Sister Spit’s New Generation of Queer Poets & Rebels: The Autostraddle Interview

I went back inside to wait to interview Michelle. While I was waiting, I overheard the owner of The Trunk Space telling the members of Sister Spit about the young woman who had designed his logo. Turns out, this artist also happened to be a Suicide Girl. Interesting, right? Then I sat down on the stage with Michelle, and this is what I said:

credit Amos Mac

credit Amos Mac

Laneia: So, first of all, are the girls handpicked for Suicide Girls — SUICIDE GIRLS!? NO. He just said!-
Michelle Tea: [laughs] Yeah, I go to the Suicide Girls website and just ask if they write. No, yeah, I pick everybody.
[omfg]
Laneia: [laughing] Ok! Because I read that in the beginning [Sister Spit v.1] they were picked out of a hat. Was that a joke?
Michelle: No, it’s not a joke. I mean, we always edited who went into the hat.

The idea behind that came in the 90s from the experience of running an open mic for two years. There were so many people to pick from, and it was hard to make those decisions, especially if we were friends, and we WERE friends with everyone, and besides it was too big and hard to figure out who would be good. So a hat seemed the fairest way to do it. Occasionally we’d pull someone and think, “oh, actually, that wouldn’t work,” because we wanted to make sure to pick people that aren’t just strong performers but also were serious about writing, people who knew that writing was what they were on earth to do, you know? We wanted to get people who’d use the opportunity to really create a writing career for themselves.
Laneia: And that’s what you’re doing with these girls.
Michelle: Oh god yeah. Absolutely. I couldn’t bring anybody who just thought it was maybe like a hobby. Sometimes you never know what people will end up doing with their work or what the rest of their lives will hold, but I always bring on people who are talented and take themselves seriously. And that aren’t going to be crazy in the van.

Laneia: How does the Next Generation tour differ? I mean, how is the world different than it was for the first tour?
Michelle: It’s different in a lot of ways. I mean, it’s different in that we were definitely coasting on a wave of popularity of spoken word — for whatever reason it was really popular and hugely popular in San Francisco and similar cities across the U.S. There hadn’t been poetry slams yet, and spoken word was this cool new thing. So that’s different. It’s not happening like that now, but our shows are still successful in spite of that, but I feel like there was that. It’s hard to know what is the world having changed and what is me having changed, do you know what I mean?
Laneia: Yes.
Michelle: When we first went out, it just seemed almost scary. A lot of people who had come to San Francisco came because they had lived in other places where it was really unsafe to be queer or have an alternative gender expression. Everyone sought refuge in San Francisco and then to leave and go back out into the country felt really scary. You know? It really did.
Laneia: [nodding ferociously]
Michelle: And it just doesn’t feel that way [now]. Obviously there’s still hate crimes and crazy people everywhere. But I don’t know if it’s just that I’m used to it and I don’t feel as traumatized? A lot of people who carried a lot of trauma from being queer then, so it was a real act of bravery to go out and to do this. And I think it still is, in a lot of ways. But that felt more acute. It doesn’t feel as acute now.

And I also think there’s a feeling of safety in people knowing of Sister Spit and the reputation we’ve built up. Maybe it’s an illusion of safety, but that feeling is still there, that we’re out doing this thing, and we’ll be protected by the fact that people know us and love us, and we’re gonna be okay.

And because we’ve been doing them for so long, our shows are bigger. We have the most amazing tour booker now, it’s great. We get to do COLLEGES now, which we didn’t do in the ’90s!

Laneia: You didn’t do any in the 90s?
Michelle: I didn’t go to college, and the person I was doing it with, Sini Anderson, she didn’t go to college. And it was like the whole world of college– it wasn’t like, “Fuck it.” — we were like, “How do you do a college? What kind of colleges are there?” I think if you go to college you like, know. You know about various colleges because you’re considering going to them? We just were completely ignorant about that whole world and din’t feel colleges would want us. So it’s great to do them now ’cause we get paid! The tour is just entirely different. It’s more professional, which sounds weird, but it is, because these are working artists so we need to add an element of professionalism to sustain i and to respect the performers as working artists.

for The Popsickle Project | credit Amos Mac

for The Popsickle Project | credit Amos Mac

Laneia: A lot of the performers said that the reason they’re doing Sister Spit is for the adventure and also to get themselves out there. Why are you doing it?
Michelle: Oh, I just love it. It’s so much fun. I’m the kind of person, if I find something that I think is really cool, I want to show it to everybody. You know? So it’s kind of like that. I’m really lucky, and I’ve been doing literary curating for over a decade. I know a lot of different performers, and to me it’s almost like that idea of the, “Who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?” game. Who would I want to bring in the van; who do I want to know about each other and to get to travel together. And it’s just really really fun! As much as I’m on the earth to write, I’m also on the earth to bring writers together and put on shows like this. It’s really important for writers. If anyone has the energy to do stuff like this, they should. Because not a lot of people do. I don’t know how I do.
Laneia: [laughs. nay, giggles]
Michelle: But I do.

