Starting July 5 and running until Oct. 1, downtown’s Writ Large Press will present 90 events in 90 days, a marathon of literary happenings that remains in flux. While the July schedule is posted, August and September events are still taking shape, but this ambitious undertaking is also fluid in another way: Like any live, collaborative effort, it will take on a life of its own as determined by its artists and participants, an exciting variable that its organizers embrace.
L.A.-based poet Chiwan Choi is one of the mad geniuses behind the series. “We’ve always approached it as sort of a crowd-sourced space,” said Choi from Pittsburgh, where he splits his time. (His wife and a partner in Writ Large, Judeth Oden Choi, is a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon.) With events that include a weekly reading called “Drunken Masters,” zine workshops and poetry inspired by the lyrics of Sade, #90x90LA will take place in three L.A. neighborhoods — Little Tokyo, South Los Angeles and downtown — and will serve as the umbrella under which diverse communities of artists can be seen, heard and read.
“It’s not something we could do on our own,” Choi admits. But by opening the doors and pooling literary resources, which this city has in abundance, it can be done. Anyone can submit a proposal for a #90x90LA event. “Our goal was always, ‘Can we use the literary arts to create networks that normally wouldn’t form?’”
There is some precedence for presenting 90 events in 90 days — Writ Large Press did it once already, in 2014 — and there is precedence too, in that first iteration, for going with the flow. When, on the day before the launch, the venue they’d booked canceled because of permitting, they pivoted quickly, setting up shop in another space downtown only to find the project stranded again two weeks later when the business owners changed their mind. Writ Large put out a call on Facebook, and Tara Thomas of Traxx at Union Station swooped in to save the day. “We did the rest there,” said Choi. “We were joking about how we built a tower and moved it to another block. Twice.”
By night 35 of what was then known as #90for90, “the project is the project” became a kind of mantra. “Whether it’s one other person showing up or 100 people showing up, it’s about showing up and being there and holding space,” Choi said. The series took on a cumulative power. “We knew the parameters of it, but we didn’t know what it would all contain. Every week it was a new discovery about what matters to us — not just Writ Large Press — but everybody who was coming there. The biggest surprise was a month into it there was a definite ownership taking place from all the people that showed up every night. Like, ‘this is our thing.’”
Because the majority #90for90 was held at a bar in a train station, the audience became integral in interesting ways. “One of the rules we made is whether you’re a performer or an audience member, you don’t have precedence over the people who are actually at the bar waiting for their train — you have every right to present your work, you’re not entitled to people’s attention.” He added that commuters became the “spine of the audience. … When we had an anti-gentrification event, there were people who had been sitting there night after night waiting for their train who actually participated and shared their stories.”
The locations for this year’s #90x90LA also revolve around the metro, a response to the effect it has on neighborhoods. “A lot of people are being displaced, buildings are getting flipped,” said Choi. “This year, from the start, we were clear: We’re not doing vanity events, we’re not doing book release events unless it’s some anthology that features a certain group of people that are not often featured, and you have to be understanding of the neighborhood and community in which the event is taking place.”
#90x90LA events fall under three categories — celebrate, investigate and activate — including a number of symposiums, such as Intent, which will be held at Cielo Galleries/Studios on July 8. In the spirit of “the project is the project,” Intent will, in part, invite attendees to help plan later events in the series. It will also feature community creators and organizers, including Ben Caldwell of KAOS Network at Leimert Park and Ashaki M. Jackson of Women Who Submit, and a potluck. “We’ll end it with small group workshops,” Choi said. “I’m really excited about what that will mean for the whole series.”
What, in the end, will it mean to present so many literary events, one after another? Is it like literary summer camp? Like literary speed dating? “I think it’s more like meditation. Let’s look at every day as another breath,” Choi said. It’s a place to go, to be a part of. “Every night, here we are.”
That said, perfect attendance isn’t mandatory, nor it is a competition. While #90x90LA offers a chance for devotees to douse the next three months in reading after reading, night after night, dipping in for one or two events is an equally valid way to engage with the project.