Every first Thursday of the month at Valley Bar, the Downtown Phoenix cocktail lounge and music venue, community members occupy a dimly lit book room with less than 30 seats to have 17th-century French salon-inspired conversations.
The Four Chambers Press, a Phoenix local independent literary magazine, hosts the topic-specific discussions with community members, called “Get Lit.”
The topic for February, held last Thursday, was “Alternative Facts, Media and Social Responsibility.”
Jake Friedman, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Four Chambers Press, opened the discussion. He said media outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post have been “very direct in a way they hadn’t previously” since Donald Trump became the 45th president of the U.S.
The conversation consisted of Trump’s first few days in office, clickbait, news headlines and minorities.
An ASU senior lecturer in English at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, editor at Four Chambers Press and host of “Get Lit,” Rosemarie Dombrowski, said that the event is “the greatest seminar you could ever teach, with a diverse group of people, who you may or may not have met before, with alcohol thrown in.”
During “Get Lit,” the host starts with a question or current event topic where audience members are welcome to comment, ask each other questions and share anything that will spur an open and intellectual discussion.
The discussions are most often related to current events and only open to people over 21-years-old because of the event's bar location.
Since starting this local literary salon in June 2015, Dombrowski has noticed the increasingly diverse participants. With a group that comes from many different backgrounds, she said that “it is good for people to sometimes be uncomfortable. I think discomfort breeds change and open mindedness.”
Some of the audience members consistently attend “Get Lit,” but there were a few new faces in the crowd. Emily Ostermeyer, an English language arts teacher for middle schoolers in Central Phoenix, and Eva Michel, a physical therapist, attended the discussion as newcomers.
They both enjoyed it and have plans to return. Ostermeyer said she thought it turned into a “venting session” but said, “I don't know if that was a bad thing — just not what I was expecting. I was impressed with the diverse opinions and topics.”
Both Ostermeyer and Michel contributed to the conversation from personal experience, and helped moderate and facilitate discussion.
Michel said to the group that “small talk is a great start, but how do we know if we truly made an impact?” In order to encourage civility instead of heated debates, Michel brought up a personal anecdote. She said she recently met face-to-face with a friend who has opposing political views, and instead of arguing over social media, they sat down for dinner to talk about their differences.
Also his first time attending “Get Lit,” Jared Duran, Four Chambers Press editor and director of events and programming, was looking forward to the discussion but said it lacked “commitment to meaningful action as opposed to complaining.” He said the conversations often strayed away from the media and social responsibility onto Trump’s presidency.
Dombrowski and Friedman often redirected the conversation if they felt it necessary. Having many “powerful conversations” in her literature classes at ASU, Dombrowski said the lack of access to these conversations some have, motivated her.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to have these conversations about the social resonance of (literature) on a daily basis,” Dombrowski said. “I was really interested in bringing that to the community.”
Ostermeyer also agrees that the community aspect of an event like this helps create solutions.
“I think we should have more conversations like this,” Ostermeyer said. “It comes back to getting involved in your local community.”
More information on future “Get Lit” discussions at Valley Bar can be found though its website.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly quoted a source. This version has been updated with the corrected information.