Personal, Updates

Notes on (& DIY listings more broadly)

In this post I talk about some of the motives and methods behind the website I recently put online, But before that I talk about some of my formative experiences and impressions of DIY listings projects. If you want to miss my nostalgia trip, skip to part II.

Part I

For a few years I’ve been “off” Instagram, which really means I don’t have the app and I log in via web once every few months for the DMs. When I spend more than a couple of minutes “scrolling” I start to feel that I’ve had acid (not the good kind) splashed on my personality. I hate the dizzying montage that the offal of so many lives makes in that ungenerous, monetized gridspace. (“Folks pan out like zeroism on the grid.” That’s the poet Elizabeth Willis out of context.) Occasionally I log on and post, but it always feels like a bad inside joke with nobody.

Like you (maybe), I remember when Facebook Events and tumblr were the sites for sharing underground shit. In Tivoli, NY, in 2012, my roommates and I would advertise our house shows and parties via Facebook. Later, in NYC, when I wanted to make new writer friends, I hung out at readings I learned about via tumblr. I also hung out at Mellow Pages Library (RIP).

When I first started hanging out in NYC, in the first years of the 2010s, the best way to find out about concerts in Brooklyn was Showpaper, the free print broadside of all-ages concert listings you could pick up in Williamsburg and Bushwick. My first Brooklyn apartment, in 538 Johnson, was the DIY concert venue Emet, founded by my friend Stuart Solomon. Emet became, eventually, Showpaper HQ.

I tried to launch a reading series on the roof of 538 Johnson called “Dirty Laundry,” but weeks before the first and only installment we found out we were being evicted and were strong-armed into canceling upcoming shows and events. The reading’s demise downspiraled into a contemptuous fracas; “Dirty Laundry” proved to be an apt name (but that’s a different story).

Stuart turned me on to Showpaper in 2009. At 18, I liked to take Amtrak down from the Hudson Valley to crash in his dorm at Pratt. Just walking around the campus made me feel hungover. I don’t think I had encountered a “sculpture garden” before, and I felt vaguely threatened by the looming, heterogeneous artworks. I remember that Pratt students looked wan and prudish. A typical afternoon-into-evening for us: we would pound a few cans of Campbell’s tomato soup in Stuart’s dank, sweaty cubicle of a room, then go busk in the Canal St. Q tunnel. (“Wagon Wheel” always netted us at least $5 per rendition.) We would use the money to buy pizza and cigarettes, and, if we had done really well, a record or two. I remember I bought Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. at Kim’s Comics and Records with busking money. We would use the rest of the cash as door money for a show. We would pick the show via Showpaper.

Fast-forward four years to 2013. I took a semester off from school to be an exchange student in Paris, improving my French and working on a translation of Herve Guibert’s L’image fantome (in classic form, I never finished the translation). A lonely foreigner, I wanted so badly to meet French poets and writers. Instead, I hung out with a friendly Swedish guy named Tobias who knew a lot about wine and whose father was a defense contractor. (Actually, Tobias is a professional writer now; he writes about wine.) I remember scouring Facebook for any poetry reading in Paris hosted or organized by a young person. I even went to bookstores to ask around, usually pretty stoned, and struck out. This made an impression on me: I felt certain that readings must be happening just beyond the periphery of my access. I do remember finding, via some kind of Parisian Brooklyn Vegan, that Japanther was playing at a DIY venue called Espace B; so I went there, with a cute girl from Chicago who I never saw again, and that was fun. My takeaway was that Paris had online infrastructure for DIY concert listings but nothing for readings.

Time went by. I moved to New York City, Showpaper shut down, and Facebook became a ghost town. That all made me sad. Though I had a Twitter account, I rarely looked at it until around 2021, and nobody posts flyers there. Events listings moved to Instagram, and I felt a certain amount of FOMO; I couldn’t bring myself to sort through the garbage to find them.

Part II

I recently started to wonder what a simple public listings site for readings could look like. I already had a personal Google Calendar called “Readings,” to which I added every event listing I came across, not because I intended to go, necessarily, but because I thought it would be nice to have the option if I thought of it. I wondered if other people kept similar calendars, and then I wondered what would happen if we all merged our calendars into one and then published it.

I feel aware that every writer and reader has a different “picture” of literary culture in New York City, and also that “literary culture,” for many, means “me and my friends.” I like that (it seems right to me). For some people, the scene revolves around various humanities grad students with Twitter accounts, or star contributors to high-minded outlets like The New Inquiry and n+1. For others, it revolves around queer community and/or punk or zine culture. For others, it is centered in, or is an organ of, activist work. For others, it is bound to finding new expressions of taboo or transgressive ideas and aesthetics. For some, it is made in particular literary journals, magazines, presses, MFA programs, or bookstores. I don’t mean to offer these as examples of why anyone writes (or doesn’t write, or wishes to write); rather, I offer them as examples of how writers organize themselves socially. Literary culture takes many forms and involves many commitments, and those forms and commitments overlap in varying combinations within each writer and reader. I have my own feelings about what’s worthwhile, but that’s not what this post is about.

