Considering Audience While Reading at Quimby’s

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Quimby’s is a fringe bookstore in Wicker Park, just a couple blocks away from the three-way intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee Aves. that is affectionately known as “The Crotch” and considered to be the city’s epicenter of hipsterdom.

Quimby’s is a mecca of zines, self-publishing, indie comics and small press books. Basically, they sell anything with pages that you can’t find at Barnes & Noble. Before I lived in Chicago, I made a point to go to Quimby’s each time I visited, and I’d always have an “Oh my God, I didn’t know this person still did a zine!” moment, and leave with a handful of stuff that I would have otherwise had to scour the internet for.

All this is to say that I’ve always loved Quimby’s and have wanted to read there for a while. So, when the folks from the Logan Square Literary Review (LSLR) asked me to read at their special Halloween reading, I was psyched.

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I showed up early and in costume as Maurice Moss from BBC’s “The IT Crowd.” I’ve usually got a bone to pick with Halloween costumes that only three people will recognize, but my girlfriend thinks that Moss is cute, plus dressing like him wasn’t much of a stretch: We’re both tall, geeky mixed dudes. All I had to do was put on my old horn-rimmed glasses and grow my hair for eight months. OK, the whole “No haircuts since the end of winter” thing started to suck in June, but it was nice to have a sense of purpose while scratching my scalp all summer. Oh yeah, I also had to shave my beard, and now I look like a turtle. Ugh.

The LSLR has been publishing quarterly since 2010 and I hadn’t had the chance to check them out yet, so the reading was a great chance to get to know their publication and to be exposed to writers who travel in different circles in this gigantic city.

I noticed that humor wasn’t a big factor in the stuff being read and I got nervous that I would be dealing with a more traditional lit reading crowd, as opposed to the rowdier audiences at Columbia events. Still, there was a cool variety of wrtiting: a former FBI special agent read morbid poetry, a bunch of eighteen-year-olds did a staged reading of a short play about “Ghostbusters,” and one of the regulars from the coffeeshop where I work read a poem that had the word “orgasm” in it more times than I could count on all digits. My mind was expanded.

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It was a pretty long event, and I read toward the end. Maybe that’s why the audience wasn’t stompin’ and hootin’ at “The Language of Hairzilla.” Maybe it was because “Hairzilla” is about being the black kid at a punk rock show, and some of the stuff I said made the majority white audience uncomfortable. Come to think of it, one of the two other black guys there seemed to be getting into my story (and he recognized my costume). I wish he’d brought some friends.

As writers, we need to consider our audiences. That could be trying to guess the questions that a reader would have, and answering them in a later draft. That can also be considering the reader’s interest: If a story’s about baseball, baseball fans will be predisposed to enjoy it, and there are a lot of baseball fans. If you’re a light-skinned guy sharing a story that (good-naturedly) makes fun of white people’s reactions to your appearance, who is going to relate?

I’ve heard that the more unique a detail is, the more universal it makes the story, because the specificity adds believability. But, can it go too far? Who is the audience for a story about biracial identity? I guess I’ll find out as I keep writing. As of now, I can cross “Read at Quimby’s” off teh bukkit list, and my girlfriend keeps looking at me and smiling.


Get to know the Fiction Writing department through its students’ writing. Here’s “No Birds” by Lex Sonne in Night Train. Lex was a couple years ahead of me in the program and was nice enough to get on the phone and answers questions once I got accepted, and to show me the fountain from the intro to “Married…With Children,” as viewed from the office of Fiction Writing Chair Randy Albers.