michelle teaLaneia: I read a 2004 interview you did with Velvet Park and you said, “If a space doesn’t exist for you, make one,” which I thought was really powerful. Do you feel like your space is made now? And also, how does it feel to know that you’ve made a space for other people?
Michelle: Well, yeah. I mean, I feel like I have a big space. The thing that’s really cool is I feel like if you do something really doggedly and with a lot of focus and energy, it just builds. Everything you do just builds on the next thing that you do. You just have to stay focused and continue to do SOMETHING, and it’ll just keep happening. [smiling:] Do you know what I mean? So it’s like, everything that’s happening right now absolutely is happening because of the open mic that happened in ’94. Do you know what I mean? There were a million steps in between to make everything, to give me the writing career that I have now.

And I love helping other people. I’ve been completely helped by other writers. I got my first book because Eileen Myles, without me even asking her, just took it upon herself to help me get published. And the writer Inga Muscio hooked me up with her publisher for my book, “Valencia.” The writer Stephen Elliott has helped me get published in The Believer.
Laneia: Your Believer piece on Beth Ditto was awesome.
Michelle: Oh, thank you.
Laneia: So good. [what I wanted to say was WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT POVERTY AND CLASS MEANT SO MUCH TO ME. I WANTED TO SAY THAT. –laneia]
Michelle: Thank you! So yeah, writers are really generous with each other.
Laneia: What kind of books do you recommend for young queer girls? Especially those who aren’t living in a really supportive environment.
Michelle: Ali Liebegott’s “The Beautifully Worthless” and “The IHOP Papers,” Eileen Myles, they should read “Cool For You” and “Chelsea Girls,” and she’s got a ton of poetry, too, so they should read all her poetry. They should read Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina.” Linda Barry’s “Cruddy,” look at whoever’s toured on Sister Spit and see what they’ve written. And they should read all of that [laughs]. And it’s really cool, you can look at presses. If there’s a book that you find that you feel really excited about, you can look at the press and you can see what other things they publish. Especially if it’s like, a little off the beaten path, it’s probably on a small press and they probably publish other writers that are similar.

Laneia: What’s your favorite weather?
Michelle: Aww [laugh] hot. Hot weather.
Laneia: What’s your favorite breakfast?
Michelle: I am kind of partial to eating like, yogurt and fruit and stuff on the daily. But for like a crazy breakfast, I like biscuits and gravy and I like cheese grits.
[and then my Southern heart exploded into a million tiny pieces of LOVE]

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Sister Spit will be roaring through the countryside all October-long. Take a look at the tour schedule and make plans to go see them for yourself! Be sure to take plenty of cash because the merch table is awe-inspiring and you’re going to want to take home one of everything. If you miss them in October, do everything in your power to catch the brand new lineup in April!

Special thanks to Amos Mac for allowing me use of his gorgeous photographs. Rhiannon and Amos collaborated on The Popsicle Project, which featured some big name homos like Brontez from Gravy Train!!!, Michelle Tea, and Sister Spitters past and present, such as Cristy Road, Sara Seinberg, Ben McCoy and Nicole Georges. It premiered during Pride month all over the walls of the Lexington Club in San Francisco and is now a purchasable book! Amos is also Editor-In-Chief of Original Plumbing, a magazine dedicated to the sexuality and culture of FTM trans guys. I’m recommending the hell out of this publication. Issue #1 is out now and available at all Sister Spit shows!

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Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and you're the reason she's here.

Laneia has written 919 articles for us.

26 Comments

    • thank you! i should send this to all future interview candidates so they know what’s up. so they’ll know that they shouldn’t expect to actually have time to answer the questions, you know? wheeee! um, but srsly, thank goodness we have interns b/c otherwise, OMG.

  1. Yay, Green! You’re so adorable. I would give my left *anything* to talk to Michelle Tea. They are coming to Chicago on Saturday to a small/independent bookstore right by my house. I was going to go to roller derby, but I think I may have to change my plans.
    ———————
    Since Michelle Tea mentioned poetry slams- the man credited with starting the poetry slam movement, Marc Smith (http://marckellysmith.com/ ), still actually runs open mics/poetry slams on Sunday nights at the Green Mill in Chicago. For anyone in the area who is interested, I highly recommend it. It’s a good mix of newbies, regulars and professionals.

