Wit Rabbit Reading Series Curators Sara Wainscott and Sarah Meltzer: Making a Space in This Strange, Lovely City
Wit Rabbit Reading Series Curators Sara Wainscott and Sarah Meltzer: Making a Space in This Strange, Lovely Cityinterview and commentary by Matthew DeMarco
I came to the Wit Rabbit reading series through the happiest of accidents. I had just been acquainted with the work of Jamaal May by happening upon a dazzling poem of his, the defiantly lyrical work “There Are Birds Here.” I mentioned this to a friend when we met up at a Logan Square bar on Fullerton Avenue, and she told me that Jamaal May would, in fact, be reading down the street at Quenchers Saloon on Fullerton and Western the following week. I was impressed by the range of the reading series immediately, since it seemed to toss together new and seasoned readers from any genre, and I was of course delighted to find they were bringing fabulous poets to a neighborhood bar that I had previously known only as a stand-by venue for local alternative bands. Intrigued to learn more, I chatted with series curators Sara Wainscott and Sarah Meltzer.
Q: Are you at all affiliated with the website Wit Rabbit Reads (www.witrabbitreads.com)? Nothing on their website seems to indicate as such, but it's been listed as your website on some event postings. If so, how do you think the review website augments your work with the reading series? If not, has this led to any amusing confusion?
A: Nope, that’s not us! This is our old domain name but we said goodbye to our website a long time ago. We hadn’t noticed until now that our former name is now in someone else’s hands, and we have no stories of ensuing hilarity to report (at least, not with regard to this example). You can currently find us on our Facebook page.
Q: It's a bit hard to track down the history of the series. What can you tell me about how and why the series was founded, as well as how it's evolved over the years?
A: The series recently celebrated its fourth and a half anniversary, for anyone inclined to celebrate halves. Sarah is a co-founder and Sara has been active as her co-curator for more than a year now. Wit Rabbit came about as a result of a conversation about writing communities in general; Sarah had just begun writing again after a seven-year break, and she’d reconnected with some college acquaintances. At the time, it was a way to create space for those who hadn't yet found their local connections. From day one, we've always intended it as an open, inviting space that interacts with the larger Chicago writing community.
Since the beginning, Quenchers Saloon has been Wit Rabbit’s home every first Tuesday of the month. We now have a weekend series at Township (every third Saturday), in addition to our weeknights at Quenchers. What can we say? We have a soft spot for bars run by good people. As always, we continue to feature multigenre lineups of writers we love.
Q: Since Wit Rabbit was founded as an effort to foster connections among writers in Chicago, how would you say your experience curating the series has influenced your own writing lives over time?
A: More than curating this single series, attending a wide variety of readings and events is what influences me [Sara Wainscott]. There are vivid, strange, lovely things going on in this city that continue to put me in touch with the writers and artists and audiences that all get their energy from art and words and from this community. It’s hard not to hear about writers (and parents, which I also am) feeling isolated or working in solitude, and I get energy and good writing time from solitude, too. But, for me, there’s strength in the sense that there’s this whole other group of people all cheering for each other and interested in each other’s projects and experiments. I feel lucky that working with Sarah on Wit Rabbit is one way I can show up for other writers and listen.
Q: It seems that Wit Rabbit offers a wide variety. You feature multiple genres, local and traveling authors, authors who are beginning, emerging, and established, and then there's the aesthetic variety within each genre. What, if anything, unites the disparate readers you invite to read?
A: We’re not sure we’d count the differences in our readers as disparities. Even when starting with opposites, there are so many connections that show themselves—happy accidents, if you will. We prefer to let the kismet of this dynamic work on its own terms, so we don’t read our guests’ pieces prior to the show. One of the joys of hosting this series is experiencing how these pieces complement each other over the course of an evening.
Q: It piques my interest to hear that you don't read guests' pieces before a reading. Do you mean that you don't read what they will be reading that particular night in advance, or that you book readers without using their work as a criterion?
A: The former—although we regularly read work by the writers we feature in their publications or hear their work at other events, we do not subject work to submissions or screening ahead of time.
Q: How would you describe Wit Rabbit's mission? What role do you see it filling in the Chicago literary community?
A: Our goal has always been to create as much room as possible for as many literary voices as we can. We want to promote contemporary writers and poets. We want to create a friendly, sincere space where people can meet up and be part of a shared experience of words and ideas. We want to put different forms, styles, and genres in conversation with each other and see what sparks or explodes or burns the place down.
Q: How would you describe the Wit Rabbit audience?
A: Engaged and ready for action. Top physical shape and tons of sex appeal. A room full of 007s, in other words. We welcome anyone interested to check us out!
Q: What do you wish I had asked you?
A: Favorite post-reading snack: classic oven-fried tater tots with ketchup only! Midwestern perfection.
As the Sara(h)s mentioned, you can catch Wit Rabbit at Quenchers (2401 N. Western Ave.) every first Tuesday, or at Township (2200 N. California Ave.) every third Saturday of each month. That means your next chance to scope out a reading is Saturday, August 20, at Township featuring Holly Amos, Elissa Cahn, Russell Jaffe, and Matthew Kolb. If you miss that (and we all know you shouldn’t) your next opportunity will be Tuesday, September 6, at Quenchers featuring C. Russell Price, Michael Robins, Emily Rose, and Zoe Zolbrod.