WRITE CLUB: literature as bloodsport, or beware the ids of march
The pressure was on at the Make-out Room when Write Club took the stage. The boisterous host of the night was Steven Westdahl, a team player (or “cornerman”) for Write Club. He jumped on stage and barked the rules out for newcomers like me: This literary fight club consists of three bouts by six writers, each allowed seven minutes to complete their piece. Tonight was a special case with an extra mini bout at the very beginning between Steven Westdahl and Casey Childers, the other SF cornerman. Each bout consists of one prompt versus its opposite (up vs. down, for instance). Though the writers prepare their pieces beforehand, some during the night did not get to finish; when this happens, one of the hosts rushes onstage screaming, “SHUT UP!”
While the hosts are not exactly subtle about the time limit, the evening is in good fun and the winning writer gets to choose a charity that receives one-third of the night’s proceeds. The audience plays a part in the readings by picking the winner of each round: the writer with the most applause — and the nod from an unbiased judge, chosen out of the audience — wins.
It was my first time visiting The Make-out Room in the Mission District and I will admit, I would go again. It wasn’t too big but once you walked into the bar, it was just cheeky enough to be adorable. When you looked up, the ceiling was covered with shiny, silver garlands all making their way to the center of a giant disco ball. My personal favorite was the enormous bear-skin rug hanging on the wall next to where I was sitting. The red ambiance created the perfect mood for snarky, hilarious bouts of writing.
All of the rounds began with rock, paper, scissors in order to find out who went first. The first mini bout had the prompt of Less vs. More and was a little sloppy. Westdahl came on stage with confidence and had several hilarious things to say about the idea of “more”, but Childers won the round. The first major bout was Friend vs. Foe and was my favorite because the two writers, Childers and KQED writer Lizzy Acker, both brought it to the stage. Childers was hilarious with his prompt “Friend”, and had the audience laughing throughout his piece when he spoke of his mother advising him to ramble on about different species of animals in order to make friends. Acker, on the “Foe” side of things, encouraged the audience to heckle her in order to prove her point that it’s worth it to have foes in life. She also read from some of the Internet’s negative comments of her book, as well as her writing for KQED. The comments were really funny, yet truthful to how raw and negative the Internet can be. Childers took home the miniature golden trophy for that round, too. Read an interview profile of Childers, which contains an exclusive reading, here.
The next major bout was “All vs. One” and it featured the host, Steven Westdahl, and newbie Brooks Finnie. Finnie unfortunately lost the rock, paper, scissors and went first. His performance was a tad cluttered and he seemed nervous being onstage, but his piece was more thought-provoking than the others, with a dark twist. Westdahl’s performance, though, was my favorite of the night. His prompt was “All” and he nailed it by reading a mock OkCupid account. Mixed in with the snarky, bitter humor of the dating world were dark and emotional moments of heartbreak and pain. It was an extremely ranged piece that was delivered with ease. It was clear that Westdahl won that round. Here he is from a previous show:
The very last bout was “Lead vs. Follow”, with the two contenders being Adriana Valencia, three-time Write Club winner, and Nora Brouder, a Modcloth writer who had her posse in the audience. Valencia went first with her “Lead” prompt, reciting all of it from memory. The piece was about a family in New Jersey that takes in a group of Illegal Aliens… that are actually aliens. The idea of “take me to your leader” was brought to a new level: these aliens baked pies, chopped off their fingers in order to regenerate them, and were deeply emotional when watching 1970’s porn. Brouder, whose “Follow” prompt involved her childhood desire not to follow trends (specifically when it came to dressing herself in elementary and middle school), owned up to wearing pleather pants. Her quirky dress style evolved her into an independent college graduate who now works at Modcloth, a clothing company for young girls. It was an empowering piece that ended up winning the round.
This was my first time attending a Write Club event and it did not disappoint. I brought a friend along with me to the Make-out Room and upon leaving she turned to me and said, “I wonder when their next event is.” I thought the same thing. It was a night filled with laughs and great writing. Write Club puts on their shows every third Tuesday at the Make-out Room, and you don’t want to miss it!
Erica Arvanitis is a Litseen intern and a senior at SFSU for Creative Writing. She is originally from San Diego and enjoys writing short stories, eating burritos, and watching TV in her free time. She hopes to write professionally for a magazine when she grows up — any magazine will do.