme or style of work as opposed to the gender or sexuality of those reading it. But still, we have not conquered homophobia, heterosexism, or transphobia, and though many in the queer literary scene might think we can have queers and straight folks reading right next to each other in a line-up, we still face sometimes insurmountable issues because of our sexualities or gender identities.
I’m grateful New York City is different, encouraging art and expression of all flavors. Still, in comparison to some of the medium- and small-sized cities, New York City’s collectivity can be fragmented. The queer literary scene in Seattle, for example, is teeny tiny, and everybody knows everybody, and thus we have to rally around each other and go to each other’s shows and be kind and embracing, because there are only so many of us. Seattle has an extra fabulous queer monthly reading series and open mic, the Seattle Spit at the Wildrose, Seattle’s only dyke bar, and I cut my performing teeth there, attending every month and wishing I was brave enough to read my own things until finally I did.
When I moved to New York City I wondered why there wasn’t an equivalent. Perhaps the communities and scenes here are just too large to sustain any single reading series, we need multiple perspectives, we need lots of different styles, lots of different reading series coordinators who all have different circles within the queer and literary worlds.
Kathleen is a playwright, for example, and there’s such a large play and drama world here in New York City that is very queer and literary, but since I don’t tend to run in those circles myself, I often don’t know of the writers who are on the Drunken! Careening! Writers! roster. But they are always a best of the best, skimmed off the top, extremely talented bunch, and I certainly trust Kathleen’s own literary discernment.
Shelly Mars’s new series the Bulldyke Chronicles is quite the phenomenon, if you haven’t attended yet—comedians, performance artists, and storytellers are primarily in her circles, and she has pulled some amazing folks out of the woodwork to come share where they’ve been and how they see the world. Her performers by and large are not folks that I know, but they are amazing and I’m so glad they’ve been brought together in a forum where I get to see them perform.
It’s amazing how many subtly different queer literary scenes there can be in one place. It still amazes me that a city can hold so many different worlds, so many different circles which do overlap, though sometimes only touch. After four and a half years in New York City, I think I’ve finally made enough contacts in many of the different circles that I could help to pull together some amazing artists, to encourage the lifting of their voices high.
And so, the lovely and talented Cheryl B. and I have teamed up to start SIDESHOW!: The Queer Literary Carnival, which will be spoken word, poetry, storytelling, comedy, and performances of all kinds. It is “serious literature for ridiculous times by freaks, jokesters, and outlaws,” as our tagline boasts. We are booking seasoned performers whose work explores what it’s like to embody and move through the world with marginalized identities, be it sexual or gender or something else entirely. This one particular series is explicitly queer, specifically to encourage the expression of that weird, freaky, perverted, marginalized, queer point of view.
Cheryl has run series in the past, most recently she was the producer at the Poetry Vs Comedy Variety Hour, which started at Galapagos and moved to the Bowery Poetry Club. It was a blast—and I don’t just say that because I was the first poet ever to win the two rounds, or because I won twice. It was so much fun to attend, the judges were always just as fun as the poets and the comics, and of course all the participants went home with a prize, because winning was not the point, and we’re all losers anyway.
When we ran into each other at a holiday party last year, I mentioned that I’d been kicking around the idea of coordinating a reading series, and she said she would love to co-produce and co-host. Since Cheryl has much more expeirence than I do at hosting a reading series, and since she’s a damn fine poet, I immediately thought this was a wonderful idea, and we got into the nitty-gritty planning details in the new year. We secured a home at The Phoenix (thanks to Charlie Vasquez, who I previously mentioned as running the Panic series at one of my favorite queer watering holes, Nowhere Bar), and we booked an amazing first show.
To add some cohesion to the show, we’re going to have monthly themes, and the very first SIDESHOW kicks off in April on Tuesday the 13th. April’s theme is SECRETS, starring Kate Bornstein, Sam J. Miller, Seth Clark Silberman aka PhDJ, and Kathleen Warnock.
Did you see that part where I slipped in that Kate fraking Bornstein is going to be reading at the kickoff of the series? Like it is all casual and not a big deal? Except that I’ve been reading her books for the last ten years, and she’s such a major pioneer not only in gender work but in queer memoir, and the re-valuing of queer lives and experiences in general.
Kathleen Warnock, too, I’m thrilled to have in the line-up; I mentioned earlier that she runs the reading series at KGB Bar, but she is also the new series editor for Best Lesbian Erotica, put out annually by Cleis Press. I’ve admired her work since I first heard it when I moved to New York City and began attending her series, particularly for the extra-special holiday celebration in December that always includes Best Lesbian Erotica writers reading their own work.
Sam and I met because he’s in the brother series, Best Gay Erotica, and we read together at a joint reading a few years ago, and my best memory of PhDJ is his story about getting an apartment through the power of The Secret. Hey, when the shoe fits, you may as well wear it!
Since April is my birthday month, I’m telling friends there’s no need for gifts or a party, just come to Sideshow on April 13th at The Phoenix. I’ll be there from 7pm on, taking photos, kissing Kristen, and trying not to drink too many Jamesons on ice. Can’t wait to hear what everyone has to read, and how this gathering of queers might bring us together in an open, supportive environment.
See you there, New York.