What’s Your Story?

Homespun literary events are popping up all over town

Standing at the microphone at the Kavarna coffeehouse in Oakhurst, Joe Morgan apologizes in advance for ruining everyone’s appetites. He then drawls darkly from Blood Beneath My Feet, his memoir of working as a death investigator. He talks of Jerry Lee Lewis; the occupational hazards of slipping and falling in a body’s decomposition fluid; and his mean-as-a-rattlesnake daddy. Then he connects these images to the memory of being summoned to the scene of a murdered baby. The shell-shocked audience blinks before erupting in applause.

Photograph by Raftermen Photography

Morgan was preceded by Kate Sweeney, waxing droll in her public-radio diction about artificial coral reefs made from cremated ashes, and me, with a tangy tribute to the legendary stagecraft of a local exotic dancer. Our tales are part of True Story, a bimonthly nonfiction reading series.

A decade ago, Atlanta’s nonfiction scribblers, fabulists, and jaunty hacks enjoyed little casual camaraderie outside of Manuel’s Tavern, but today, with a growing number of trendy venues and edgy formats, we just can’t shut up. Poetry slams have been around awhile, as has storytelling with puppets and folkloric themes, but this rising din of glib, polished “over-sharing” across the city celebrates, more than anything, the personal essay.

“I wanted to bring a spirit of community and playfulness to the solitary pursuit of writing,” says Sweeney, thirty-three, who helped launch True Story in 2009. “Now there’s this renaissance of storytelling that is hip but doesn’t take itself seriously, though we take our work seriously.

>> PODCASTS: Hear stories from the Write Club [WARNING: EXPLICIT]

In keeping with this antic sensibility is Write Club Atlanta (think Fight Club), a monthly bout of “bare-knuckled literature as blood sport” pitting verbal pugilists against each other for three rounds of wordsmithing on opposing topics—“light versus dark,” “here versus there”—with heavy metal accompaniment and other campy WWE effects at PushPush Theater in Decatur. “This is to your typical literary event what an Iron Maiden concert is to classical music,” crows coproducer Myke Johns.

Carapace, a sort of anecdotal karaoke at Manuel’s, does not permit notes. Speakers riff extemporaneously on preset themes such as “scars” and “faking it.” “At least once in every event,” says director Randy Osborne, “someone’s soul opens up, and we all get that connection of beauty and intelligence that we look for from each other.”

For a literal pastorale with petting zoo, check out the Goat Farm, where “creative risk is nurtured” with chatty programs such as VouchedATL and Word Exchange. Kill Your Darlings ATL is a cheeky collective for readings and workshops around East Atlanta coffeehouses, and Reali-Tea meets at TahCha Tea House. Meanwhile, the old-school Wren’s Nest, homeplace of Joel Chandler Harris, who popularized the “Uncle Remus” folktales, has been reconstructed for a more diverse audience, with a have-story-will-travel troupe called the Wren’s Nest Ramblers that presents in African American oral tradition.

“The reason these events are suddenly popping like corn is that people are hungry for narrative that comes from the pipes, lungs, and breath of another person,” says Osborne. “It’s not a connection you feel from Facebook.”

True Story at 8 p.m. on December 9 will feature John Jeremiah Sullivan, Thomas Wheatley, and Justin Heckert.
Write Club Atlanta, monthly at PushPush. Check website for listings. writeclubatlanta.com
Carapace takes place at 7:30 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month at Manuel’s Tavern
reali-TEA meets at 7:30 p.m. the third Thursday of the month at TahCha Tea House. 

Candice Dyer is one of our editorial contributors.
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