3 events that'll make you feel like you live in a city with literary culture

A sprawling metropolis dependent upon gas-guzzling vehicles and a vibrant literary scene with poets, short fiction and readings. That’s the image that a few literary movers and shakers want you to associate with our urban setting.

Despite Phoenix’s reputation of a city devoid of any focus (physical or cultural), there are a few events for the intrepid explorer of all things literary, where the literature is woven right into the physical scenes that so many have worked so hard to make, dare I say, “cool.”

Spillers, a quarterly fiction storytelling night at the Crescent Ballroom, is one of these events. Six writers will ascend the stage to read a short work that they workshopped with their fellow performers. The next "spill" will start at 8 p.m. at Crescent on Feb. 1. The event is free all night, but only open to those over age 21 after 9 p.m. 

Co-founder and co-host of Spillers, Robert Hoekman Jr., said his event fits right into a fabric of events hosted with the right intentions in mind.

Spillers No.3 | Facebook
If you want to go

Spillers No. 3: 8 p.m. Feb. 1 at Crescent Ballroom

Terrance Hayes: Poetry Center in Phoenix: 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at Phoenix Art Museum

Kim Kyung Ju: 6:30 p.m. Feb. 2 at Valley Bar

“Honestly, it started out because I’d heard about storytelling, and I had heard about fiction reading nights as well, but what I’d always heard is that they always tend to be in packed bars on a Tuesday night when no one’s really paying attention to them,” he said.

The decision to host the readings at Crescent was important, as Hoekman said he pitched it as the fiction response to the Phoenix New Times’ “Bar Flies” at Valley Bar in downtown Phoenix.

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“The Crescent Ballroom, in the few years that it’s been around, has just been a legendary Phoenix space, so it was the first place that I wanted to approach,” he said.

The writers have the opportunity and freedom to perform their fiction, but they must meet the criteria of being great writers, Hoekman said.

“If they send us a story to apply with, we don’t actually expect that will be the same story they read at the event,” he said. “What we’re looking for is great writers, and then we tell them they have a 10 to 15-minute slot and with that you can use that time for whatever story you want.”

The event will include a signature cocktail designed by the barkeeps at Crescent Ballroom, which will include bourbon, because, you know, it’s winter. Spillers also has an after-show podcast and one is embedded below.

But wait, there’s more! Four Chambers Press, an independent literary journal and small press, hosts events to build community. In this case, Four Chambers helps out in a different way, said Jake Friedman, the executive director, founder and editor-in-chief of Four Chambers.

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“We at Four Chambers decided that the best way we could help would be to produce a small book for the show and to also kind of bring some of our marketing potential to bear,” he said.

The book will be $10, around 60 pages and will conform to Four Chambers' aesthetic, being that the book is perfect-bound and printed on fancy paper. Each "Spiller" will be featured in the print product, Friedman said.

“We think performance is really meaningful and great at building community, but we were trying to build a market for local literature here, and allow people to develop these long term relationships,” he said. “So we think that performance and product go hand in hand.”

Four Chambers also plugged the upcoming Terrance Hayes reading, hosted by the UA Poetry Center. This event will be taking place at the Phoenix Art Museum on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m.

Terrance Hayes: Poetry Center in Phoenix | Facebook

“We don’t get cultural programming like this in Phoenix outside of Changing Hands, which tends to focus a little more commercially,” Friedman said. “So I actually think it’s really important for us as a city that’s trying to sort of counter a lot of other images, and one of the one’s that we’re trying to assert is that we are a city with a rich cultural sort of scene.”

Four Chambers also booked another event accommodating Korean poet, Kim Kyung Ju, at Valley Bar on Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of the event goes back to being integrated into the cultural and social community that is so desperately sought after in this outpost in the desert.

“We could find a room somewhere in a community college, but we really want to create this experience and we really want literature to be on the same level as concerts or art shows or other things that people enjoy,” Friedman said. “I don’t think literature needs to be cool, but it’s like this is part of our life it should be out there."

The poet's translator, Jake Levine, said that his 2004 book of poems “I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World” sold over 80,000 copies in Korea, and that he is probably the most famous and popular young writer in Korea today.

Kim Kyung Ju at Valley Bar | Facebook

“His poetry is relevant not just to Korean people, but to an American audience because it represents the times that we live in, in a way that it reveals the unconscious desire behind some of the problems we’re facing in society … like how people deal with the loneliness of modern life,” Levine said.

Levine said that the largest exposure to Korean culture in the U.S. is K-Pop or Psy’s wildly popular “Gangnam Style,” but this event will give Phoenicians the opportunity to break out of that and see what Korea has to offer. The poet is popular with young people, offering ASU students the chance to engage with a different culture’s youth through poetry.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for undergraduates to come and expose themselves to something that’s from a different culture, but also to see that young people from a different culture are interested in the same thing that (young people here) might be interested in,” Levine said.

Tell the reporter which event you're going to at pnorthfe@asu.edu or follow @peternorthfelt on Twitter.

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