Riding with Jesus Part XIV: a badbadbad tour blog
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On the Strange, Borderless Midwest (Part I)
In a recent HTMLGIANT interview with Matthew Baker, “literary prankster” Michael Martone called the Midwest “a strange, imaginary place, with no distinct borders or boundaries.” This depiction of an elusive, borderless America, roughly clumped between the Appalachians and the Rockies, makes sense now that I’m reflecting on the road show that stopped in Iowa City, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Kansas City. My experiences in each of these towns were indeed strange-feeling, and yes, the borders were blurred.
After a shotgun reading at Lindsay Hunter’s Quickies! series in Chicago (love letter coming soon), I made my way to Iowa City for the IC Book Festival. The plan was to team up with Barry Graham and his posse of writer pals along the route of his “2011 Midwest Exemplary Flash Education & Supermojomania Freakout Tour & Country Expo.” A big gig on this six-city jam would be this Saturday daytime book fair, so we thought, since Iowa’s got a rep for literary greatness, right?
1 & 2. Iowa City book lovers overwhelm the town’s book festival.
IC strangeness #1: While we had hoped to meet up the Friday before, Mr. Graham never showed. He was stranded in Ann Arbor after attending a reading/house party at Elizabeth Ellen’s (pics here; best-of here), which I sadly opted out of due to driving fatigue. The combo of late-night live lit and Wild Turkey 101, plus no car and vague travel arrangements, put the Dogzplot editor and author (most recently) of Nothing or Next to Nothing in a homeless position. Being an experienced road warrior, however, he was undeterred. He would hitchhike the 450 miles to Iowa City.
1. Dave McNamara’s Sunnyoutside Press setup. 2. The girl who browsed every book at the Sunnyoutside table.
IC strangeness #2: Mr. Graham never made it to the book fest. But he was kind enough to hand-off the reservation info for his table, shared with Dave McNamara (Sunnyoutside Press) and Rebecca Roberts and Amy Ganser (Two with Water litmag). We all kicked back in the shade of a green leafy tree, enjoyed some laughs, grooved to bluegrass, sold a handful of books (and CDs) and pitched our evening reading at a local indie retailer to passersby. Mr. Graham had the flyers, so we drew up a sign and smiled — a lot.
1. IC Book Festival bluegrass. 2. Amy Ganser pitching DIY lit love.
IC strangeness #3: For a scene with such a storied rep, the book fest was not well-attended. Speculation ranged from the weather (it’s too hot; it rained for five minutes three hours ago) to book glut/jadedness (always so many literary events here) to summer break (I ask again: Is it a legit literary “scene” if bound to the whims of the academic calendar?). Based on an informal survey of attendees, free books were the most popular “sales” item, followed by children’s books. Imagine the readership for free children’s books! University of Iowa MFA grads take note.
1. Charly Fasano at Defunct Books. 2. Rebecca Roberts.
IC strangeness #4: Our reading at Defunct Books was supposed to feature 14 writers, but only five made an appearance, including all of our tablemates (with Charly Fasano representing Sunnyoutside Press) plus flash-fiction master Scott Garson, Wigleaf editor and author of American Gymnopedies. The old shop was beautiful (a massive bookcase devoted exclusively to poetry), the audience enthusiastic and attentive, and the readings sweet. Five-dollar magarita pints at the Mexican restaurant down the road were even sweeter. Such is literary life in Iowa City.
1. Scott Garson. 2. Amy Ganser.
“Vouched Presents Dogzplot Literature Party” was a blowout in an abandoned car repair shop in an abandoned strip mall, featuring more than a dozen readers, multiple sponsors, microbrew kegs, heavy vegetables, an exotic mobile food vendor and more one-of-a-kind books for sale from Vouched and Sunnyoutside than you could read in a year (or two), unless of course you’re Blake Butler (this list is sick), in which case you’ve probably already ingested most of them. The event was organized by Christopher Newgent (who in addition to challenging the lit-hawking status quo with Vouched Books also co-directs The Lit Pub with Molly Gaudry) and Mr. Supermojomania Graham (who was determined not to miss this event… free beer is, after all, a strong lure for the hitchhiking author).
1. Big Car Collective: community-building art-making. 2. The Writers’ Center of Indiana: think globally, write locally.
Indy strangeness #1: Two very young writers with Holy Roller backgrounds lit up the joint with very strong voices. Layne Ransom’s dirty Southern drawl at once melted my cold cold heart, while Jessica Dyer’s “Use for a Uterus,” well… read/listen for yourself. Though she doesn’t know it, this grrrl is heir to little-known, pre-Aimee Bender, surrealist author Laurie Foos (Ex Utero).
1. Layne Ransom. 2. Jessica Dyer.
Indy strangeness #2: Though few are willing to talk publicly about the, let’s say, differences in appearance of men and women in the lit scene, I’m happy to go on record with an obvious observation: many of the guys look nerdy or scraggly or gnomish, while many of the women are “well put together” (as my dad would say). Christopher Newgent (whose arms apparently “have become their own indie-lit meme,” per M. Kitchell) and Bryan Furuness were the exceptions at this show. And these dudes can write, too. Peep Mr. Furuness’ “On Tubes, by Ted Stevens.”
1 & 2. Indy lit studs Christopher Newgent & Bryan Furuness.
Indy strangeness #3: Sun-fried from thumbing his way across the Midwest, Barry Graham read about a Monica Lewinsky fetish — after many, many beers — with a surprisingly gentle authority.
Indy strangeness #4: Rarely is book hype merited. But from what I heard in Indy, Sean Lovelace’s “Fog Gorgeous Stag” (compared to Gertrude Stein, no less) deserves all the hype it can get.
1. Barry Supermojomania Graham. 2. Sean Fog Gorgeous Stag Lovelace.
Indy strangeness #5: It’s not often that literary events are written about after the fact, maybe because everyone’s already moved on to the next thing. Not so, this time. Here’s one (Sean Lovelace all aglow), two (Barry Graham blown away), three (Tyler Gobble in love with Vouched, Roxane Gay and Layne Ransom), four (Christopher Newgent feeling the faith) and five (a snapshot from NUVO). Powerful testament to the power of borderless community. (More pics here, if you like.)
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Playlist highlights: Latcho Drom, Bollywood Gold, Global Meditation: Harmony & Interplay and one-of-a-kind music from the Central African rainforest:
Next up: Midwest Part II & Love Letter to Chicago.
— Jesús Ángel García’s 2011 badbadbad crosscountry tour may be over, but the tour love continues, as do live appearances closer to home. On Saturday, August 27, he’ll present his “Fear” film and an excerpt from the novel alongside screenings and performances by a host of Bay Area filmmakers, dancers, musicians and visual artists at Oaktown Indie Mayhem.