01 Mar AWP’s Literary Cabaret and Why Baltimore Is So Cool

We in Baltimore make fun of the “Greatest City in America” slogan blazoned across the city’s park benches. I don’t know whose idea this was but, obviously, the slogan begs for mockery. I mean, let’s get real. Most of us would prefer “Charm City” as a slogan because we are, at bottom, a Southern city in the best sense, which is to say that we’re friendly and casual. And, yes, strangers here will likely call you “hon’.” That said, if we’re not the Greatest City in America, we’ve got to be one of the coolest. If you live here, you know what I’m talking about. Baltimore is quirky and diverse and arty in all the best ways. A case in point would be the Literary Cabaret we put on last Friday night.

Some background: as the president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs , I am obliged (happily) to raise funds for the organization so that we can continue to help writers, as we have since 1967. Just this past Friday, I hosted a one-night-only Literary Cabaret fund-raiser at Frazier’s, a bar in Baltimore’s quirky, down-home Hampden neighborhood. Our outstanding roster of readers and performers brought in a great turn-out – Frazier’s was packed. We enjoyed a wide array of readers of poetry and fiction, interspersed with musical acts and even a couple of videos by writers. Many of the acts highlighted writers who also happen to be musicians. Madison Smartt Bell, for instance, the internationally acclaimed novelist, is also a composer and performer of rock music. Novelist and short-story writer Geoffrey Becker, who won the 2008 prestigious Flannery O’Connor prize for short fiction, is a blistering blues guitarist.

What made the event a success was the generosity of these many writers and performers, coming together for an evening of fun and sharing—it made for good vibes. Let me be frank: I’ve never been among so many artists where so little ego was on display. That’s why Baltimore is so cool There’s lots going on and, sure, plenty of ambition, but very little attitude. This modesty seems the legacy of Baltimore’s dock-side, steel-making past. Nobody came to Baltimore with expectations of wearing gold cufflinks or silk ribbons.

Here’s the roster of writers, performers, and editors who participated in our event:

Madison Smartt Bell, Victoria Vox, Rahne Alexander, Joseph Young, Atlay Washington, Michael Kimball, Liz Sesler-Beckman, Jessica Anya Blau, Jen Michalski, Geoffrey Becker, Todd Whaley, Ron Kipling Williams, Linda Joy Burke, Patricia Schultheis, Susan Durraj, Stephen Reichert, Adam Robinson, Clarinda Harriss, Eric Heavner, E. Doyle-Gillespie, Pete Pazmino, Nicole Pekarske, David Bergman, Chris Toll, Kevin Robinson, Justin Sirois, Stephanie Barber, Johndre Jennings, Kendra Kopelke, Shirley Brewer, William Tandy, Mary Azrael, Jen Michalski, representing the following publishers and organizations: Baltimore Review, Smartish Pace, Eight Stone Press, JMWW, Brickhouse Books, Publishing Genius, Passager, Narrow House Recordings, Rahne Alexander, Jazz Caravan, Michael Kimball, Joseph Young, Linda Joy Burke, Poetry for the People, Geoffrey Becker, Aware & Outraged and Victoria Vox.

Much thanks all of these people and organizations. Also let me thank ever-energetic Rosalia Scalia for her help with PR, also Christine Stewart for help locating some of the talent, my ever-conscientious student volunteers – Lizzie McQuillan, Jillian Delos Reyes, Amy Wilson, Samantha Harvey, Dan Corrigan, and Ed Poche – Ray King and Frazier’s for the great space, Scott Netro, and Jill Eicher for the photos and logistical management.