Tuesday Funk, Nov 2015

Tuesday Funk is a reading series held every first Tuesday of the month at the Hopleaf bar in Chicago. It features writers from a range of genres, although fiction and memoir tend to be the most common, with about 4-5 people reading their work over the course of the evening. This month’s session introduced me to the fantastic Sarah Michael Hollenbeck, who also happens to be one of the co-owners of the Women and Children First bookstore.

I’ve only been going regularly for about the last six months, but from what I can tell they usually have a good balance of men and women: some weeks it is all men, some all women, some 50:50. They tend to get at least one writer of color each week, which is better than nothing but not exactly as diverse a mix of writers as you’d hope from a city like Chicago. The audience, as far as I can tell, has about the same race and gender mix.

The crowd is pretty friendly and sociable to strangers, and the Hopleaf makes for an excellent location. What I enjoy most, however, is that it gives me the opportunity to discover local writers who I would probably not have come across otherwise. Each month there are usually one or two really stand-out pieces that knock your socks off, and they are often not the one you’d expect–certainly not always the headliner author who is saved till the end.

Back in August it was Robert McDonald. I found myself thinking about his re-imagined fairy-tale poems for weeks afterwards–always a good sign.

This month it was Sarah Michael Hollenbeck with her essay on living with a visible disability and her own, her family’s, and strangers’ recognition of it, who had the biggest impact. There was barely a dry eye in the room by the time she finished. But what really stuck with me from her piece was her description of how hurtful and perplexing it can be when the people who love her the most say “I don’t see your disability”. Her argument was complex and subtle, so I feel I can’t do justice to it in a short blog post. But I really hope to read more of her work in the future.

Neither McDonald nor Hollenbeck have much published yet, alas. The exciting and yet frustrating thing about a reading series, perhaps, is that people are sharing works-in-progress. So if you love what you hear, you have to sit tight and wait till the author has finished writing and then publishing it to get another fix.


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