Live Lit lovers, stuff your stockings with this!
Having just caught wind of WRITE CLUB’s soon-to-be-released anthology, Bare-Knuckled Lit, we were too intrigued not to dig deeper and learn more about the book. This weekend, Cooler by the Lake stepped inside the ropes with WRITE CLUB Overlord Ian Belknap, who filled us in on the vision and makings of the stage-to-page project. Bare-Knuckled Lit releases December 16th, following the Official Launch Party at the Book Cellar (December 4th, 7:00 pm). We hope you’ll join us there to celebrate.
On a side note: If you like what you hear (or read) from Ian, you can get more of his boundless storytelling wisdom by enrolling in How Close is Too Close: The Nonfiction Narrator. He’ll be teaching the class beginning January 19th at StoryStudio. And should you still be looking to satisfy your unquenchable thirst for Live Lit instruction, discussion, and practice, we’ve got your back. Live Lit for the Boring Life, instructed by Kelsie Huff, kicks off just a few days later on January 22nd.
Now for the good stuff…
Cooler by the Lake: What’s the spirit or impetus behind the WRITE CLUB anthology? Why did you want to take on this project?
Ian Belknap: WRITE CLUB—as a live show—represents an important off-shoot of the Live Lit scene. Most Live Lit shows center around personal narrative, whereas WRITE CLUB is personal essay intended on some level to persuade. And the virtues of the live show—velocity, hollering, competition, weeknight drinking, fun, etc.—cannot undo the fact that there is some damn fine writing that happens there, writing that lends itself to savoring on the page.
BUT—we ALSO selected only bouts that were evenly matched/fair fights. My favorite bouts from the live show are those where it’s agonizing for the crowd to pick a winner, so we focused on those. There were many, many outstanding essays we could not include because the bout in question was blowout, or because we had to make tough choices regarding variety of tone, geographical distribution, etc.
Cooler: Who’s featured in the anthology?
IB: Chicagoans J.W. Basilo, Cullen Crawford, Mary Fons, Samantha Irby, Chloe Johnston, Dan Shapiro, Diana Slickman, Josh Zagoren and myself are featured, along with pieces from our shows in Atlanta and San Francisco.
Cooler: Are these pieces direct transcriptions of our favorite WRITE CLUB performances? WRITE CLUB performances adapted for the page? Or can we expect to read some fresh new material?
IB: These are pieces more or less directly from the stage show. The sadness inherent in live performance, for a show that’s never the same lineup or topics twice, is how ephemeral it is. We wished to immortalize some of the tremendous work we get to see month in and month out.
Cooler: How does a performer like yourself go about getting that all on paper? What are some of the differences between essays meant to be performed, and those that are meant to be read?
IB: A lot of the teaching I do—at StoryStudio and elsewhere—is about exactly this kind of hybridization. I think literature has much to learn from performance in terms of clarity and concision, and I think performance can learn much from lit in terms of craft and invention. If you want any more detail than that, you gotta sign up for one of my Live Lit classes.
Cooler: Do you find it difficult, when you’re primarily writing with the stage in mind, to get your work published in digital or paper print publications? What steps should a Live Lit writer take to get their work published?
IB: It may sound like a copout, but I’m typically so focused on the demands of producing my own show and appearing in other shows (and teaching and freelancing and raising kids, etc.) that I’ve honestly not pursued publication of my own live lit work. There are phenomenal live lit performers who publish—Samantha Irby (who’ll be at the Book Cellar event) is one such rock star, Megan Stielstra (of 2nd Story), Dana Norris (of Story Club), and others do so, as well.
Cooler: What are your plans for the launch party? What can attendees expect on the big day?
IB: They may expect a reading of Samantha Irby’s Foreward to the book, which I’ll confess made me a little misty when I read it, remarks by my partner and co-editor Lindsay Muscato, along with me reading my own essay which among other things features an analysis of Santa farts. We’ll have books for sale, Book Cellar has awesome food, beer, and wine, and if you play your cards right, I’ll sign your book.