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 »

Translating Performance to Page: An Interview with Story Club Magazine’s Dana Norris

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By Naomi Huffman

photo: Evan Hanover

photo: Evan Hanover

When Dana Norris founded Story Club five years ago, it was an open mic reading and she was “just trying to figure out how to do this thing.” In the years since then, Story Club has launched monthly shows on Chicago’s South Side, and in Minneapolis and Boston. In February, she introduced Story Club Magazine, an online journal that publishes stories performed at reading series in cities across the country.

Just before Story Club Magazine’s second issue went live in early May, I had the pleasure of talking with Dana about Story Club’s success, the struggle of translating performance stories for print, and Chicago’s dynamic storytelling scene.

Tell me about Story Club Magazine.
I’ve been running Story Club for five years, where we’ve had all of these performers going up on stage and just killing it. But sometimes readers would just vanish as soon as the show was over, and I wouldn’t get a chance to tell them how good they were. So, I started doing an audience vote at the end of every show so I could publicly reward their boldness. Winning’s nice, but I also wanted to reward performers by publishing their stories on the Story Club website. We did that for a couple of years, and then started the Story Club South Side show, then Story Club Minneapolis, Story Club Boston. I wanted to publish great stories from those shows and from shows around the country. I wanted a central resource for live lit in print, video and audio so you don’t have to be in the room when a performance is happening to reap the benefits of the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Guts & Glory Probes Vulnerable Work in a Never-Boring Way

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Guts&Glory(1)Nearly a year ago, writers Keith Ecker and Sam Irby created the literary series Guts & Glory to give authors an environment to try out their newer, riskier writing. “While the [live lit] community had really flourished, I noticed that there wasn’t a venue for artists to share their most vulnerable works. I personally had topics I wanted to explore in my writing that I knew would push the envelope of what would be considered acceptable at a lot of shows,” Ecker says.

If starting a live literary series is the thing to do these days,  what sets this one apart from the rest? First of all, the environment. The series takes place once a month in what Ecker calls the “barebones venue” in the back of Powell’s Bookstore. Christmas lights are hung along the exposed brick wall, creating a raw, intimate environment for the readers and its audience. “We aren’t about big production value. We’re about that connection between the artist and the audience in its purest form. And because of the incredibly supportive atmosphere that Sam and I have fostered, our artists feel comfortable being incredibly vulnerable and our audiences are eager to listen,” Ecker says. Read the rest of this entry »

The Need to Be Heard: 2nd Story Promotes Equality Through Expression

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By Kathleen Caplis OzziePride2012

He’d had a long ride home from Chicago, performer Ozzie Totten explained during 2nd Story’s sixth annual PRIDE event. His friend’s dad, Harvey, was traveling for business and offered him a ride home to Minnesota, and Totten, at the time a student at Loyola University, saw it as a free and easy way to travel back home for winter break. Totten had identified as gay since age fifteen, grew up in an accepting atmosphere, and always felt welcome in his home, his community, his church. But on that car ride home, it became apparent that not everyone felt comfortable enough to be openly gay in their community.

As Totten took his shift behind the wheel, Harvey began to talk of his past visits to Chicago—to see his boyfriend. Before this, Totten saw Harvey as a happily married man, but he realized he had been holding a secret, and now Totten had no choice but to keep the revelation from Harvey’s daughter, with whom he was close friends, for fear of splitting their family apart. It placed Totten in an uncomfortable situation. He understood Harvey’s apprehension; he’d heard stories of friends being kicked out of their homes after coming out. But Harvey chose not to come out to his family for several decades. Reflecting on that car ride home, Totten now understands Harvey’s need to tell someone, anyone—to have his story heard. Read the rest of this entry »

The Aesthetics of Place: The Poetic Ascent of Michael Robbins’ “Alien vs. Predator”

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Photo: Dan Dry

By Ella Christoph

Michael Robbins’ poetry demands to be read aloud, so long as you’re not among the virtuous. In the poem “Bubbling Under,” he proclaims, “I live by the alien logic we impose on children./Whoever smelt it dealt it. I’m glazed with K-Y/beside the Goth girls gone haywire. Talk about cathexis!” His debut collection of poems, “Alien vs. Predator,” was published at the end of March, but it was only a couple weeks ago that a drooling review on the cover of the New York Times’ Arts section helped skyrocket “AvP,” briefly, to the number one and two (paperback and Kindle) spots on Amazon’s American Poetry bestseller list. Robbins has immortalized the screenshot on his tumblr. Robbins, who completed his PhD at the University of Chicago last year, recently returned to his Andersonville apartment after a yearlong stint as a writer-in-residence at The University of Southern Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Reeling in the Years: Reuniting the Pioneers Who Helped Shape Chicago’s Vital Poetry Scene

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Michael Warr, Luis Rodriguez and Patricia Smith in Paris for readings at the Sorbonne and Shakespeare & Co. in the mid-nineties.

