Out at the RADAR Reading
By Cindy Bailey 9.6.05
I've been meaning to get over to the Main San Francisco Public Library for one of Michelle Tea's monthly RADAR readings for some time now, and finally I made it. Billed as “a showcase of underground and emerging literature and art,” I had to admit, I didn't know what to expect, if there would be ten people or 80, if the readings would be lively or somber.
As it turned out, there were over 100 people. More chairs had to be retrieved, and still, people sat on the floor and stood in the back, all eager to hear that evening's line-up of fantastic readers: Jessica Arndt, Stanya Kahn, Beth Lisick, and Harry Dodge. Google any of these folks, and you'll see what all the fuss was about.
Even so, I was assured by regulars that seats usually fill for this event, which puts average attendance around 60 (if I count the chairs). Impressive.
So what's the draw? Is it the diverse cast of readers Ms. Tea manages to line-up, the charismatic and energetic presence of the famed Ms. Tea herself, or the home-baked cookies she brings to these readings? Well, I think it's all of that.
Jim Van Buskirk, the Program Manager of the Gay/Lesbian Center for the Public Library, introduced Michelle Tea , creator and host of the event, among loud “woo-woo's” and boisterous clapping. Tea wasted no time getting right to the readings, but not without first apologizing for the raisins in the oatmeal raisin cookies, in case anyone didn't like them.
First up was Jessica (“Jess”) Arndt , who has published in the anthology, Bottoms Up , among other publications. Jess read a sailor story that infused her own telling right into the famous text of Moby Dick, blending elements of past and present (such as, well, circuit parties, for one). The result was a telling rich in atmosphere and detail.
Next up was Stanya Kahn , an established performer, dancer, and writer, who drove up from Los Angeles for the reading (with fellow reader, Harry Dodge). She also brought her cute, amazingly quiet nine and a half month old baby.
Kahn read “Hell,” which described in rich, colorful, and rapidly-paced detail, her version of hell on earth. She covered a lot of territory – from Bush the Devil to reality TV, keeping us laughing all the way through. One sequence involved working at Macy's and having to help the models dress, models with “veins like Vietnamese spring roles.” Her 12 or so years as a performance artist came through as she mocked the voices and accents of the models.
Up next: Beth Lisick , who has published three books, most recently the hilarious account of her growing up, Everybody into the Pool. She also runs the monthly Porch Light Storytelling series, and has recently released a film, “Diving for Pearls.”
After telling us an amusing anecdote about her brother (and wanting to play his message for us from her cell phone), she moved on to reading from her latest book. As always, in front of an audience, she was energetic and full of expression. Her reading was filled with over-the-top descriptions about her high school years. Expressing the need to be more focused by doing something in which she “had shown some aptitude,” for example, she takes on Extreme Tanning, telling us about the marathon television watching she had to give to do it. Hilarious, all.
Last, but certainly not least was Harry Dodge , writer, director, and performer. She co-wrote and directed the film, “By Hook or By Crook,” and created the award-winning coffeehouse/cabaret, The Bearded Lady right here in San Francisco.
Although she claimed to be panicked for not being in front of a mic for a while, there were no signs of it in this seasoned performer. She read an imaginative and humorous tale that was peppered with funny characters named mostly after musicians or bands, such as Air Supply, Neal Sedaka, Chuck Mangione, and Barbara Streisand. I got this quote down: “I was strapped to a potty seat for 2 years… until workers found me…”, which may give you a glimpse of the story's flavor.
After an hour of readings, the writers were asked to take seats behind mics at the front of the room for the Q&A session that makes up the second hour. That was when I understood about the cookies. It seems when you ask a question, Michelle brings you a cookie. What a treat!
In all, a lively event. Check it out next month.