Every first Friday of the month, pre-coronavirus, of course, some of the city’s best writers would congregate at Auntie’s Bookstore for 3 Minute Mic.
The open mic event allowed established writers and new voices to share their work, three minutes at a time, to the audience whether they were seated or browsing the shelves.
The COVID-19 pandemic quickly cleared the Auntie’s Bookstore event schedule, but the Auntie’s team is working to bring back a bit of regularity via virtual 3 Minute Mics. The next event is 7 p.m. Friday via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86074398133.
Three Minute Mic is the creation of Spokane poet laureate Chris Cook, though it was Auntie’s events coordinator, Claire Davey, who reached out to Cook for his thoughts on taking 3 Minute Mic to Zoom.
“Right now the book industry, generally, is reckoning with what it’s going to look like to move to basically exclusively virtual events,” she said. “All during quarantine when I was laid off from here, I was scheming about how we were going to make that work.”
In an email, Cook said he was delighted to get the call from Davey.
“Throughout COVID, they’ve done such a marvelous job of serving their customers within the limits they face, and this is one more example of that,” he said. “I also co-host Broken Mic, Spokane’s other poetry open mic, via Zoom, so live poetry fans are being well-served.”
After the idea of turning 3 Minute Mic into a virtual event began to take shape, Davey enlisted the help of her big family, who all joined a Zoom call, so she could practice leading Zoom events.
“Three Minute Mic is really important to us,” she said. “It’s long-running. We have a really good relationship with Chris, and it really is a community event. It was really important to me to bring it back in whatever capacity we could as quickly as we could at the normal time on the normal day as some sort of semblance of normalcy.”
The first virtual event was in May and featured five readers.
“The May one was shortly after George Floyd’s death, so to get on and do some reckoning with other 3 Minute Mic members through that felt really meaningful and important to me, that that could be the venue for communities coming together,” Davey said. “It’s a really special thing.”
Last month, three people read. Audience members included people who no longer live in Spokane.
Davey said in-store 3 Minute Mic events usually bring about 10 readers to the stage.
“We’re still in the catching-on phase,” Davey said. “And I think a lot of the regular 3 Minute Mic attendees, Zoom is going to be a pretty new thing for them, maybe.”
Aside from the fact that it no longer takes place at Auntie’s, Davey doesn’t think anything is lost when 3 Minute Mic is virtual. People are able to chat on the Zoom call before the event, and Davey and Cook don’t mute anyone’s mics so performers can hear the response from the audience.
“That’s really what we wanted. We wanted some semblance of normalcy,” Davey said. “I really feel like nothing gets lost except for maybe whatever intangible being-in-the-bookstore feeling there is, but we can wait for that.”
Cook, who also performs with the Spokane Symphony, agrees that the fellowship of the live 3 Minute Mics is still present during the Zoom events, but misses “that sense of oneness with a packed room. … The thought of one day returning to live events is what gives me hope for the future.” One challenge of hosting virtual events? “Poetry doesn’t get interrupted by dogs barking at Auntie’s.”
The way Davey sees it, there is a lot of waiting to be done before 3 Minute Mic can return to Auntie’s.
“Auntie’s is pretty committed to not doing any in-store events for probably the foreseeable future,” she said. “But also, the book industry is changing.”
Davey spends a lot of her time making requests to publishers for writers to visit Auntie’s and, though she is pitching for dates in the winter, said she has received a lot of feedback along the lines of “If we need to move to a virtual event, we will.”
“I think this might be the future because it’s less expensive, less uncertain,” she said. “I think this is what we’re looking at.”
But until the day when 3 Minute Mic returns to Auntie’s, Cook hopes the virtual version, and other digital poetry events, continue “allowing us to access the best that humanity has to offer: art.”
“In this case, literary art served up in 3-minute adventures,” he said. “Some of them are tragic, and, blessedly, some of them are comedic – it’s all of the above, it’s free, and it’s what we need. Join us, and I think you’ll agree.”
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