Do you enjoy literary readings, but wish they were faster-paced, devoid of the usual pretension, and organized around some sort of cutthroat competition? Thankfully, Chicago’s WRITE CLUB has stormed its way into the city’s live-reading community, and promises to provide us with a new take on “literature as blood sport.”
According to its website, there are many tales of how WRITE CLUB came to be. The version most accepted by Google paints it as the brainchild of writer/performer Ian Belkap, who after short stints in acting and stand-up comedy became the Tyler Durden of the literary world and launched the event’s first branch in Chicago. Now, after three years of carnage, offshoots of WRITE CLUB have cropped up in Atlanta, Athens, San Francisco and Los Angeles, with a chapter in London, England on the horizon.
“Here to bring the good word to us savages,” Belknap handed over the reins of WRITE CLUB Toronto to local writers Alicia Louise Merchant and Catherine McCormick at The Garrison on Tuesday night, but not before gifting the new branch with a night of his sardonic hosting. Sparse attendance delayed the proceedings by forty-odd minutes, but once a group of latecomers arrived, there was a rowdy enough audience to get the ball rolling.
The rules of WRITE CLUB are simple: three rounds, two opposing writers, two opposing ideas, seven minutes apiece, and the cheers of the audience used to determine a winner. Opening night featured Natalie Walschots, Evan Munday, Kirk Heron, Rob Benvie, Jennifer Cowan, and Belknap himself arguing for the merits of “Digital vs. Analog”, “Counterfeit vs. Original”, and “Wild vs. Tame” in a series of close battles that included a love story involving an emotionally robotic boyfriend, a grandfather confronting his irrelevance while attempting to work a Betamax, and an exhaustively well-researched account on the creation story and artistic merits behind Steppenwolf’s 1968 hit “Born to Be Wild.”
With the 7-minute time limit mercilessly enforced (“How many of us have been to a reading that’s just too fucking long?”, asked Belknap), several competitors were cut off due to time constraints. And at the night’s end, Toronto was bequeathed the Chicago branch’s only slightly-defective analogue timer.
As part of WRITE CLUB’S commitment to “doing good without being annoying about it,” each writer competes for a charity of their choosing, with a portion of the night’s cover charge going to each organisation (which aren’t revealed until after the voting to avoid bias). Tuesday night’s beneficiaries included Red Door Toronto, PEN Canada and the Humane Society, with Evan Munday, Kirk Heron, and Rob Benvie claiming the evening’s bragging rights.
As the immense success of the Art Battle series has proven, there’s certainly a market for adding a little more audience engagement and competition into usually solitary artistic activities. Here’s hoping that the Toronto branch of WRITE CLUB achieves the same amount of word-of-mouth buzz and popularity as its American counterparts. So kids, be sure to follow the official first rule of WRITE CLUB, and “tell at least 5-7 people about WRITE CLUB.”