    • i’m so glad you got tickets to the show! can’t wait to hear about it. they do different stuff in each city!

      i think there are poetry slams here, too, but of course i’ve never ever been. omg what would i wear to a poetry slam?? jeans, probs. yeah? jeans.

      • AMAZING. It was amazing. My only regret is not being able to go to the after party or sticking around long enough to catch Ariel Schrag not being busy so I could gush and get her to sign something like I did with Michelle Tea and Rhiannon Argo. Michelle said *this* article is amazing (of course I had to mention it!) and was hysterical adorable amazing. So was everyone. Ben was talking to me while we were hanging outside before the show (she had a cigarette, I had a decaf pumpkin spice latte) and I feel like a tool because in the dark/out of context I didn’t realize who she was until we went inside. To start her performance she threw off her coat to reveal a mesh dress over a bikini and started dancing to Lady Gaga. Then she yelled, ‘Is this all you think trannies can do? Cut your hair, sell MAC at the makeup counter and *this*?!’ We had a local Chicago poet, Carina Gia Farrero, in place of your AZ person, and the tour manager, Sarah Adams, showed one of her hysterical short films (‘Butthole Licking’), otherwise we had all the same people (reading slightly different things.) Oh, and special guest DJ SpinNikki played music before/after the show. I bought Kirya’s chap book, Black Chick, and Ariel Schrag’s choose-your-own-adventure. I’ve already got/am reading Rhiannon Argo’s book, and I own all of Michelle Tea’s stuff, obvs.

        • i read that entire comment w/out taking a pause/breath because that’s how i imagined you saying it. I’M SO GLAD YOU WENT ALL CAPS! <333 [and i'm glad/squealing that you talked to M.T. abt this articleeeeeeee!]

  2. “And I feel like I’m at a point now where I need to force myself to be who I want to be.” –I’m at the exact same point right now! I just need to jump in & allow things to be scary & exciting & beautiful & awkward. Autostraddle helps.

    This is really well done & I’ll definitely be looking to order some of their stuff!

  3. I got the opportunity to see Sister Spit in Orlando of all places in like 2002 or 2003? Michelle Tea read my favorite passage from my favorite chapter of my favorite book (at the time), “Valencia,” and then she signed a copy for me. Best night evar.

    Their tour comes to Brooklyn next Wednesday, for those in the NYC area who are intersted.

  4. This was magical Laneia! You were awesome… I am bummed and slightly embarrassed I’d never heard of Sister Spit until now being that I am a writer living in San Francisco! ugh totally sad. I have been lucky enough to see Beth Lisick and Rhiannon Argo read before buuuut still what an opportunity to have all of these wonderfully talented writers and women on stage at once! April Sister Spit shows here I come. Thank you for sharing this! made my day seriously

    • thank you!! i hope the tour comes back to phx in april because i’m already there. i bet SF is so full of queer poets and authors – you’re so lucky! i read a lot of interviews with SF-based authors leading up to this piece, and practically everyone talked about the need to get out of the SF “bubble”. and then these women said the same thing! do you ever feel that way? where do you go to escape the queerness?

  5. This is so good! I will comment intelligently again tomorrow but felt I could not go to sleep without saying how interesting and fun this whole piece was. next you will be interviewing Van Halen.

  6. Firstly when you texted me and said you were gonna go to this I was really surprised and excited. There’s so many things in life that scare me that I have just chosen not to deal with, but the fear of interviewing people was one I knew I had to tackle head-on b/c the experience and the material can be so rewarding!

    This part reminded me of Why I Trust San Francisco: “I actually really do like the fog in San Francisco. It’s just moody, and foggy weather can be an excuse to stay in and write: Well, it’s not sunny out, I better stay in and write a novel!”

    The fact that this is even happening, touring, right now (as opposed to the 90’s when things were more economically prosporous) I think really means kickass things for ladies; that there’s a hunger to hear our voices, and to see people who are young and passionate who write, and want to share stories with each other an an audience.

    YAY LANEIA is all.

  7. How about eating a delicious dinner with them at a big table in your college dining hall while being the only seeming “hetero” when only one person, the girl sitting next to you, was lucky enough to know that you were a hopeless bisexual only out to two people?

    I raise my hand.

  8. In my city we have a fantastic and standing-room-only supported spoken word night, open to anyone. There is usually at least a couple of lesbians who perform during the open mic portion.

    I wonder if I started a an otherwise-inclined lady chapbook exchange on the internet, Autostraddle would want to hear about it?

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