By Marla Seidell

Back together for the first time since they shared the stage with Allen Ginsberg in New Jersey in 1997, Guild Literary Complex founders Michael Warr, Patricia Smith and Luis Rodriguez will gather at Jak’s Tap on March 1 for a special reading to commemorate their extensive contribution to the poetry performance movement that swept the Windy City and the country in the eighties and nineties.

Coinciding with the reading are the writers’ recently published books: Smith’s book of performance poetry, “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah,” (Coffee House Press, 2012, $16), Rodriguez’s memoir, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions and Healing,” (Touchstone Books, 2011, $25) and Warr’s latest volume of poetry, “The Armageddon of Funk,” (Tia Chucha Press, 2011, $16), which won the “Honor Books For Poetry” Award from The Black Caucus of the American Library Association. With the Guild founders reading from present and past works, the event recalls the writers’ early days in late-eighties Chicago, when they gathered for readings at the Red Lion Pub (now closed) on Lincoln Avenue. Read the rest of this entry »

Web of Friends: How Wael Ghonim anonymously stirred the Egyptian Revolution

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Wael Ghonim/Photo: Sam Christmas

By Ella Christoph

A year ago, days into the protest in Tahrir Square, news stories breathlessly proclaimed the importance of social media in the massive participation of Egyptian youth in a revolution few saw coming. Facebook pages, Tweeting—all of a sudden they were validated, by a monumental, real-world event. But as the protests raged on, Americans knew few of the details of how, exactly, all this social media was mobilizing hundreds of thousands of people living under oppressive regimes.

And neither Egyptians nor the rest of the world knew the name, or the face, behind a Facebook page that was pivotal in catalyzing the protests. Who was the anonymous “Admin” behind the Facebook page “I am Khaled Said”—the page that first suggested, and then coordinated, the momentous January 25th protests? Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend” by Rachel Bertsche

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By Ella Christoph

Any woman could tell you how much easier it is to pick up guys—well, usually, let them pick you up—than it is to befriend a girl. Obviously, bars aren’t a good spot for searching out new best buds. But—maybe more than women wish to admit, or guys might believe—even places that seem almost overflowing with potential besties can end up feeling like friend deserts.

Childhood friends who lived on your street now live halfway around the country; college roommates stayed and you moved, or vice versa. Work, bars and the gym aren’t breeding grounds for best-friendships the same way recess, camp and drunken walks home from frat parties were earlier in life. But few women talk about the challenges of making friends in the adult world, worried they’ll be seen as losers, or unappreciative of the friends or significant other they already have. Never mind that it’s fine to talk incessantly about the lengths you’re going to in order to hunt down The One. Read the rest of this entry »

Lit Up: Printers Row Highlights

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Edwidge Danticat

Reclaiming its full span of traditional streetside real estate this year, tThe Printers Row Lit Fest marks its twenty-seventh outing with more than 200 authors and 150 booksellers.

There’s probably something for every taste. Here’s our likely itinerary:

Saturday, June 4

MSNBC junkies will want to catch frequent guest Jonathan Alter, author of “The Promise: President Obama, Year One” being chatted up by the Trib’s Rick Kogan. 10am, Trib Nation Stage

Want to get real insight into Haiti? Listen to this year’s Harold Washington Literary Award-winner Edwidge Danticat in a ticketed event. 11:30am, Harold Washington Library Center/Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

Listen to two of our nation’s preeminent African American literary figures chat it up, when Ishmael Reed sits in conversation with Haki Madhubuti in a ticketed event. Noon, Harold Washington Library Center/Multipurpose Room Read the rest of this entry »

411: Reading the Fresh “Produce” at the Curbside Splendor Bookstand

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Although conceived by Victor David Giron in the early 1990s in Urbana, Curbside Splendor was finally realized in 2009 with the purpose of publishing Giron’s novel, “Sophomoric Philosophy.” Since then, Curbside Splendor has been consistently publishing short stories, poetry and photography online, recently released its first compilation of online and previously unpublished material, “Curbside Splendor Issue 1: Spring 2011”, as well as, been preparing for its newest release, “The Chapbook: Poems by Charles Bane, Jr.” due to come out in July. And then there are the events.

Beginning in February of this year, Curbside Splendor created a pop-up bookstore appearing at the Logan Square Farmers Market at least once a month, selling work from Chicago presses and authors next to stalls selling locally grown produce. The Curbside Splendor Bookstand is a satisfying idea of “locally grown with locally published” standing side-by-side. The Curbside Splendor Bookstall is currently on a hiatus along with the Logan Square Market, but it will return again when the summer season begins on June 5, preferring to stay local rather than finding a new place to pop up. “Logan Square is a very personal place,” Giron says.

In addition, each month Curbside Splendor hosts a “Two With Water” reading event at the Beauty Bar, where Giron is part-owner. The next installment takes place on July 10. See for details. (Elizabeth Kossnar)