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Q & A with Sister Spit's Michelle Tea
In 1994, Michelle Tea cofounded the queer spoken word collective Sister Spit as an open-mic night. Over time, the collective took their show on the road until deciding to call it a day. Since starting the collective, she has released numerous books and eventually revived the collective in 2007. Sister Spit: The Next Generation will make their way to The Voice Shop on April 9th. We caught up with Tea and asked her a few questions about the importance of queer literature and what Sister Spit is all about.
Michelle Tea - I am Michelle Tea, I founded Sister Spit in the 90s first as an open mic and then as a national tour. I select the performers each year, host the shows and also read from my own work. I'm also the editor of Sister Spit Books, an imprint of City Lights.
Fresno Famous - I'm not sure if Fresno has seen anything like Sister Spit come through before. Could you tell us what it is all about?
MT - Sister Spit is a traveling, cabaret-type event that features a succession of individual performers who in some way work with literature or storytelling. The show is always overwhelmingly, if not entirely, overly queer and feminist in its content and style, and tends towards a punkness or street-ness in its aesthetic. The hallmark of the show is an often mind-blowing merging of humor and heartbreak, hilarity and tragedy. Sister Spit keeps it real by any means necessary.
FF - Who can we expect to see at the Fresno stop?
MT - You will see me, reading either from the introduction to the new Sister Spit anthology or from my new young adult book A Mermaid in Chelsea Creek; Danny Levesque reading from his debut novel Hairdresser on Fire, about a young, KISS-loving boy who wants to be a clown but grows up to be a disgruntled stylist; Texta Queen, an art star in their native Australia showing portraits of people of color as heroes of post-apocalyptic action movies, with colonialism being the apocalypse of course; Cristy C. Road reads from and displays illustrations from her graphic novel Spit and Passion, her story of coming of age in the closet in Cuban Miami, and how finding Green Day and punk set her free; award-winning novelist Ali Liebegott reading from her latest novel, Cha-Ching, the story of a down on her luck Genderqueer girl looking for love and stability in 90s brooklyn; and accordion stylings from DavEnd, who sings and monologues about street harassment, fashion and emotional connection and makes people in the audience cry every night, myself included.
FF - This is called the next generation of Sister Spit. What factors led to it's reformation?
MT - In 2007 I published an anthology of queer female writers under 30 called Baby Remember My Name. As I was putting together the book tour for it I noticed a lot of people inquiring about Sister Spit - both people who had seen us and people too young to have caught us were asking if I'd ever do it again. Recognizing that the book tour was absolutely in the spirit of Sister Spit, I decided to name it that. And the tour was so fun and successful I decided to keep doing it.
FF - Why is queer literature so important?
MT - Queer Literature is just literature, so if you are interested in literature, and story, and the way it works to connect you to the world and human experience, then, you know, queer literature has its place within that vast collection. Because we live in a queer-phobic society it is important for those with a vested interest in art that speaks to queer experience to champion it, so that it doesn't get lost or censored, and that is one thing Sister Spit does.
FF - Some might say that queer literature reaches a very niche crowd. How receptive have people who are not familiar with this type of literature been?
MT - Again, queer literature is just literature; anyone who has read Jack Kerouac or Dostoyevsky is familiar with the type of story Ali Liebegott is telling in Cha-Ching, for example. We get a great reception wherever we go. At colleges especially, young people trip less and less on who they or anyone is attracted to. I think we're seeing a queering of our culture as a whole- not fast or strong enough to keep actual queers safe or protected, but we'll get there.
FF - Life on the road as a group of traveling writers seems like an interesting time. Could you share any interesting tour stories?
MT - It's really fun, like a slumber party on wheels. We hang out and drink caffeine and talk and look at magazines and listen to Pit Bull and Sylvester. Our big story so far is how we got sugared up on discount Easter candy and decided to take an alternate route through Nevada that would bring us past Area 51. At the last minute we realized it would turn our 17 hour drive from riverside ca to Walla Walla wa into a 21 hour drive, so we abandoned it.
FF - Any books or essays you would recommend to Fresno Famous readers?
MT - Why yes, all the books our performers have written! The Beautifully Worthless, The IHOP Papers and Cha-Ching! by Ali Liebegott; Bad Habits and Spit and Passion by Cristy C. Road; Hairdresser on Fire by Daniel Levesque. Sister Spit: Writings, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road, edited by Michelle Tea. Also my books Valencia, The Chelsea Whistle and Rose of No Man's Land. And from our special Fresno guest Lillian Faderman, who I worship, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers and Naked in the Promised Land.
Sister Spit: The Next Generation will be at The Voice Shop on April 9th at 7pm. It is a free event. The Voice Shop is located at 1296 N. Wishon in the Tower District.
Sister Spit 2013 tour teaser: