LIP SERVICE WEST: true stories

(Charles Kruger)

Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky night for me with two new experiences: I visited the San Pablo Arts District for the first time, and saw my first edition of Lip Service West: True Stories, a reading series hosted by Joe Clifford. Mr. Clifford, who spent a number of years as a self-described “homeless junkie,” seeks to present stories that are “gritty, real and raw,” “heartbreaking, embarrassing and brutally honest,” and expresses a preference for “the dark side.” Sounded good to me.

Two things I like about this series:

1. It is submission-based. This is always a big plus with me. I want to hear from writers who are not simply on the circuit. Not that there’s anything wrong with name writers, but variety is spicy, yes?

2. I love the submission pitch which states: “Writing experience isn’t as important as having a story to tell. We will help you tell that story and provide editing assistance. The only requirements are that the stories are true and 1500 words or less.” THIS is awesome. This sounds like real commitment to work that is true, and to the social and personal value of story-telling without artistic egotism or puffery. Way to go, Joe.

So, did the reading deliver? Well, yes. Although professionalism was well represented (in particular by award-winning and well-anthologized novelist April Sinclair), the writers were not your typical circuit performers. Joe Bryak, for example, reports that he has held 64 blue-collar jobs from roustabout to ferryboat deck hand. His story of an ass-whipping to remember is not the usual literary fare. Nor is Kaitlin McGraw’s description of her experiences as the one female player on a pick-up hockey team in Oakland.

Can you tell I enjoyed this reading? I did. I’ll be back. I might even submit a story. Joe Clifford is the kind of guy that makes you wanna do that.

Joe Bryak

Laurie Doyle


Scott Lambridis

Kaitlin McGaw

April Sinclair