Live Lit Review: Naked Girls Reading Series

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Michelle L'amour/Photo: LaPhotographie Nashville

Michelle L’amour/Photo: LaPhotographie Nashville

Like so many good things, the Naked Girls Reading series materialized from a happy accident. When international showgirl Michelle L’amour’s husband Franky Vivid happened upon her reading in the buff one eve, inspiration set in. The two of them first thought of nakedgirlsreading.com as a funny, novel idea. But after a test run with a couple of willing burlesque troupe members, Naked Girls Reading took form and took off. The show just celebrated its sixth year and now has chapters in twenty-five cities across the world, with three more in the works, one of which is slated to open in Berlin.

The show is exactly as it sounds: a live literary event where unclothed women read. Michelle L’amour and The Chicago Starlets–Honey Halfpint, Greta Layne, Lady Ginger, and Sophia Hart–enter the candlelit room in silky dressing gowns and before they sit down to lounge on a Victorian sofa or plush chair to read, they disrobe completely. They’re adorned only by extended eyelashes, a distinguishing something or other–ruby earrings, horn-rimmed glasses, purple velvet pumps–and gorgeous cravats provided by Sammy the Tramp, a local Vaudevillian performer and Mash Up Tie merchandiser. Read the rest of this entry »

Kinetic Vaudeville: The Paper Machete Marks Five Years as “Chicago’s Weekly Live Magazine”

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Chad the Bird - Paper Machete

Think vaudeville meets The Daily Show. Think The Nation meets Mad magazine. Think jazz concert on the floor of the Senate. Think funny. Really funny. Then, think serious. Think all those things and what you have is The Paper Machete—Chicago’s weekly, live magazine.

Held every Saturday afternoon at the Green Mill, the show is the brainchild of host Christopher Piatt and this January they had their fifth anniversary. As a weekly, that means they’ve done about 250 unique shows featuring comedians, musicians, performance artists, playwrights, sketch comics, live lit performers, puppeteers and anything else you can think of (Piatt’s minister from Kansas recently gave a homily).

Each performer brings skills from their particular field but is required to do a piece that addresses current events. This leads to some interesting juxtapositions: like a rhymed and metered poem comparing “Sex and the City” to “Girls” and a piano ballad entitled “Baby, Please Don’t Vaccinate Your Baby.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tales out of School: Relevancy and Change in Columbia College’s Annual Story Week Festival

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Audrey Petty and Mitchell S. Jackson/Photo: Ben Bowen

Audrey Petty and Mitchell S. Jackson/Photo: Ben Bowen

By Kim Steele

For a literary festival like Columbia College’s Story Week to remain relevant for nineteen years is quite an accomplishment. This year, it succeeded once again by emphasizing the important and unique relationship between literature and current events; demonstrating that literature is a catalyst for all of us to discuss what is happening in the world around us.

In fact, this year’s theme, “The Power of Words” is, in part, a reaction to the violence in our city and world in the past few months. Eric May, the artistic director of Story Week and an associate professor in creative writing at Columbia, notes how the desire to remain pertinent influences which authors they host as well as the focus of the various panels. In fact, the panel “Fighting Violence: The Power of Words” addressed the relationship between violence and literature head on. It featured Kevin Coval (the author of “The BreakBeat Poets” and the founder of Louder Than A Bomb), Mitchell S. Jackson (“The Residue Years”), Audrey Petty (editor, “High Rise Stories”) and Miles Harvey (editor, “How Long Will I Cry?”). Read the rest of this entry »

Being Lily: Storytelling and Tamales

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Photo: Luis Perez

Photo: Luis Perez

For Humboldt Parker Lily Be, life is not just a menagerie of thrilling, touching and rip-roaringly hysterical stories. For Lily, it’s personal. And it comes with tamales.

Lily has been a fixture in the storytelling community since 2009. In addition to founding her own show, “Stoop-Style Stories” in August of 2012 with co-host Clarence Browley, Lily has thrown herself into the storytelling scene. She has been featured in an array of programs such as “Do Not Submit,” “I Shit You Not,” “Guts & Glory” and “Essay Fiesta,” to say nothing of countless open mics and appearances on Vocalo and WBEZ, until her appearance at The Moth propelled her into the spotlight, leading to a hands-down victory at The Moth’s StorySLAM competition at the Park West in June of 2013. She was the first Latina to win the competition. Read the rest of this entry »

Cheering Like Drunk Soccer Moms: LitMash Aims to be the Ultimate Cross-Genre Slam

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JW_reduced

J.W. Basilo probably wouldn’t describe himself as a freedom fighter, but that just might be what he is. His live lit show LitMash, presented by Chicago Slam Works, is breaking down barriers, proving that labels don’t define us; we are more than that, better than that! A poet doesn’t only need to socialize with (or compete against) poets, for goodness sake. They can journey beyond the enjambed line, befriending paragraphs and one-liners along the way.

