The Barbershop Reading Series: A Brand New ‘Do

Joe’s Barbershop
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

As soon as I heard about a new literary series starting up in SF, I was already down to check it out and support. But when I heard it was going to be happenin in a barbershop and I might have a chance to enjoy some quality fiction and poetry in the comfort of a barber’s chair, I was hooked.

If you’ve ever hung out at a barbershop, you know the deal. There’s a whole lot of smack talk going on, some from very reputable sources, some from some seriously shady origins, but no one stops to ask for references and sources, everyone just keeps on adding their own dash of Kool-Aid to the mix. And the one person who hears all the bravado and knows if it’s justified or not, is the barber. Part referee, part shrink, part minister, part sage, part part fool; this is the person who really knows it all but puts it all to the curb to focus on getting you your proper shape-up. Now imagine this source of so much orature actually housing some quality fiction and poetry literature readings… good times.

The first Barbershop Reading Series was jam packed with all the good seats taken quick but still plenty of space for everyone and the occasional straggler, plenty of refreshments and even some homemade cupcakes.

Kicking off the festivities was Barbershop Writing Group director Michael McAllister with a quick welcome and then going right to the first reader, Lorelei Lee. Lee’s reading was a beautiful story of mother and daughter connecting with each other as the 14 year old girl in the story comes out to her mom about losing her virginity. “Are you going to see him again?” mom asks. “I don’t think so,” says the daughter. Mom replies, “Sometimes it’s better that way.” And they proceed to celebrate with corner store champagne and Chinese takeout. A great story that bends in all the unexpected place to highlight what can happen when a family has enough love to expose all their dirt to each other.

Matthew Clark Davison was up next, gave us some background on his story, and then invited one of his other students (Lorelei is also in his class) to read the story. Lorena Laredo then read the piece–full of SF landmarks (even mentioning Joe’s Barbershop), ripe with introspection, detailed in the resolution over a recent tragedy–with a voice highlighting the nuance of the narrator. It was a fine moment for both Davison, a writer and teacher confident that all the work is on the page, and for Laredo, honoring the confidence her professor has in her speaking voice that (as Davison mentioned) also exists in Laredo’s written work.

Wolf Larsen was the musical guest and her acoustic songs added another layer to the evening. The refrain “You carry my coat/I’ll take your name” was haunting and strangely loaded with possibility.

Ending the night was Randall Mann whose work stay focused on one clear point, the realities of gay male life. Never focusing too keenly on overwrought drama or frivolous partying; Mann’s work finds a balance with the dark and the joy, using both elements like a film noir director would use smoke and shadow to obscure key characters and focus the bright streetlamp on the supporting actors. Mann achieves the same effect in his poetry shining a glaring light into the complexities of modern living.

Big shout outs to all the organizers for putting together a great reading for an audience that was focused on every phrase, music note and stanza and, most importantly, contributing to the future of literature by giving it a new venue to thrive.

More info on the Barbershop Reading Series can be found on their website, Twitter and Facebook.

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