Basic stats: Located at 3258 N. Sheffield, one block north of Belmont, Sheffield's stocks 80-plus microbrews (complete with handy beer almanac), insuring this reading series lives up to its name.
Incorporated: March 20, 2005
Web site: Readingundertheinfluence.com
Fringe benefits: Three bucks gets you three hours of spirited prose punctuated with trivia. Winners stumble home with free books and more, naturally.
When: First Wednesday of every month from 7-10 p.m.
Up next: March 1 marks RUI's one-year anniversary and first open mic.
Some see the raucous, whiskey-soaked writer as a relic, or simply the stuff of romantic myth. Try telling that to Amanda Snyder, Julia Borcherts, Joe Tower, Rob Duffer and Carly Huegelmann, red-eyed hosts of the Reading Under the Influence series. Once a month these Columbia alumni pack a back bar at Sheffield's to prove that literature needn't be an overly sober affair.
While RUI readers pound Jameson shots between rounds of Faulkner and Harper Lee, audience members heckle, hurl commentary and bark boozy non sequiturs like "'canned ham!"' Past guests include notable locals like author Brian Costello (who stuck to buttery nipples), poet Bill Allegrezza and Dollar Store emcee Jonathan Messinger. Centerstage recently tipped one back with Amanda Snyder to find out what exactly has been driving them to drink.
How did RUI get started?
They started as fundraisers for another reading we had last June at the Hothouse. It was a much bigger, more formal affair. Just a little classier. Once the Hothouse reading was done, we realized we had a lot more fun at RUI, and people seemed to like it.
Rick Hess is one of the owners of Sheffield's, and he's also a graduate student in the [Columbia College] Fiction Department. I went to Readings in the Raw, a grad student reading they had there, and inquired how much the space cost. They said, 'Oh it doesn't cost anything, because Rick's the owner and he doesn't care.' That's how it got started.
Besides Columbia kids, who's your audience?
I guess the answer is people who read.
OK, fair enough. So there's not a typical RUI crowd?
Not really. I'd say mostly people in their twenties. I wouldn't use the word hipster, because it kind of has a bad connotation, but on the hip side I guess.
What should audiences expect from RUI?
We read short published works, ask trivia questions about those and take shots before and after. Whoever gets the most trivia questions right wins a book and a drink. On top of that, we read some of our own original work. We have guests, which are a very important part, and try to get people who have some kind of literary enterprise like an online zine or an actual print publication. We also have a theme. We've done suicidal authors, Chicago authors, war, banned books and first novels.
What's the RUI aesthetic? What sets it apart, besides the requisite hooch?
I think for one, we engage the audience and we want people to respond to what we're reading. Whether it's the published work or original work, we want people to shout something out. Definitely the trivia aspect keeps people involved and keeps it from just being reader after reader after reader after reader. And the drinking helps.
Who are some featured readers slated for 2006?
Everything's tentative right now. There are some ideas that we've tossed around, but nothing's set. We've talked about having Sam Weller, and we've asked Antonia Logue.
Which RUI host can't hold their liquor?
For much of it, Carly was pregnant, so probably her at this point. But once she gets her tolerance back up, she'll be fine. None of us have had any big mishaps there, though Joe always calls me the next day and it's 'Oh my god! What happened to you? When did you leave? Did you pass out?'
That's considerate. So what's your most memorable moment from past RUIs?
They're all a little hazy to tell you truth.
Well, there is a lot of alcohol involved.
Yeah. I'm going to come across as a real drunkard.