Books - Write Club's literary gut-punch

Tender Blood Sport' celebrates four years of Atlanta's popular reading series

"To best enjoy this book we recommend pouring a nice stiff drink ... Sit somewhere dark and maybe just three degrees warmer than is entirely comfortable." The introduction by Nick Tecosky and Myke Johns wrote for Tender Bloodsport Vol. 1 sets a volatile tone for the stories that follow — but then again, what else would Atlanta expect from Write Club Atlanta (WCA).

In the four years since its inception, WCA has amassed 128 podcast episodes and 45 live performances in the name of literary combat. With the release of Tender Bloodsport, Johns, Tecosky, and editor of Deer Bear Wolf Press, Matt DeBenedictis sought to extol the work of the 200-plus contributions that have been read from the WCA stage. The collection is a selection of 25 pieces, including works by Kate Sweeney ("On These Cave Walls"), Topher Payne ("Ghost Baby"), Johnny Drago ("When Its Waves Rise, You Still Them"), Regina Bradley ("Baby"), and CL contributor Brooke Hatfield ("Answer"). "There's so much good work that didn't make it into this one — we'd like to keep these coming in the future," Tecosky says.

Tapering down so much content certainly came with a host of challenges, one that the dynamic duo behind the show got a guiding hand from with Deer Bear Wolf's DeBenedictis. "Building a collection of so many varied voices and styles is kind of about creating a narrative out of how the words move within the imagination and the themes that develop," DeBenedictis says.

To the uninitiated, WCA is a monthly reading series that gives two writers opposing topics and pits them against one another on stage. Each writer gets seven minutes for their bout, with the goal to get the most applause from the audience. A portion of the evening's door money is donated to the charity of winning scribe's choice. In their words, "Write Club Atlanta is a reading series the same way a Sex Pistols gig was a music recital."

Four years have changed a lot about the way that the show's performers approach conflict. "The first few months we existed, this was very much a debate show," Tecosky says. "Over time, our writers started tinkering with the format, writing fiction, poetry, and personal essay."

Johns agrees. "It did not take long for our thoroughly Southern storytellers and weirdos to make the show their own," he says.

Now, after a summer-long hiatus, (WCA) will triumphantly return to the stage with the fruits of their labors. The book will be released at the Decatur Book Festival, with readings from Payne, Theresa Davis, Hatfield, and Gina Rickicki.

"They're all going head to head in the Write Club battle format," DeBenedictis says, "only it won't be opposing topics — everyone is reading their piece from Tender Bloodsport." This go-round, we'd say everyone's winning.

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