In a city with a strong and ever growing literary community, City Lit Books’s monthly open mic stands out. Travis Steele began hosting the open mic a little over a year ago, and has worked to make it differ from others in the city.
City Lit Books is located on Kedzie just south of the square (2523 N. Kedzie Blvd.). It is the epitome of a neighborhood bookstore. It is bright, clean and spacious. Three large leather arm chairs surround a fireplace in the middle of the store; the perfect place to sit out a rainy Chicago day with a good book.
Steele’s open mic, which happens the third Wednesday of every month, does not stray from that ambience.
Although currently residing in Ukranian Village, Steele is a former neighbor of Logan Square. After graduating from Northwestern he spent a stint in Los Angeles, returned to Chicago and published his novella Tacky Goblin with Curbside Splendor. He is relaxed with a sunny smile, and seems right at home in those big leather chairs.
Steele’s goal was to create an open mic centered around community. He wants everyone involved to feel at ease reading their writing in front of a group.
“This one seems more friendly and comfortable,” Steele says of his mic in comparison to those around the city. “We treat it more like a variety show. I do an intro, someone reads, and then we compliment their work. It’s not a haphazard thing.”
The relaxed environment allows for anyone to participate. Although it takes place in a bookstore, this open mic is open to writers, standups, and even the occasional ukulele player.
“I expected to get some weirdos,” Steele says. “But everyone seems pretty socially adjusted.” He boasts about the poets, and says some use the mic to try out their memoirs or novels on an audience of fellow writers. It is the perfect place for a newcomer to test out reading. To make first timers more comfortable, Steele prints out excerpts they can read before they share their own writing.
A small crowd helps give the mic the feeling of a writing group. Usually around fifteen people come each third Wednesday of the month. Steele makes sure there is enough wine for everyone; another way he helps readers overcome their nerves.
Luckily, throughout the year not many people have brought in raunchy or inappropriate material.
“In college my friends would go to open mics in the city, which is a beast of its own.” Steele says again comparing his mic to other Chicago performances. “There people are mean, sexist, or just terrible. I mean we have kids wandering around, so if that was here I would just shut it down.”
For anyone looking to get away from the rowdy bar open mics, test out some material in front of a supportive audience, or enjoy a glass of wine in a cozy place with some fellow Chicagoans City Lit’s open mic is the perfect spot.