The finale of Live Lit on the Lake features storytellers (left to right)…
When Write Club founder Ian Belknap was offered the opportunity to curate and host the free Live Lit on the Lake series as part of Chicago Park District's Theater on the Lake program, he immediately set three criteria: to balance the approach with both narrative-focused arts and essay, to represent the diversity of gender and cultural perspectives in Chicago's live lit scene and above all, to showcase the highest caliber writer-performers he's observed on stages across the city.
"People that are amazing writers but sucky performers are not live lit artists," Belknap said. "And vice versa—people who are really compelling, charismatic performers but can't write are not live lit performers. It's kind of like that two-chambered epoxy—one chemical without the other does not stick. You need both of these aspects in order to be truly riveting."
To that end, Belknap invited writer-performers who excel at both to appear in the series, which takes place on Thursdays and Fridays after the conclusion of each week's Theater on the Lake play. For the finale show, Belknap brings in three of Chicago's top storytellers—Shannon Cason, Dana Norris and Samantha Irby. We called all three to find out more and get a sneak peek into the story each plans to tell.
Live Lit on the Lake
Go: 9:15 p.m. Thursday-Friday at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive
Info: Free. 312-742-7994; chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/theater-on-the-lake---programming/
Claims to fame: Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award-winner for forthcoming essay collection, "Meaty;" founder of Guts & Glory reading series; blogger at Bitches Gotta Eat
Got her start: "My friend Alan was co-hosting the 'Sunday Night Sex Show' and he was like, 'You're not shy. Why don't you write a story about sex and come read it to us.' And I was like, 'Well, I gotta think of the grossest, weirdest sexual experience I've ever had.' So I wrote about it [laughs]. And then I was like, 'Oh, OK, I think I could read this in front of people.'"
She's a nerd because: "I have probably too deep of a knowledge of WWE [laughs] It's awesome to me but sometimes when I tell people, it's like, 'That's why you don't go on any dates—'cause you talk about, like, wrestling [laughs].'"
She's a badass because: "I can't [bleep]ing fight, but I negotiated with a crackhead once to keep him from stealing my Dave Matthews Band CD, which is both the most and least gangster thing that has ever happened. I was like, 'Are you really gonna listen to the Dave Matthews Band? What, 'Satellite' is your jam? Give me that!'"
Her story: "I'm going to read some new things from my book that's coming out in September."
Why Belknap booked her: "Samantha Irby is probably the sharpest observer and writer and crafter of diamond-edged jokes of anyone I've ever encountered. But the thing that renders it literary rather than just comedic is the fact that she's also unsparing in her honesty. In my view, she's what I want all live lit to be—unfailingly entertaining and unsparingly candid."
Claim to fame: The Moth GrandSlam champion; featured on NPR's "Snap Judgment"
Got his start: "I was writing fictional short stories—which I still love to do—and I went to Story Club. I saw [Dana Norris] just tell a story without notes about a jazz club in New Orleans. And then, I went to The Moth and I saw they were doing the same thing Dana was doing. I put my name in the hat the following week and I won."
He's a nerd because: "I'm a nerd and I've always been that. I was captain of the [high school] basketball team but also was a National Honor Society guy. Comic book collector when I was a kid; read a lot; avid library-goer. I ride my bicycle places—[laughs]—and the fact I said, 'bicycle.'"
He's a badass because: "When you fail in life as much as I have, you get to a point where you have an 'I don't give a [bleep]' personality. I had a divorce, business failure, laid off from jobs, foreclosed home, situations with custody. After awhile, you're just like, 'What else can you throw at me?' When you're figuring out where you're going to live next month, I could care less about having the audience looking at me. That's not scary to me anymore." [Laughs]