Before entering HUB 302 last Wednesday, I really didn’t know what to expect from Sister Spit. As was seen from a panel discussion the performers put on earlier that afternoon, they were an extremely diverse bunch with different backgrounds and different methods of storytelling. However, when I kept hearing the term “spoken word” to describe this event, I thought it was simply going to be poetry. I could not have been more wrong.
The event displayed many types of mediums, ranging from poetry and novel excerpts to rap and film. The audience was just as diverse as the stories told, and sat eager to listen to what the poets had to say. The event was cheerfully hosted by creative writing professor Susan Straight and the LGBT Resource Center’s director Nancy Tubbs. In an interview, Straight commented on how much the students enjoy this event. “Students love the autobiographical stories brought by some performers,” she said, “and also the hilarious comedy by some others. The other wonderful thing is that since the writers and performers are often LGBT, and write about their experiences in the world, Sister Spit is really popular in the entire community, not just UCR but all over Southern California.” Straight was entirely accurate on all accounts. Sister Spit had me feeling many different emotions at once — the whole night was incredibly light-hearted, funny, inspiring and even depressing.
The event began on an inspiring note with Rhiannon Argo, a queer novelist from New York. She did a reading from her second novel, “Girls I’ve Run Away With,” a story about a 15-year-old girl who gets sent away to live with a Christian family after she is caught kissing her best friend. The excerpt she read was about her best friend rescuing her from the family and their confrontation with their sexuality. She didn’t do any quirky sideshows or use any particular voice while reading. She simply told her story as it was. As Argo said earlier at the panel, “I’m not a performer. I’m a writer.”
Beth Lisick was everything I wanted to be as a writer. She was able to take real-life situations and make them into witty and extremely sarcastic short stories. “Engagement Party” was hilarious and had the audience also feeling the hatred toward children screaming obscene things such as, “Take off your wig, you man!” Her other piece, “Asshole,” took the real-life situation of her being awkwardly bathed in the shower by a one-night stand and made it something to laugh at.
Dia Felix then took the stage, sporting all black except for her poems — which were printed on hot pink sheets of paper. Her poem, “To My Wife in California,” had a film accompaniment in the background. It was simply ocean waves and flower petals in puddles of water, a perfect description of California. Little jabs such as “beach yoga gangs and roller skates” made the poem quirky in its own sense and had me chuckling as I thought about the beach culture that she was making fun of.
The biggest applause came from Virgie Tovar’s act. It was incredibly inspiring and touching to hear how in love with her body she was. She is a person who has grown to love herself no matter what her size is (and indulges in lots of sex). Appearing with a giant pink lobster necklace and a picture of Miss Piggy in the background, she read her chapter in her anthology called “Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, and Fashion,” a collection of stories about women loving themselves in a fat-hating world. It was her life story about growing up overweight her whole life, but learning to embrace her body type and not care about what other people think. When talking about a time when she confronted a woman for whispering to her boyfriend that she was too fat for the dress she was wearing, she said, “My body was mine. I could wear whatever I wanted to wear. She needn’t be threatened by my short skirt and that I looked good — real good.” In a short 14 minutes, Tovar’s touching and humorous message had everybody whooping and snapping. There are countless PSAs about loving yourself just the way you are, but actually hearing Tovar’s life story and how she embraced herself through the hardships made the message feel more than just an advertisement.
The next performer showed everyone that despite being the tour manager, anyone can have a good time. As a member of Sister Spit nearly since its beginning, Jerry Lee Abrams — the guy in charge of planning and technology — came on stage and told a side-splitting story of a time when he went to a gay bar while on the road for another show. It was simply called “A Butthole Story” and it was about his experiences in a shady gay bar in the middle of nowhere. It was hilariously awkward to hear about getting “credit-carded” by a random stranger (and it was just as awkward to hear what the phrase “credit-carding” actually meant).
After finishing up the story, Abrams showed the audience a segment of a film called “Valencia.” The film is based off a novel of the same name by Michelle Tea, the co-founder of Sister Spit. Instead of asking for professional filmmakers to film an adaptation of the book, Tea asked 18 of her friends to film a chapter each; Abrams filmed Chapter 12. The film, in general, is about living life as a queer female in the Bay Area. Abrams’ segment featured a woman finding her lover in bed with someone else on Valentine’s Day, and her journey to figure out what love is. Despite the sub-par acting, it still brought a strong message about accepting one’s self despite the hardships in relationships. After hearing the loud cheering after the segment ended, I could tell most of the audience related to it.
While everyone was still taking in the laughter from shady queer bars, Straight’s performance quickly replaced it with solemnity. She shared a piece that she simply wrote in her journal and had never shared before. “I haven’t read it to anybody. I haven’t even shown it to my agent,” she told everyone. It was about a pregnant woman who was being held hostage. It was heartbreaking to hear, but everyone was fixated on her, and even after she was finished, there was silence in the room before the last performer made her appearance.
The night concluded with Chinaka Hodge. She had been all over the place by working on plays, spoken word and teaching poetry workshops, and first got her start when she was introduced to the organization Youthspeaks at the the age of 14. At the panel she said, “Youthspeaks literally saved my life by taking a knife out and putting a pen in my hand.” Ever since then, she has been on fire. She read a few pieces from her first book of published poetry about living in New York compared to her native Oakland. Her grand finale was what made her performance stand out — she performed a fast and fresh rap that was worthy of a head bang. It definitely was not what I was expecting as an ending, and people were shouting “Encore!” as Hodge was leaving as if they were at a rap show and not a spoken word event. It was a perfect way to close the night.
The whole event was extremely entertaining, not knowing what each artist was going to do. I felt like I was being blindfolded the whole night and having intense words being thrown at me. It was a very different, yet powerful, experience, and as Straight said at the end of the night, “Reading poetry is a different experience and makes you do different things.”