This coming Sunday, we’re taking Stories & Beer “on the road,” by which I mean we’re moving from Urbana all the way to the wilds of downtown Champaign. Sunday is the kickoff of the Early Spring Literary Festival, with readings by William Gillespie and Amy Hassinger at the Figure One Gallery at 4 p.m. We wanted in on that hot Lit Festival kickoff action so, instead of trying to get everyone back over to our home at the Iron Post, we had the idea to turn the March Stories & Beer into what we’re calling a “reading crawl / afterreading / afterparty.” Which means a short walk from Figure One to the Indi Go Gallery for readings by Jim Ruland, Dave Housley, Chad Simpson, Ted Sanders, and Laura Adamczyk, all starting at 6 p.m., BYOB-style. We also invited Christopher Newgent to come set up his DIY, flea market style table of some of his favorite indie press books. Here’s a bit more about what Chris is up to, and what to expect on Sunday.
Chris, first off, I was just wondering if you could describe VOUCHED a bit. Your goals, how and why you started it, what exactly it is. Color in between the lines a bit, if you will, for those not in the know.
Christopher Newgent: Vouched is basically me and a table of books put out by independent publishers. I take my table around to art and literary events in Indianapolis and elsewhere and peddle them. It’s grown into a reading series hosted at the Big Car Arts gallery now as well, and a website where I and other contributors recommend our favorite works from online journals.
I started Vouched as a way to promote independent literature in my city. Essentially, it’s hard for independent publishers to promote themselves beyond the Internet, beyond the people who already know they exist. So, Vouched is my way of taking this independent literature to people who otherwise might not know it exists or where to look for it online.
Second, why an art gallery? Was it just what presented itself to you, or were there other side benefits that a gallery offered that some other venue might not, or…?
Newgent: I was looking for a place to hold the readings, and didn’t want the Vouched Presents series to be just another coffee shop reading. Espresso machines are loud, and let’s face it: beer is good.
Big Car had a built in reputation for promoting innovative arts around Indy, and I knew from attending events in the past that they didn’t have a problem with libations, so it just made sense to me. Plus it’s an all-ages venue, unlike if I chose to have the reading in a bar, and one of my goals is to get a good mix of young and old at these events–show kids literature isn’t just some boring ass old people snapping fingers at each other.
Jim, I know (being as how I’ve read at one) that you’ve hosted at least one reading at an art gallery, though your reading series (Vermin on the Mount) started and is primarily based in a bar. Can you echo any of Chris’ sentiments, or disagree, or just otherwise add a couple of cents about how venues play a role in events, and maybe what you’ve especially liked about art galleries? Also, maybe grace us with an anecdote?
Jim Ruland: The venue definitely sets the tone. Bars are risky because they tend to be boisterous places so you have to walk the line between a crowd that’s attentive but not afraid to laugh or participate or, if need be, get up and refill their drink. Lighting has a lot to do with it, too. In book stores you don’t know where to look. If someone coughs, or scrapes a chair leg on the floor, everyone stares. The lighting is great for reading spines and not much else. Everyone is on display and it’s uncomfortable. Galleries are great because people are free to interact with the art in a way that’s meaningful to them. Most of the time its a kind of passive interaction, which works in the readers’ favor. In a gallery you can say, “Shut up while I tell you a story” but that’s probably not going to go over so well in a bar.
At the last Vermin on the Mount event in San Diego, a local artist, Perry Vasquez, (who did a Hobart cover) did a cool participatory/installation type thing. He nailed some nails, strung some string, and clipped cards printed with the letters V E R M N (for some reason five letters works better than six) and asked people at the reading filled out the acrostic: e.g. various eggheads run maniacally naked. Then Perry read all the cards aloud. Impressively, there were only two “vaginas.” So, yes, galleries open the possibility for other kinds of happenings.
And, finally (for now), I asked you to come to town and be a part of this Stories & Beer for a few reasons — I just wanted to hang out, I wanted to ideally give you the opportunity to sell some books, I wanted to expose some non-Indy writers and reading-goers to what you’re doing and kind of show off what I think is a great idea, wanted some local peeps to hopefully buy some great indie books, and this specific reading we’re mixing it up and doing it at a gallery which seemed to be a nice echo of what you are doing. I know I sat next to you at a bookfair in Chicago — is traveling with VOUCHED something you’ve considered much of? Any ideas on the advantages or disadvantages of this?
Newgent: I’ve grown to love traveling with the table. People respond to it. People at Big Car are starting to get use to me being there. I’m starting to have repeat customers every month at the First Friday Gallery Walks, which is awesome, but people aren’t as inquisitive about me and my books as they were 6 months ago when I started. So it’s nice to go to other cities sometimes and get to talk to other people and show them what independent lit has for them. It’s also a great way to find people who might be interested in coming to town to read for Vouched Presents, and what I’ve found to is that the more I go out, the more people want to come in, so it feels like Indy is starting to really connect with other cities around the Midwest: Chicago, Champaign-Urbana, Muncie, &c. The Midwest really has a lot to offer, and it’s becoming more and more apparent to ourselves and everyone else as we get more and more connected. My goal is when Ruland goes back to the West coast, he has something awesome to tell everyone about how kickass we are.
Ruland: You mean besides Aaron’s suspenders?