Writers get scrappy for charity.
Writers aren’t generally thought of as combative types, but if the success of Write Club—a self-proclaimed “bare knuckled lit” competition that re-imagines writing “as blood sport”—is any indication, Toronto’s writers are just raring to get in the ring with one another.
Originally founded in Chicago in 2010, Write Club was meant as an alternative to stodgy literary readings. The format is fairly simple. There are three bouts, each with two opposing writers, defending two opposing ideas. (Previous Write Clubs have had combatants defending the various merits of “Rock” versus “Roll” and “Give” versus “Receive.”) Each combatant gets seven minutes to write an argument, and the audience picks the winner, who donates their prize money to a charity of their choice.
Alicia Merchant, host of popular local storytelling show Raconteurs, heard about the Write Club concept, and felt like it would be a hit in Toronto. A trip to Chicago, to see Write Club in action, confirmed it for her.
“I knew if I wanted to bring the event to Toronto—which I think is exploding with amazing writers and storytellers and comedians and performers—I’d have to see it first,” she said. “So I found out when the next Write Club was happening and bought a plane ticket to Chicago. Four weeks later, I was meeting [Write Club Chicago founder] Ian [Belknap] for the first time and watching an event that wasn’t like anything else I’d seen.”
Merchant started Write Club Toronto in October and recruited local stand-up, sketch, and storytelling veteran Catherine McCormick to host the show. McCormick says the response from the writers, who range from journalists and bloggers to creative writers and comedians, has been fantastic.
“They all love the concept and support the show every month, too,” McCormick said. “To see what someone can pull together with such short turnaround is amazing—anything from an essay on music history to a short story about a failed presidential candidate, and dozens of other amazing pieces. It’s all very mind-blowing and inspiring. Plus, the writers tend to start wrestling-style beefs over Twitter and Facebook in advance of the show, and there’s nothing more fun than a grudge match for the sake of charity.”
Monica Heisey is a writer and comedian who splits her time between Toronto and the UK. She will be making her Write Club debut at the January edition. She says that even though she’s used to putting her material out for public consumption, she’s still nervous about writing in head-to-head competition.
“The idea of writing some kind of short-story-slash-conceptual-meditation-slash-what-have-I-even-done and then presenting it to a room full of strangers and friends is taking me back to grade school presentations on things I don’t know about,” says Heisey.
Overall, McCormick and Merchant say they are thrilled with how Write Club is going so far. In fact, there’s only one thing they’d like to change: the audiences. While the event has been drawing strong crowds, McCormick says she’d like to see the crowd get a little more fired up.
“The audience, while comprised of lovely, talented people, are also distinctly Canadian in their total inability to select one writer to vote for,” says McCormick. “They always want to politely clap for both. This drives me berserk. Every month, I yell, I cajole, I threaten. I even told them I was going to chuck fried chicken at them, to no avail. The only thing I can think of is that they just love the heaping abuse. It’s a very BDSM relationship we have, the audience and I.”