The organization celebrating fiction and creative non-fiction has influenced the Tampa/St. Petersburg cultural scene with appearances at 'zine fests, Keep St. Petersburg Local's Localtopia day, and Life Improvement Radio. Its storytelling and open mic events have expanded to locations beyond the Bay Area such as Orlando and Sarasota. Through Wordier Than Thou, founder Tiffany Razzano has come up with inventive ways to showcase longer literary forms often eschewed for poetry and music during open mics. Razzano organized the event, and four cafés and bars along downtown St. Petersburg's Central Avenue hosted readers and audiences thirsty for inspired words and drink specials.
My favorite jaunts were Sawgrass Tiki Bar and Community Café, which Lit Crawlers visited second and third on the tour. Sawgrass's vibe was one part tribal, one part natural homegrown, and all parts cool with its tea menu alongside harder drinks and private cut-out seating areas decorated with bamboo wall covers and cozy curtains for doors. There was something appropriate in my sipping what was called the Missionary's Downfall as Cole Bellamy read his "bar poems." His pieces explored sobering emotional truths of life, an underground cave dwelling mythic being whose presence could wake and shake the land, and, of course, extolling odes and recipe guides to bourbon and martini -- which, by the way, is already the plural form of the word, as one of the poems explained. I was tempted to indulge in another low-priced cocktail special or try one of their teas with Bellamy and Lynn Waddell's readings, but I wanted to save room for whatever culinary and beverage fare the next crawl stops might have had to offer.
By nature and accident, Community Café turned out to be the most intimate of the stops. Its layout resembled a cozy mom and pop eatery with a couch and armchairs around a designated spot close to the counter to convene over a meeting, crafting -- the adjacent side table featured bins of scrapbooking items -- or board game. The café also had a "conscious" feel to its vegan menu -- though you could add certain meats to their entrées for an extra charge -- and its artwork displayed on the walls. One that caught my eye and rang bitingly true was a painting comprised of hypothetical newscasts spanning budding socialite Barbie's public emergence to her death, a commentary about how we and the media put celebrities on a pedestal for accomplishing nothing of import. Because the PA system was either not working or set up, Von Simeon and Sheree Greer had to stand close to the crowd and project as they read. Under the circumstances, Simeon delivered a manifesto about making St. Petersburg a literary community that writes and publishes its work, then made a drinking game out of her performance: take a sip every time the city of Juarez or forms of the F-bomb come up in an excerpt from her action thriller-themed social commentary I Blew Up Juarez. For the curious, I counted seven sips by the end, but my tallies could've been off.
Greer’s piece, which she wrote the day before the Crawl and edited up until her turn at the figurative mic, was one of my favorites. A diatribe as drunk on anger and heartache as it was on alcohol, it told from the first-person perspective how the narrator and her ex-girlfriend started out in a frenzied and passionate relationship with spontaneous trips to romantic destinations like Paris, where they bought a bottle of silky wine they intended to open on their honeymoon. References to Santana’s music, pop culture movies, and a heart-stealing, blood-spilling African love spirit colored the piece with frenetic life, even as the narrator described her lover becoming a different person and challenging her desire to get married with the realities of a settled life -- jobs they don’t skip out on to vacation out of the blue, joint bank accounts, and the like. The closing line may have been meant to be funny, but to me, the narrator’s declaration that the couple should’ve been “training to be Ghostbusters” instead of arguing was a sad, poignant lamentation that she needed to "bust" the phantoms of their doomed relationship that continue to haunt her.
Grand Central Lit Crawl was a fun way to enjoy a night out downtown, listen to quality writings, and socialize with fellow authors and literary enthusiasts. Word has it that Razzano may be planning more Crawls later this year. For those who missed it this time around, when the next one comes back to town, it's definitely worth taking a shot.