The HUB was abuzz with excitement this past Tuesday when students and faculty members gathered for Sister Spit. Sister Spit is a queer-feminist group that began in San Francisco in 1994 as an open mic night for females in response to the other open mic nights that were predominantly male. But since then the group has grown, and they have been touring since the late 90’s, headed by Michelle Tea. The program, put on by UCR’s creative writing department, was a night of immense talent, filled with Sister Spit’s talented poets, novelists, singers, performance artists and filmmakers.
Tea, the co-founder of the group, is the author of numerous creative works including novels, poems, stories and articles. Tea has been the host of Sister Spit every year, and each year she is accompanied by a different group of artists and performers. They tour for 30 days in a van visiting various cities and campuses across the U.S.
Distinguished professor of creative writing Susan Straight was very involved in bringing Sister Spit to UCR. Straight met Tea at a reading held in San Francisco, and after hearing about the wild, talented and diverse group, she knew it would be an event perfect for UCR students.
The night began with a reading from Tea’s novel, “Rose of No Man’s Land.” The story focused on two girls and their adventure hitchhiking. Despite a seemingly dangerous encounter with the driver and other passengers, the audience was in hysterics thanks to the quirky fearlessness of the character, Rose.
Straight said of Tea’s work, “Michelle Tea, the organizer, has a huge following for her own fiction, which is edgy and hilarious.”
Kit Yan then took the stage and energetically recited poetry from his new slam poetry CD, “As We Fell.” He focused on themes of struggle and love, carrying the audience with an animated voice and exaggerated hand gestures. In one poem entitled, “Plastic or Paper,” he immersed the listener in the odd comedy of his family’s habit of reusing plastic bags and jars to save money, and save for their future. He recited, “[They used] any sort of package that could have another life, so that we could have another life.”
Next, Cassie J. Sneider read from her story “Sugar, Sugar” about two sisters and their mother on a Halloween night. The sarcastic voice of the piece entertained listeners as they laughed at her humor. Sneider recalled the events of that Halloween night and how she was only able to purchase a “sexy wizard costume” which she wore over a sweater and looked like a, “bargain fright-mare.” The narrator decides that “trick-or-treating is boot-camp preparation for real life.”
Performer and playwright Erin Markey took the stage as a little boy with a baby-doll named Secret while singing a very racy and hilarious broadway style song. She sang to audience members and urged them to put money in the baby, making all listeners giggle with nervous laughter. She returned later as herself singing about personal struggles. She sang, “Come up for breath…They call my name, but it’s the water that’s so loud.”
Professor Susan Straight and Professor Nalo Hopkinson also shared a reading with the audience. Straight selected a deeply emotional passage from her upcoming book that she has been working on for about a decade. The passage was about a tragic incident and a young man in love with a beautiful, troubled woman. Hopkinson read a passage from her science fiction/fantasy novel that detailed the suspense prior to a desert battle.
Following the readings, a short film by Hilary Goldenberg was shown. The film was based on a chapter from Michelle Tea’s book, “Valencia Memoir.” The scenes depicted a group of friends deciding what matters while on shrooms, and it incorporated both photos and claymation.
Writer and musician Brontez Purnell read some racy and astonishingly funny stories from his upcoming novella about partying, drinking and health. He explained blackout-reviews—having to piece together the night before after too much partying, and he explored the difficulty of homelessness from an intimate perspective, all while winning over the audience with laughter.
The final reading was done by Dorothy Alison, legendary author of “Bastard Out of Carolina” which has reached its 20th anniversary edition this year. Straight described Allison as, “The godmother of fiction writers because she writes without fear or hesitation about some of the darkest parts of American working class life—the love and violence and tenderness of families, the way women have to fight to break free and then fight to keep loving those they left behind, and the way young artists often have to leave to reinvent themselves.”
Allison read a heartbreaking excerpt from her novel, “Bone,” about a little girl who is abused by her father. At one point, Allison, aware that the audience was filled with many aspiring writers said, “I hope for you writers that you write a book that you love. That it does what you want it to… and 20 years after it is published they release a 20th anniversary edition.” As one of the group’s inspirational figures, Dorothy said that Sister Spit is here for the “difficult material.” Perhaps that best describes Tuesday’s performance. Through the harsh, sometimes disturbing, and eccentric expressions of each artist, there comes a message full of humor and humanity.