What I’m getting at is that because everyone’s sort of siloed in some picture of literary culture, everyone’s calendar of readings (part of the the social dimension of literary culture) is probably different. I started to think that if many people across various scenes combined their efforts to catalog/document NY’s readings on a single public calendar, an interesting, multivalent portrait might emerge; and that might be useful for someone—let’s say someone who has recently moved to New York, or anyone who wants to become more involved in literary community. I think literary community is, in all of its manifestations, special and important. I wish for it to be a major feature of metropolitan life, which it already is anyway; but I wish for it to always become more important, based on my general belief that literature, being the mostly unsellable outgrowth of sincere, personal, and imaginative labor, has the power to antagonize what the poet Christopher Nealon has called “the successful capitalization of everyday life” in America. And I really wish for it to find noncommercial channels by which to thrive and grow.

Following a conversation with my poet friend Theo Ballew, and a shorter conversation with the poet Eddie Berrigan, I went home, registered the URL, and published my own calendar of readings to it. Then I invited others to collaborate on the calendar. Right now there are about 30 editors working on the calendar, and I’m hoping to add more. I am envisioning a very low barrier to entry: I’d like to invite anyone who is earnestly invested in New York’s literary culture(s) to be an editor, with the following caveats: (a) I don’t want to invite PR professionals to administer the calendar (b) I don’t want to make anyone an admin who will (or might) sabotage the calendar in any way (since everyone has full edit access). I want the calendar to reflect a grassroots, bottom-up, good-faith approach to organizing literary culture.

A few weeks after I launched the site I saw that the calendar was absolutely stacked with events. I felt excited but also overwhelmed by the vision that the calendar presented, with many days presenting four or more simultaneous readings. I considered See Saw, a pretty low-fi gallery-shows app that I like, and its “editors’ picks” function, which narrows dozens of listings down to a handful. I wanted to implement something like it for litevents. The question was: how? Would I solicit each editor to make one selection each month? That posed a few obvious problems: for one, with 30+ editors, that would amount to 30+ selections, not exactly an inviting list. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure that approach would amount to legible curation, due to the sheer number of disparate voices it would involve. So I had the idea to tap one editor each month to make “monthly picks.” That way, each month’s picks would reflect one editor’s “picture” of literary culture in New York. I liked that idea; it seemed to highlight the multivalent nature of New York’s literary scene.

I can imagine some objections to this project, which I want to think about below.

One might object to how the site obscures differences among events. A conversation between two laureled authors at the 92Y with a $25 cover will of course be very different from a zine launch in Ridgewood with seven readers followed by karaoke. If one were to discover these events independently on Instagram, certain features of each listing would tip one off to those differences; the design of the flyer and the account promoting each reading, for example. On, the presentation of both events will be similar, the title of each being an alphabetized list of the readers. The description field will contain largely the same datapoints (genre, ticket price, all ages or 21+, etc.). This means that it will be up to anyone encountering the site to determine which events might be of interest based mainly on who is reading (or based on a familiarity with a given venue or sponsoring organization). In order to make an informed decision about which events to attend, any visitor will need some sense of the landscape; the barrier to entry is not nothing. One who knows nothing about the landscape might, of course, just hit “Editors’ Picks” and roll the dice. That seems good to me. I would have loved the opportunity to do that in 2012.

Another objection might center around privacy. Gate-keeping is part of literary culture, just as discussions around gate-keeping (and dismantling barriers to access) are part of literary culture. Some event organizers might object, on the grounds of overexposure, to having their events listed. The maintenance of control over how an event is advertised might be meaningful to different organizers for different reasons. To that end, I’ve asked editors to only list events that are discoverable via public websites and/or public social media accounts. Events promoted by private or locked social media accounts will not be added. Though I have OK’d house parties and rooftop readings, I’ve asked editors to get a personal OK from hosts before listing them. This is something of a compromise; it could be that a person who promotes her events publicly would still not want them aggregated. Any request by a host to unlist a reading will obviously be honored.

Some might simply think that a flattening, open-access approach is lame and dilutes literary culture, which very obviously thrives on the narcissism of small differences. To that criticism I would simply respond: too bad. Though I have been thinking about the fine line between accessibility and overexposure. I am not advertising beyond my personal Twitter account (of ~400 followers) and I am not creating any associated social media accounts. I hope that the site spreads mainly via word of mouth, which, so far, it has.

I want to end with a note on the “Notices” section beneath the calendar. I devised it with a couple of models/ideas in mind. I wanted it to be like, or to reflect in some ways, the comments sections of the lit blogs I used to visit (like HTMLGIANT). I hoped it would be a place where people would shitpost & sound off. But I also wanted it, in some ways, to be like a little Craigslist where people could post trade rumors, news, personals ads, missed connections, open calls, publication announcements, publishing promotions, etc. I am hoping it might develop into a funny little ecosystem (that hasn’t happened yet, but I can be patient). I thought it would be OK to charge a couple of bucks per Notice because hosting isn’t free and because I have spent many hours working the site. People seem OK with paying for otherwise free stuff when it’s meaningful to them, like podcasts (via Patreon); people also seem willing to donate to support small sites. I thought the Notices section might be a good way to give people an opportunity to pitch in and get something in return. My current plan is to raise the price of a Notice by $1 per 1,000 pageviews and cap it at $5.

That’s all I have to say for now re: DIY listings and The site is now averaging ~100+ hits per day, which is exciting to me. I hope it continues to grow organically among those who care, and that people will find it useful. Maybe in a post–social media world, when the internet is all static webpages and federated clusters, some younger person will attend a reading they discovered on litevents and will experience the feeling of social inclusion that I used to experience at the DIY shows I discovered via Showpaper, or the readings I discovered via tumblr. That thought makes me happy.