At least that’s Basilo’s vision for LitMash, which usually runs the first Monday of every month in the Drinking and Writing Theater at Haymarket Pub & Brewery. The nondiscriminatory literature slam puts poets, storytellers, essayists and standup comics side by side—as long as the piece is six minutes or less, anything goes. Read the rest of this entry »

You Can Smell Real A Mile Away: An Interview with the Men of The Moth

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Brian Babylon - The Moth

Brian Babylon

By Liz Baudler

The Moth GrandSLAM, held on a chilly December night at the Park West, had the feel of a party fueled not just by the energies of ten stellar storytellers competing for the ultimate glory of being the GrandSLAM winner, but by three particular men. Newcity chatted with Brian Babylon and Don Hall—Moth StorySLAM hosts at Martyrs’ and Haymarket Pub and Brewery, respectively—and producer Tyler Greene, about what they’ve seen over the years.

What do you guys think makes a good story?
Don: An ability to not paint yourself as the hero, and structure. If you ask a question in the beginning or you create some sort of “I want to know,” and then you reward the audience with the thing you want to know, then you have a good story. Making mistakes are the best fucking stories because mistakes are things that you learn from. The only thing you learn from success is how to keep doing things the same way. It’s flaying the flesh. And it’s not about therapy. It’s about saying, “this is where I was at, this is a thing I did, it was wrong and I’m stupid or whatever, but this is what I’ve learned and I’m better now.” Don’t tell the story while you’re still bleeding. Wait until it’s a scar. Read the rest of this entry »

The Right to Control Our Bodies: Jonathan Eig discusses “The Birth of The Pill”

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Jonathan Eig/Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Jonathan Eig/Photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

By Toni Nealie

When you’ve had reliable contraception all your life, it’s easy to take it for granted. Now that politicians and religious groups are contesting women’s access to reproductive health care, “The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution” is timely. Jonathan Eig has written a compelling, frustrating and enraging account of activist Margaret Sanger, scientist Gregory Pincus, heiress Katharine McCormick, and Catholic gynecologist John Rock, and their race to discover a miracle pill. The group wanted to stop women dying from dangerous contraceptives, abortion, childbirth and exhaustion. They aimed to help couples plan their families and enjoy sex.

Eig, a former reporter and the best-selling author of “Luckiest Man,” “Opening Day” and “Get Capone,” was captivated by the individuals and the important story behind the pill. Crusader Margaret Sanger believed sex was good and that women should have more of it, but it needed to be separated from procreation. That’s where her lifelong quest began. Sanger and her supporters had to invent and test a workable hormone formula, raise money, build alliances and work their way around repressive laws banning information about birth control. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2014: Lit

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Top 5 Cafes in which to Draft Your First Novel
Currency Exchange Café, Hyde Park
Filter Café, Wicker Park
Gaslight Coffee Roasters, Logan Square
Kopi A Travelers Café, Andersonville
The Grind Café, Lincoln Square
—Amy Danzer

Top 5 Wintry Short Stories by Stuart Dybek to Enjoy with Hot Cocoa
“Chopin in Winter”
“Córdoba”
“Four Deuces”
“Ice”
“The Long Thoughts”
—Amy Danzer

Top 5 Russian Short Stories to Enjoy with a Shot of Vodka
“Master and Man,” Leo Tolstoy
“The Clown,” Maxim Gorky
“The Lady With A Dog,” Anton Chekhov
“The Overcoat,” Nikolai Gogol
“The Queen of Spades,” Alexander Pushkin
—Amy Danzer Read the rest of this entry »

News: Bibliophiles Unite at the Third Annual Chicago Book Expo

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Photo: Rebecca Ciprus

Photo: Rebecca Ciprus

Talents from the literary community were on display at the third annual Chicago Book Expo at Columbia College on Saturday, December 6 from 11am-5pm. Eighty-five booths blanketing two floors of the college’s campus at 1104 South Wabash housed authors selling their books, presses promoting works by their authors, and literary journals showcasing their work and providing information on their submission processes to visiting writers; other associations, groups, nonprofits and educational institutions were also on hand to promote their unique approaches to writing and publishing. There was something for every literary taste, from Rose Metal Press’ beautiful hybrid chapbooks to Appoet’s interactive mobile application that transforms two-dimensional stories into three-dimensional tales that interact with the time and space of the reader, to “After Hours,” a literary journal dedicated to the poetry and prose of Chicago authors. Mystery novels, parenting guides and history books also filled the booths of this animated event that drew in about a thousand visitors. Read the rest of this entry »

Shopping List: Good Things Come in Small-Press Packages

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KingMeMy mother used to say “good things come in small packages” when I was young. For a while I wore a pin that declared magnum in parvo, which translates as much in little or greatness in small things. That carries over into my love of small, independent publishers. Here’s a list of recent small press books by Midwest authors or publishers, to give or be given these holidays.

“On Immunity: An Inoculation” by Eula Biss,  cultural analysis and personal history, from Graywolf Press, 216 pages, hardcover, $24.

“Once I was Cool” by Megan Stielstra, totally cool personal essays, from Curbside Splendor, 202 pages, $15.95.

“Swarm to Glory” by Garnett Kilberg Cohen, sly fiction about endings, from Wiseblood Books, 212 pages, $13.

“King Me” by Roger Reeves, poems about love and masculinity, poverty, class and race relations, from Copper Canyon Press, $15. Read the rest of this entry »