When you stop breathing, all that you have been is forgotten in all that you become: a reason to hold hands, a ghost to pray for.
Brian Oliu writes a review of “Taking Someone to Waffle House After the Bars Close.” Come on, admit it. You did that last night, didn’t you?
[Image via Ron Mayhew Photography]
VOUCHED: Are you a ghost? Be honest.
BRIAN OLIU: No. Although I am often compared to a robot of some sort…
#LitBeat!: Books Have Ruined Our Lives, Now We Want to Ruin Yours
“I feel like I’m the captain of a ship right now,” said Brian Oliu, on stage. It about summed it up, the basement of Chicago’s Green Door Tavern on Saturday night was dank and crowded and felt almost like somewhere you might brag about having seen someone read at before they were in, say, New York Magazine. Most of the readers seemed to be seeing each other for the first time too: I overheard the bartender asking Rebecca Maslen, having never her seen in person, whether or not she was the organizer. She was, along with Ted Pelton, who was absent. This wasn’t an uncommon transaction that night: with a line-up of eleven writers, it seemed like most of words exchanged between everyone involved had probably been online. Lily Hoang, who acted as MC for the night, introduced Brian Downey as her “favorite person from South Bend [she] doesn’t really know,” and Ian Davison as someone “who I don’t know at all, but I love your work.” When I told Oliu, one of the night’s readers, that I was doing a write-up for The Millions, he said “Oh yeah, I know Nick Moran, he’s a great guy—I mean, through Twitter.”
The offsite AWP event was called “Books Have Ruined Our Lives, Now We Want to Ruin Yours”, and it was a launch by Starcherone* Books for the publication of Hoang’s 30 Under 30: Innovative Fiction by Younger Authors, Alissa Nutting’s Unclean Jobs for Women & Girls, and the forthcoming The House Enters the Street by Gretchen Henderson.
Megan Milks read first, and set the tone of the night with a story about the complicated relationship of Sweet Valley High’ s twin sistersJessica and Elizabeth as told (partly) through the lyrics of Tegan & Sara.
Todd Seabrook confirmed the internettiness of the evening by telling the story of meeting Lily Hoang, who also edited 30 Under 30. He got drunk and told her he liked her and wanted to keep in touch, and that he would write 100 emails to her over the next 100 days on the subject of the number ‘100’. He did, and those emails became his first book, which he proceeded to read from: stories about Wilt Chamberlain, piano keys, gold watches, Jesus walking his dog, pinstripes, and the medieval history of “proof,” as in the unit of alcohol.
Brian Oliu read a surprisingly affecting excerpt from his forthcoming book on video games Level End, Alissa Nutting read from an anthology called Monsters, and Gretchen Henderson read from her forthcoming novel, The House Enters the Street, a frenetic “love story” that sounded more like every beautiful idea that could be thought of while walking through a city street on childhood, philosophy, history, and yes, love. Evelyn Hampton read a thing you wouldn’t have known was prose or poetry without seeing the page.
“This story doesn’t go something like this; it goes exactly like this,” said Andy Farkas, taking the stage and describing, with analysis, a theatrical trailer for a film that is lost and no one will ever see, somehow making the reader become the feature attraction. Brian Downey crowed a poem called “This is the Dirty” like a Southern Baptist minister. Ian Davisson, who Hoang “[didn’t] know, but, I love your work” read lecherous poems that had been “written in a depressing Philadelphia apartment”: “I have been in my life / an island.”
Sean Kilpatrick, my personal favorite, did hilarious non-sequitor stand-up poetry while moving around the stage like a crazy person: “When I say ‘fuck you in the ass’ I mean / you specifically and by that I mean whoever.”
Hoang introduced the internet-famous final speaker by saying “I don’t have to say anything about him, because you all know him.” And Matt Bell shut the night down with “Svara, Sveta, Svetlana,” a moody, tender post-apocalyptic incantation, an anaphoric father feeling out a cure to a world collapsing in on his infants.
Hoang then commanded “Drink!,” and it was so.
*a slurry phoneticization of ‘Start-Your-Own’, I think