Literary fisticuffs at Write Club Atlanta

It makes sense that, as I later found out, Naked City is sort of Write Club’s younger sibling.  When I entered the Ballroom Lounge at the Highland Inn a few minutes after doors last Wednesday night, the music was already loud, and the seats were nearly full.  Even in a venue bigger than the The Warhorse Cafe, it seemed like there were three or four times as many people there than at Naked City.  Perhaps we were all anxious for what they have dubbed “the tenderest bloodsport,” “emotional violence for the disgruntled pacifist,” or “no-holds-barred brain wrestling.”  The night was, after all, postponed a week by the copious amounts of snow and ice Atlanta has been receiving lately, and I think most people were left with the remnants of cabin fever.

The first rule of Write Club is:  Tell 5-7 people you know about Write Club.

Nick Tecosky hosts. Photo credit: Dustin Chambers

Write Club began in Chicago in 2010 and has already started branches in six other cities — Evanston, Atlanta, Athens, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto.  Write Club Atlanta started at PushPush Theatre in June 2011, before moving its shows to the basement of the Highland Inn.  I appreciate the history of places like this, echoed in things like the tin ceiling tiles that hung above our heads.  I don’t know if they’ve been there since the Inn was built in 1927, but I like to imagine they were.  Hosting another spirited and inventive writing event in an old space allows the new to mingle with the old; it shows how, although we have progressed and changed, the past doesn’t have to be ripped down and replaced.  Most importantly, it reminds me of how dynamic Atlanta and its writing scene is.

There are three “bouts” at each Write Club event, pitting two writers against one another for 7 minutes apiece.  Since they describe them as “bouts,” and obviously because of the name of the club, I was half expecting (and fully hoping) there would be a bell that would chime for each round literary fisticuffs.

Unfortunately there wasn’t. Maybe if I buy them one I can get in for free?

February 19, the themes were alone vs. together, love vs. lust, and dominant vs. submissive.  

Myke Johns, the producer of Write Club, started us off with “love,” and somehow managed to convincingly describe an air force drone feeling lust and then love for a plane.  Randy Osborne followed with a piece focusing on a porn shop from the past, pointing out how while some people bent over hymnals on Sundays, others were bent over porn magazines.  He rounded it out with ruminations on how being assigned the theme of “lust” was outside of his normal writing topics, describing his own work as now “speaking more for the dead.”  Instead of visiting porn shops, he spoke of older married people together “hunting for ways to feel free.”  While I thoroughly enjoyed Johns’ piece, I felt like Osborne’s had a bittersweet poignancy to it, driven by the juxtaposition of lust and age.

Next was Jesse Price representing “alone.”  He shared a story of dating a girl who was also dating another guy, the latter being “just physical.”  Against Price was Kara Cantrell, who discussed togetherness more scientifically and brought up the second law of thermodynamics.  Cantrell’s piece was the best example that night of how creative prose doesn’t have to be confined to a story; at times like a list, at others an essay, I was really looking forward to how she would bring it all together in the end.  Unfortunately she ran out of time — but the end of her piece will be on the Write Club podcast soon.

We ended with a couple facing off, beginning with Ellaree Yeagley writing for “dominant.”  Yeagley’s story was quite literary in tone, and it considered two fortune tellers giving readings on a set of train tracks in Alaska.  It wasn’t entirely clear which character was meant to be dominant: the new, assertive woman trying to steal business from Old Ironsides, or Old Ironsides himself, who considered her a quack and quietly remained committed to the pageantry of his own art.  This way of responding to the theme in a less direct way was one of my favorite attributes of some of the works read at Write Club, and Yeagley’s piece did it best.  Adam Lowe responded with a funny tale of a man who continuously committed small crimes in order to be tortured in a jail.  Humor is not easy to write, and I have yet to conquer it, but Lowe carried it even further by putting on some pretty fantastic voices for each character.  He also got cut off by the timer, so the podcast covering this show will have some more great endings to hear!

The best part is that, although Randy Osborne, Jesse Price, and Adam Lowe won their matches, the ones who are really “winning” are the charities these writers were representing.  Safe Harbor, Cool Girls, Inc., and Child’s Play are all receiving donations from Write Club.

Sometime last year at Write Club Atlanta

Write Club matches Naked City’s enthusiast atmosphere and refreshing premise, but for younger writers trying to get their voices heard, it may only yield motivation and inspiration at first.  Due to the limited number of spots, which are delegated in advance, newcomers might have to wait a little while to put on their literary boxing gloves.  According to Myke Johns, Naked City was formed in response to this limitation, allowing another venue for writers to test out their works on an audience.

Although both events share aspects similar to other writing events I’ve been to over the years, I can honestly say I’ve never been to something like Write Club.  There are benefits to a simple open mic night, but at the same time, open mics can start to blend together over time, a steady flow of mature and new writers.  Write Club, and Naked City to an extent, breaks out of this routine by having a specific format, and I’ve struggled to think of similarly atypical literary events.  While both events assign a theme to a writer, there is additional pressure to “outwrite” the competition in Write Club, even if it is out of the writer’s general subject matter.  In the first Write Club show Ian Belknap, host and founder of the Chicago original, was forced to write about light.  Time Out Chicago described how “in just seven minutes he was able to discount the compulsively optimistic of the world in favor of the more genuine light that shines from the darkest places.  ‘The light inside me might be the size of a gnat fart,’ he wrote, ‘but it’s strong.’”

At the end of the night, I was left wondering if such a venture would work in Newcastle.  With the strength of spoken word and slam poetry there, I have a feeling they could bring some pretty brutal competition.

After a night of lust, love and writing, I think it was appropriate that the King’s of Leon’s song, “Sex on Fire”, came on the radio as I was driving home.  Hearing it always brings me back to the first year I lived in England, on an exchange program, when that song was just getting really popular and blaring every night in bars and clubs over the air of barely contained desperation to “pull,” or pick someone up.  But as I was getting past Briarcliff Road, where Ponce de Leon Avenue begins to wind through trees and past huge houses before it opens up on highway 78, the song was just celebration for me.

Five years ago I might have thought I could write a novel, but once I got past 15,000 words, I don’t know if I could have kept going, or if the end product would have even been worth it.  That was the time when I first had the idea for my novel, and wrote the first thousands of words that I would eventually scrap completely.  I reworked it three years later, and the night of Write Club fell just a couple of days after I had finished my first draft.  Now begins the process of editing and researching how I want to publish.

Looking out at the many people waiting for the event to begin earlier that night, I had thought about how interconnected writing communities are.  Write Club began in Atlanta when Ian Belknap hosted a few pickup shows here, before asking Nick Tecosky to host.  At the back of the room, just by the door, Vouched Books had a table set up.  They are a country-wide organization that reads, reviews, distributes, and advocates small press literature.  And there I was, the local girl who’d gone 4,000 miles to England, and then back, just to find a place to belong an hour from home.  I love these writing communities, and the twin cities that house and influence them.  I can’t wait to see what else they have to show me.

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This post is part of an on-going series devoted to exploring the writing communities of Atlanta, Georgia, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and the surrounding areas.  Please contact me if you have recommended events to attend!

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