Naked Girls Reading and a Love of Listening

On Friday night, I made my way up the stairs to the Everleigh Social Club with a friend, to attend the 2011 Naked Girls Reading Literary Award Gala. The fabulous loft space was candlelit and lushly decorated. We were among the first guests to arrive and took our seats in front of the swing, to the right of the stage.

Inspired by and named after the infamous Everleigh Club of the 1900s, this modern incarnation was founded by Michelle L’amour and is an extension of Studio L’amour. The Everleigh Social Club, while open to members for special events like the Naked Girls Reading Series and SPEAKEASY, is also the home of a modern art movement called Cyprianism, “creating art through a life lived artfully.” (A quote by Franky Vivid that I love. Read more here.)

From what I could see upon my entrance, the spirits of beauty, creativity, and sensuality are alive and flourishing in the Everleigh Club. Not unlike the ritual theater I adore by Terra Mysterium, the Naked Girls create a space and then fill it with intention, charging it with provocative elegance. On that night, the intention was to celebrate the five Literary Prize finalists, and I was honored to be in such good company.

The ladies on the stage disrobed at the start of each of the three reading sessions of the night. They did it gracefully, naturally, comfortably, at home in their skin and on the stage. Then they breathed the stories into life, charging each one with emotion, weaving the web of words around them. The crowd was rapt.  One word kept coming to mind: communion: a sense of intimate fellowship or rapport.

The word “communion” has an interesting etymology, a little different than its more modern and ecclesiastical definition.  It comes from the late 14th century Old French  comunion, meaning “community, communion” (12c.),  and from the Latin communionem (nom. communio) “fellowship, mutual participation, a sharing.”

The act of reading someone a story, or having a story read to you, is intimate. We don’t usually sit and read with strangers or people we dislike. If we read a story, it is with someone dear to us: a parent, child, partner. It’s often a part of a ritual, like “the bedtime story” or a “reading hour.” I love to read, but listening to a story is a different experience than reading a story. Listening takes us right back to our ancestors–sitting around a campfire to share in the storytelling experience, a sacred experience because it revealed ancient secrets, imparted treasured wisdom, taught life lessons, celebrated community milestones. The storytellers were both library and librarian.

Even today, when we listen, we receive something. Yes, it’s the same story. Yes, the words are the same. However we add the element of performance, the experience of emotion conveyed by a reader, the feeling that there is an exchange with a person and not just a text. Communion.

This is one of the reasons I love to listen to audiobooks, especially those read by the author. It’s like my own private bedtime story. In the reading of a story, the author has given me something, more than the words and the world they shape (although those are treasures). In an audiobook, as in a reading, they have given me an experience of the story.

It was an honor to hear my story read aloud on that stage, to experience my words delivered in such a beautiful and provocative way. I didn’t win the prize, but I certainly felt like I was given something to treasure. (It made me all the more excited to hear the audiobook for my novel when Xe Sands finishes recording The Silence of Trees for Iambic Audiobooks.)

The Naked Girls Reading Series is now in cities across America, so you too can experience the glamour and allure of Naked Girls Reading.

Rick Kogan said it so well in an article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune in April 2011:

It is a beautiful and bold experiment to be sure, with the emphasis on, well, beautiful and bold.

After the Naked Girls Reading, with a fully-clothed Michelle L’amour and Greta Layne.


Chicago Classics and writers who love them

With the busy Words & Wheels weekend in LaCrosse, I didn’t get the chance to blog properly about the Chicago Classics reading.

Happy to be a part the celebration of Chicago literature, I read along with 20 local writers at Lincoln Hall (what used to be the Three Penny Theater back when I was a student at DePaul). It was a diverse and talented group, and I enjoyed listening to the selections from Chicago writers familiar and obscure. That kind of camaraderie is one the reasons I became involved with the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame in the first place, to reconnect.

As readers and audience members waited in the bar for the theater to open, I did a bit of people-watching and had a chance to chat briefly with Rick Kogan, whom I hadn’t seen since the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last Fall, and Randy Albers, who chairs the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago and is the founder of Story Week. I also made the acquaintance of Richard Babcock, the editor of Chicago Magazine, and we had a nice little chat about Chicago theater and Studs Terkel (I had decided to read from Working for my selection. He would read from Sister Carrie.)

Once we were allowed in, folks took their drinks and nibbled from the buffet while standing around and talking. I looked around for familiar faces. A few people with whom I had gone to graduate school at the School of the Art Institute were planning on attending, but I didn’t see them. I looked around for Bayo Ojikutu from DePaul, but he arrived later. Thankfully Audrey Niffenegger was there, and I was able to briefly chat with her. (I look forward to seeing her interview Neil Gaiman next month at one of the events around One Book, One Chicago.)

The program began with an introduction by Randy Albers. Then our charming and witty emcee,  Rick Kogan took over and kept things moving on our tight schedule. Each reader was given approximately five minutes to set up the author and read from the text. Many of the readings I recognized, but a few were new to me. All were a joy to hear. I made note of writers whose works I plan to pick up in the future: Stephen Elliott, Leon Forrest, Cyrus Colter. Most people lingered back in thebar after the event, but I had to rush home to get ready for our early departure to La Crosse the next morning.

I haven’t been able to find a lot of coverage on the event, but here are some highlights from Friday’s Story Week 2011 (the Chicago Classics event begins at 2.00 minutes).

The evening was a wonderful sampling of Chicago’s literary landscape and a reminder of our rich history.  I am proud to be a part of it.

Columbia College’s 15th Anniversary Story Week

Columbia College has been celebrating 15 years of its annual Story Week!

After I graduated from the School of the Art Institute with my MFA in Writing in 1998, I taught a few classes at Columbia College and remember the roots of this festival of writers. It has grown into a remarkable event, and this year I’m honored to be a part of it.

Story Week 2011 closes with the Chicago Classics, hosted by the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan (whom you may recall was the emcee for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony last year).

As a representative for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, I will be among 20 guests from Chicago’s literary community who will read from stories and poems by our favorite Chicago authors.

Readers include:
Danielle Chapman, Director of Publishing Industry Programs for Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs
Don De Grazia, author, professor at Columbia College Chicago
Brian Hieggelke, Editor, Newcity
Rick Kogan, Senior Editor, Chicago Tribune and Host of WGN’s Sunday Papers with Rick Kogan
Alex Kotlowitz, author, journalist
Jonathan Messinger, author, Books Editor, TimeOut Chicago
Audrey Niffenegger, author-professor-visual artist
Bayo Ojikutu, author, professor at DePaul University
Donna Seaman, Booklist Associate Editor, Chicago Public Radio Book Critic
Sam Weller, author, professor at Columbia College Chicago
and others.

The first fifty guests through the door will be entered in a raffle to win prizes and gift packs from these friends of Story Week: Akashic Books, featherproof Books, Goodman Theatre, Hair Trigger, Lincoln Hall, MAKE Magazine, Myopic Books, POETRY, Quimby’s Bookstore, and Time Out Chicago.

The event takes place Friday, March 18, 2011, at Lincoln Hall (2424 N. Lincoln Ave.), from 6-8pm. I hope to see some of you there!

Here’s a video with highlights from past Story Weeks: