by Richard Thomas
Noir at the Bar is a live reading series in St. Louis, Missouri, hosted by Jed Ayres (F*ckload of Shorts, Bitches, and D*cked) and Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest, Rake, and The Adjustment). Hosting a wide range of crime, noir and edgy literary voices, such as Frank Bill, Kyle Minor, Hilary Davidson, Les Edgerton, John Hornor Jacobs, Duane Swierczynski, and Benjamin Whitmer, to name just a few of the authors that have darkened their stage, they are one of the most exciting and talked about live reading events in the Midwest. Never one to hold back or mince words, Jed spoke about their inception, their charitable acts, and the future of Noir at the Bar.
So how did Noir at the Bar get started? And why “noir”?
Noir at the Bar (N@B) was the name of an event Peter Rozovsky had first done a handful of times in Philadelphia a few years ago. By the time we’d decided to do our own version the Philly event was extinct, but I’m happy to report that Peter resurrected N@B in Pennsylvania in May, four years after our first event in St. Louis.
Noir because…fuck you.
Ha. Good answer. But seriously, noir because you and Scott were fans of classic noir in film and literature, I assume? Also, I’d say that the voice you represent covers a wide range of crime, noir, thrillers, southern gothic, and neo-noir these days, right?
Classic film noir is certainly something that I enjoy, but it’s not really what we wanted to evoke with the event, but rather, the trappings and props of classic film noir that can be used by anybody for any reason—trench coats and fedoras, cigarettes and shadows, hard-boiled, period-slang-heavy, philosophical, first-person narration, detectives and femme fatales—aren’t of any significant interest to me, but the clear-eyed cynicism of the world-view is much closer to what I’m interested in exploring in the reading series…that and dick jokes.
Really, if you can’t have a certain sense of gallows humor in the material or in the delivery—we’re probably not the event you’re looking for.
Good point. And even though you are based in St. Louis, you don’t just focus on St. Louis authors, do you? Is it authors with any sort of connection to the “gateway to the west” or just any sort of cynical dark crime author that’s willing to make the trek? I’ve heard many stories of authors arriving or leaving with hundreds of miles under their belts just to be a part of these readings, myself included.
Yeah, we’re looking at folks who’re coming through or could be blackmailed into appearing. Scott’s got an amazingly sordid catalog of dirt on a bunch of people, so we’ve done all right getting participants. Certainly, though, we are very interested in mining the local and regional talent vein—which is deep and rich and has yielded some really great surprises. I especially love that we’re getting a regional vibe out of them too. In other words, these are not New York business of literature folks or Iowa-bound MFA-track future professors. We’ve found the good raw juice and not refined it.
Excellent. Way to get to the heart of the matter, yeah? I noticed that you not only have a connection to Meshuggah Cafe, which is where you do the readings, but also to Subterranean Books, next door, where you’ve done two fundraisers with the anthologies Noir at the Bar and Noir at the Bar Volume 2. Why did you decide to work with these two particular establishments, and what prompted N@B to publish these anthologies to help keep Subterranean around? I assume great people and a love of bookstores that have personality. Very noble to help Subterranean like that.
We’re noble as fuck.
The first bar we were meeting in is no longer around, but it was located on the same street as Subterranean Books. We wanted to keep the event in that neighborhood and so we checked out the other bars on the street. Meshuggah ended up being the easiest to work with and we’ve been very happy with their participation.
A few years ago, Subterranean announced that they were in trouble and didn’t expect to last the rest of the year. Scott and I decided we’d do the anthology and make it only available through Subterranean without thinking we could save the store or anything, but certainly thinking that it was us doing our little part to support a great independent bookstore and neighborhood business. The authors all donated their stories and promoted it through the avenues they could, and three, almost four, years later Subterranean is still around.
The local independent bookstores in St. Louis banded together and created the St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance—they shared resources, promoted each other and created something really positive. So, did we save the bookstore? No, but we’ve tried to do our part, and Noir at the Bar Volume 1 is now the single best-selling title for Subterranean Books’ history.
That’s such a cool history. I stop by both of those places whenever I’m in town. I need to come back and read again, for sure. Such a great time. Are there plans for a Volume 3? And like 1 and 2, it would only include authors that have read at, N@B, right?
No plans at the moment for a third volume—it’s just a lot of time and money to put into a project—but it could very well happen in the future. And yeah, the anthologies keep a log of the people who’ve been a part of the live events in St. Louis. Let those other events publish their own books.
When is the next Noir at the Bar Event? Do you have one scheduled? If so, is there a lineup set?
Don’t have a date yet. Would like to set one up for Scott’s new book, Rake, which is hee-fucking-larry-us and just wrong (like, y’know the way he makes ’em).
So what do you see as the future of N@B? Do you see it continuing to have sporadic events, put out an anthology now and then, or do you see it becoming more? Maybe teach classes, or publish books, or something else? Or maybe it’s just more of a fun hobby, a way to hang with friends, have fun, and shock some audience members?
I’d love to see it become a successful line of t-shirts and scented candles, but it’s going to have to be some other schmuck taking the reigns on that. Believe it or not, I’m maxed out just putting together a few events a year and occasionally publishing a book.
I love the community aspect of it. Time and again I meet writers at these events and they confess to me how isolated they feel in their home cities and how much the support and kinship they pick up through these events means to them. I love to hear that. I need it too. Scott and I really started doing N@B because nobody else was and we felt the want for something like it, and I love promoting the stuff that’s not got a machine behind it. The people who come do these events are running on passion or desperation or from the law, but they sure aren’t showing up under anybody else’s power. It’s all them, just like their writing, and I admire the hell out of that.
So, I’d call it more than a hobby, but I’m sure not making any money on it.
Where can St. Louis fans of literature go to get more information about N@TB? Website, Twitter, Facebook?
Anybody wanting to keep up with events and the authors who’ve participated in the St. Louis events can check out the FB page www.facebook.com/noir.bar.3 or follow me @JedidiahAyres or the event @NoirBarSTL on Twitter. I also make announcements and promote the writers at Hardboiled Wonderland (www.spaceythompson.blogspot.com).
Thanks for the time, Jed, it was a pleasure speaking with you.
You heard the man, folks. Check out those links and be sure to show up for the next event. It’s always a great time.