This month kicks off the national tour of Sister Spit, the self-described raucous, rowdy performance gang of queer poets, performers and filmmakers. The group of seven, including award-winning lesbian writer Dorothy Allison, will park its van in Chicago Saturday, April 14, to perform at the Chicago International Movie and Music Festival.
Begun in the 1990s by writer Michelle Tea, the Sister Spit tour was revived several years ago and has continued its popularity, drawing exciting new and well-known writers and performers to hop in the van and crisscross the country.
Tea is excited to have Allison join the tour this year. Allison has garnered accolades and numerous awards for her work during her nearly 30-year career. Her book Bastard Out of Carolina was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1992 and became a best-seller. It was also made into an award-winning film and, this year, the 20th-anniversary edition of the book was just released. Her 1998 book Cavedweller became a national best-seller and a New York Times Notable book of the year. She has also won several Lambda Literary Awards.
Allison, who has worked with Tea on other projects, said she has wanted to join the tour for several years, but due to a very full schedule of readings, teaching and events, this will be her first time climbing into the van. She will be on the first half of the tour, through April 15.
"I know what I am doing on Sunday," she said before the start of the tour. "The opening is on Sunday. I have prepared, because I am old; I have been on this rodeo before. I have three different sets designed, one is seven minutes and two are 10 minutes each."
She added, "One of the things that happens when you are doing this kind of program is a cross fertilization, and the work will change. I know this. I know there will be new work in the course of the program and I know that to a large extent we will start sparks off of one another. So I expect every program to be different."
Allison sees the Sister Spit tour as particularly important at this time because she said that even large universities are struggling to keep their arts programs intact and there is a growing need for low-cost, high-quality performances.
"I work a lot with Columbia College [where she was a writer in residence in 2006] and I am on the board of the media center there. ... One of the things that makes this tour and this kind of event even more important is that a lot of universitiesnot just small ones but big oneshave had drastic cuts in funding. So arts programming is becoming more and more embattled. One of the things that is happening at Columbia College has been a real budget struggle that is causing them to cut some programs and combine other programs. But what it means really is there is going to be a loss of programming all over the country."
Although times are tough, Allison sees a positive side to the struggle saying that hard times are great for writers. "When writers think they can make money, when they think they can make a killing and get a contract, they tend to actually start writing for an imaginary audience that might not be their best. But when you are hopeless, when things are just damn, damn bad you mind as well write what you really want to write. You mind as well take enormous risks, and I am seeing that in terms of young writers. ... It does encourage an enormous amount of experimentation and people striking sparks off of one another and doing the work they want to do instead of doing the work they think will sell."
The Sister Spit tour is always composed of artists taking chances and pushing boundaries with their work and CIMMFest is a great venue for the tour to plug into.
"It's such an amazing, visionary festival," Tea said. "Sister Spit has always been something of a mishmash, hybrid. We are literary, but we are performance, and we bring a lot of people who have multiple careers, like Brontez Purnell and Justin Bond, who both have music and performance careers in addition to being writers. I think we fit really well into a festival like CIMMFest that recognizes how genres and artists are multi-faceted and collaborative."
Tea had a special message to fans: "Beloved audience, we are going to blow your minds. Just like we always do."
In addition to Tea and Allison, this year's Sister Spit tour also includes Mx Justin Vivian Bond, Brontez Purnell, Erin Markey, Cassie J. Sneider and Kit Yan.
Sister Spit will perform at Wicker Park Art Center, 2215 W. North Ave., Saturday, April 14, at 8 p.m., followed by an afterparty at Beauty Bar, 1444 W. Chicago Ave., beginning at 10:30 p.m. Admission to the performance is $12 and the afterparty offers a sliding-scale admission of $5-$10.