When Mia Lipman moved to Seattle from San Francisco in 2011, she was delighted to find that our city had an “active, supportive literary scene.” But no matter how hard she looked, she couldn’t find her favorite kind of reading: the dive-bar cabaret, combining readings with stand-up comedy and musical performances. Back in San Francisco, she says, “it was par for the course to invite bands or comics to perform between authors.” Her search came up empty, “so I decided to start one myself,” Lipman says.
The boneyard of expired Seattle reading series is vast. In that graveyard, the long-running shows with devoted followings—Red Sky Poetry Theatre, Breadline, Cheap Wine and Poetry (recently departed but perhaps not deceased)—are hugely outnumbered by an anonymous collection of long-forgotten attempts to get something started. A successful reading series is a community unto itself: People feel safe there, eager to return, and enthusiastic about relaxing and letting their guard down in public.
This week at Chop Suey, the series that Lipman started, Lit Fix, celebrates its fourth anniversary—a milestone that something like 95 percent of most fledgling reading series never reach. Readers include Brian McGuigan, Robert Lashley, novelist Laurie Frankel, Quenton Baker, and Kathleen Alcalá, and the $5 door charge benefits ReWA, a nonprofit that benefits the families of immigrant and refugee women with culturally sensitive assistance.
Lipman says Lit Fix’s goal as a series has always been simple. She looks for writers of all kinds—“established and new authors, poets and essayists and novelists, women and people of color and queer and traditional voices”—and asks them to share their work. “There’s never a topical theme, but I think the best nights have been when everyone onstage and in the audience winds up on the same page,” she says. A particular high point was a winter 2013 reading at which Harold Taw, Corinne Manning, Indu Sundaresan, and Jason Kirk delivered “stories about transition and discovery, dirty haiku, [and] ugly Christmas sweaters” to a standing-room-only crowd.
What advice would Lipman give someone starting a series? First, she says, attend “as many readings as possible first to get a sense of what’s already out there and what kind of niche you can fill.” And then, once you know what you’re trying to do, “Never be afraid to ask your dream author to read for your series! Writers and musicians are amazingly generous with their time and energy, and they’re often looking for new ways to connect with each other.”
To people who have never attended Lit Fix, Lipman acknowledges that it’s “easy to retreat in winter, and that solitude has value. But being part of a community means you need to leave the house now and then to meet people where they are.” Once you exercise the effort, “nothing feels better than cozying up with like-minded people in a relaxed space to hear someone brave open up their head and show you what’s inside.” Stop being a recluse and go see why Lit Fix has survived for four astounding years. “I promise it’ll keep you warm,” Lipman says.Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., 324-8005, chopsuey.com. Free. 21 and over. 7 p.m. Wed., March 22. Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.