SUNCHILD: An Interview with Blake Lee Pate & Taylor Jacob Pate
Meg Johnson: On July 12th, I read with Abbey Chung, Ginger Ko, and Victoria Sanz as part of the SUNCHILD Reading Series. Based in Austin, Texas, SUNCHILD is a summer reading series hosted by Smoking Glue Gun. The editors of this poetry and arts magazine, and small press, Blake Lee Pate and Taylor Jacob Pate, also run the reading series. By late September, SUNCHILD will have had seven readings. I was part of SUNCHILD’s third event, but when I was there it felt as if the reading series had been happening for years.
From personal experience, I can say that you take excellent care of your visiting writers. You find places for them to stay, arrange fun things for them to do (like trips to Barton Springs), and have a dinner (that you cook) for the readers a few hours before the reading. For me, the weekend trip ended up being both a reading and a mini-vacation. Are there readings/reading series that have influenced how you run the SUNCHILD reading series? Are there individual writers and/or writing mentors that have influenced how you serve as both curators and hosts?
Blake Lee Pate & Taylor Jacob Pate: When we started Smoking Glue Gun we were living in Baton Rouge and studying at Louisiana State University. We were very involved in the lively writing scene there—perhaps Baton Rouge’s best kept secret—and organized and participated in readings there before we ever thought about starting a magazine. We both have a lifelong love for live performance—music, theatre, installation, and of course, readings—and the community that comes with readings was definitely a motivator for us in terms of Smoking Glue Gun. We also love meeting writers involved in other literary happenings across the nation, so I guess you could say SUNCHILD was, in a small way, a selfish excuse for us to hang out with other writers in Austin.
We were also fortunate enough to meet and study with Lara Glenum during our time in Baton Rouge. Lara swept into Baton Rouge in 2009 and has been an extreme force in the poetry scene there ever since. With the help of the LSU MFA program, Lara brought lots of visiting writers into Baton Rouge for some fantastic readers, and she was surely an inspiring host. She always made sure to bring the readers to dinner, have them meet local writers and, especially, her students. This was a really big deal to us, as at the time we hadn’t published much of our own work at all or had much of a chance to network with writers outside Louisiana. Having Lara introduce us to poets whose books we’d been reading for months or years really opened our eyes—we realized this sort of international networking was possible, as long as someone has the energy and desire to make it happen.
MJ: When I was in Austin, you mentioned that the city has a lot of literary events in the fall, winter, and spring, but far fewer events in the summer. SUNCHILD readings run from early June to late September so it seems to have found the perfect spot in the Austin reading calendar. How do you feel that SUNCHILD fits into the overall Austin reading scene?
BLP & TJP: Austin is a city of anomalies, so even though SUNCHILD differs from most of the other reading series we attend, it seems to have nestled in well with the Austin poetry vibe. Austin has lots of fantastic reading series—Malvern Books’ Everything is Bigger (hosted by Tyler Gobble), Fun Party (run by some of the folks at Birds, LLC), the Michener Center and New Writer’s Project reading series, Sam Sax’s The New Sh!t Show—to name a few. We feel so fortunate to be surrounded by these. SUNCHILD differs mainly in that it is so Smoking Glue Gun centric—hosted in our living room, consisting of mostly Smoking Glue Gun contributors. I think SUNCHILD has also played out like a live representation of Smoking Glue Gun Magazine itself—the lineup is a mix of well-published poets and new writers, many of whom are interested in experimentation and performance. The readings are also unique in that they have become a combination of literary event, performance, and house party. The atmosphere is extremely laid back, with lots of mingling before the readings and always a party after, and each reader has been incredibly memorable. By the end of the night we are finding our jaws on the floor.
MJ: How did you decide which writers would read together? I know scheduling was a big part of it, but were there any other factors?
BLP & TJP: In May we queried all of our Smoking Glue Gun contributors to see if anyone was interested in travelling to Austin for a reading. The response was overwhelming—over twenty writers from out of state decided to join. Once I found which months were best for everyone, we paired local contributors and local writers with each set of visiting writers. We sort of just went with it. We worked the dates around when folks could make it to Austin, and by the end of May I had scheduled two readings per month with three to five readers per night. Having the schedule work itself out so easily was definitely a good omen.
MJ: If you moved to another city do you think the reading series would go with you? Would you rename it or continue to call it SUNCHILD?
BLP & TJP: At this point we are unsure about the future of SUNCHILD, but we know Smoking Glue Gun will follow us wherever we go. Live performance is an integral part of Smoking Glue Gun, so I imagine there will be another Smoking Glue Gun reading series in the future, but I doubt it will be SUNCHILD. We’ve hosted release parties and other Smoking Glue Gun related events in Baton Rouge and Austin, but I think because SUNCHILD is so tied to Austin in aesthetic and inspiration, it will most likely remain a once-in-a-summer experience.
MJ: Can you tell us about some of your upcoming events?
BLP & TJP: We’re really stoked about the next SUNCHILD, when Graham Foust and Rosa Alcalá will be in town to read with local playwright Diana Lynn Small on August 16th. We published Graham Foust in Smoking Glue Gun about two years ago, and were following his work for years before that, so we feel extremely privileged to be able to see him read in our home.
After that there will be two more SUNCHILD readings: August 30th, with Jiyoon Lee, Meg Freitag, Jason Tobin and Darren Demaree; and our SUNCHILD Finale on September 26th, when we’ll have Kelly Luce, Laura Madeleine Wiseman, Kendra Fortmeyer, Jerrod Bohn and Christopher Klingbeil.
Blake Lee Pate is from New Orleans and lives in Austin. She is the Editor of Smoking Glue Gun. She received her MFA from the New Writer's Project at UT-Austin, where served as Marketing Director for Bat City Review and won the Michael Adams Thesis Award. Her poems can be found in H_NGM_N, Forklift, Ohio, Black Warrior Review, New Delta Review, and elsewhere.
Taylor Jacob Pate is the Editor of Smoking Glue Gun and the Managing Editor of Bat City Review. He received his MFA from the New Writer’s Project at UT-Austin. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Whiskey Island, TENDE RLOIN, MadHatLit and Forklift, Ohio. His chapbook, the face of god, is forthcoming from Similar:Peaks::.
Meg Johnson is the author of the full length poetry collection Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press, 2014) which was a NewPages Editor's Pick. Her poems have appeared in Hobart, Nashville Review, The Puritan, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and others. She received her MFA in creative writing from the NEOMFA Program. She is the editor of Dressing Room Poetry Journal and a lecturer at Iowa State University. Her website is megjohnson.org and she blogs at megjohnsonmegjohnson.blogspot.com.