The Whistler hums with good-natured literary farce this Thursday night, marking the third community event organized by the Required Reading program since its inception in late 2009. The program, which was started by Katy Groves, a social worker at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, seeks to solicit donations of used books and money to buy books for the benefit of literature programs at the JTDC.
Tonight’s event is an open call to anyone who was ever a young-adult reader or juvenile scriber, promising all-comers five minutes of fame for “a hilarious/poignant glimpse into your childhood psyche.” In tones ranging from high mock sincerity to self-deprecating embarrassment, readers share the fruits of their young, often hormone-swollen minds while standing before the Whistler’s tissue-paper fire.
Without naming names, the night witnesses such spectacles as a grandiose epic blending the best of Indiana Jones’ thematic qualities with the worst of aporetic plot transitioning; a sequence of moony love ballads which coins many memorable, if misleading lines such as “Fervent is my heart / Craving for your peace;” and a recitation of a personal “state of the union” written at the occasion of turning twenty, which includes such dubious accomplishments as “Two cars totaled, no one injured,” “No longer playing Jewel songs on acoustic guitar” and “Still friends with that Asian girl.”
In a thrilling finale, one reader delivers a brief discourse on why the Christopher Pike (a young adult author whom she compares to a risqué R.L. Stine) novel “Gimme A Kiss” caused her to avoid kissing until she was seventeen. The reason lies in the novel’s linking of cold sores with moral ruination and lifelong abandonment.
If the regular choruses of involuntary laughter are any indication, the night is a success. But then the community reception for Required Reading has been positive from the start according to Alexis Koran, who works with the program.
Tonight’s reading event builds on a similar event held at The Whistler roughly a year ago and a benefit concert held at The Hideout last summer. In Koran’s opinion, “The Whistler and The Hideout, as being venues that we use, fit our mission statement perfectly because what we’re really trying to do is engage Chicago’s artistic community.” She especially credits Jeanine O’Toole at The Hideout and Shelby Allison and Billy Helmkamp at The Whistler as being strong partners in Required Reading’s projects. Moreover, she points to the willingness of Chicago’s artists to participate, like the bands who played last year’s benefit pro-bono (Verma, Running and Michael Columbia), as a sign of the program’s strength.
Tonight also saw the announcement of Required Reading’s newest initiative, a partnership with 826CHI. 826CHI is the Chicago chapter of the 826 National, a non-profit tutoring, writing and publishing organization with ties to Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s. In cooperation with 826CHI, Required Reading seeks to publish a selection of children’s work from the poetry circle that Groves has been running at the JTDC now for some time. Koran looks forward to an elegant partnership since 826CHI is already licensed as a 501(c) and has its own in-house press.
To publicize this new project, Required Reading will be organizing a “poetry slam” at the Whistler for late spring. Koran hopes this event will be as successful as the previous readings, since she views awareness of Required Reading’s work and the children it serves as paramount. Paraphrasing Groves, Koran remarks, “In a lot of ways we’re removed from their disenfranchisement, but in a lot of ways they’re our kids too, and we need to be there for them.” (David Wicik)