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The Hatchery: Local Reading Series Returns to the Riverwards

If hearing about The Hatchery’s return to Fishtown conjures images of captive-bred poultry or a reunion show for a Phish cover band, don’t worry — I imagined the same sort of things. Frankly, after finding out that The Hatchery is, in fact, a grassroots fiction reading series, I wasn’t much more interested.


Inside the Monkey Club for the Hatchery reading series./ Dave Meyers

Full disclosure: As a former creative writing major and chronic abuser of extra credit opportunities, I’ve begrudgingly attended my fair share of amateur readings at too-cool-for-school coffee shops. So when Spirit News enlisted me to attend The Hatchery’s March reading, I was haunted by flashbacks of troubled undergrads sharing awkward personal stories of anguish and abuse, thinly veiled as works of fiction or poetry.

However, all of my fears were alleviated when I learned that the event showcased some of the Delaware Valley’s best fiction writers and was unassumingly based out of the The Monkey Club — a hidden gem of a corner bar straddling the borders of Fishtown and Kensington, fully deserving of its own “don’t judge a book by its cover” editorial review.

I arrived there on Wednesday, March 23, seconds before the reading’s advertised 7PM start time, (which apparently, wasn’t strictly enforced). It was The Monkey Club’s first time hosting the monthly event; The Hatchery’s previous venue-of-record, Bobby’s Bar on Frankford Avenue, recently shut its doors for the last time.

Despite it also being The Hatchery’s first gathering since its season-long hiatus, the event remained popular among a loyal constituency, as evidenced by the mixed bag of about 20 semi-bookish-looking patrons strewn about the tiny bar when I arrived.

In accordance with habit, I bought a beer, took a seat at the bar and waited for something to happen. A couple seats down, I took notice of a long-haired guy who gave off an inexplicable aura of authority. Sure enough, it was Sean Kearney, one of The Hatchery’s co-founders.

During the summer of 2015, Kearney, with help from The Head & The Hand Press — a Fishtown-based independent publisher that continues to contribute resources and connections to The Hatchery, was introduced to the other half of The Hatchery’s executive board, Tracey Levine, Coordinator for the Creative Writing Concentration and Assistant Professor of English at Arcadia University.

Levine and Kearney shared a desire to establish The Hatchery in response to the Riverwards’ apparent shortage of such literary outlets. By September of last year, The Hatchery was in full swing, featuring readings from the likes of Nic Esposito, Paul Lisicky, Nathalie Anderson and more.

After our meeting, Kearney informed me that we would “head upstairs in a few minutes, once more people get here.”

More people? He was right. To my surprise, before long, the bar had amassed a crowd of more than 40. Following Kearney’s instruction, we reconvened on The Monkey Club’s spacious second floor, which was comfortably crowded and dimly lit — fitting for the evening’s festivities. From behind a desk lamp-turned-spotlight, Kearney took the stage, greeting and welcoming us, the guests.

Levine then introduced us to the fishbowl — a crowd-play exercise in which slips of paper were distributed and members of the audience were encouraged to write brief responses to one of three fill-in-the-blank prompts, including “I was so distraught by the absence of The Hatchery, I drowned my sorrows in [blank] and [blank].” Responses were collected in the bowl, from which select submissions would be chosen to win prizes later on.

But first came the night’s main attraction: The readers.

The first to perform was Christopher D. DiCicco, author of “So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds” (Hypertrophic Press), followed by Sarah Rose Etter, author of “Tongue Party” (Caketrain Press) and co-founder of South Philly’s TireFire Readings.

Both authors were eloquent and charismatic in their deliveries, sharing works that were wonderfully bizarre and rich in syntax, as exemplified by the memorable imagery that came to mind when Etter recited, “music pounded in your ribs like spears.”

The proceeding intermission offered a welcome opportunity to congregate at the bar downstairs for reflection and digestion of the works that had just been shared.

After 15 minutes, hosts Kearney and Levine smoothly transitioned into the second half of the show, selecting winners from the fishbowl, including my girlfriend, who was awarded a Deviant Quarterly chapbook package, (complete with patch, sticker, and button), while others won $10 Monkey Club bar tabs — not bad hauls for an event with free admission!

The readings continued with captivating short stories and excerpts from award-winning authors, co-host of TireFire, Jaime Fountaine, whose work has appeared in PANK, along with Chris Tarry, “How To Carry Bigfoot Home” (Red Hen Press), whose work has appeared in MAD Magazine, Funny or Die and The Literary Review.

With each reading lasting only 15 to 20 minutes, all of the featured authors left me wanting more and swallowing my initial, cynical assumptions — a Pultizer Prize-sized testament to the quality of The Hatchery’s author-curating skills.

Fortunately, more is on the way, starting with The Hatchery’s April 20th reading series at The Monkey Club, beginning at 7PM, or thereabout.

The evening’s featured readers will include an impressive assortment of established and emerging talents, including Justin Kramon, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author of “Finny” (Random House) and “The Preservationist” (Pegasus); renowned Egyptian-American poet, Maryan Captan; Tamara Oakman, whose poetry and fiction has appeared in Painted Bride Quarterly; and last but not least, Robin Black, author of ”If I Loved You, I would Tell You This” (Random House), named Best Book of 2010 by numerous publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle and The Irish Times.

For more information about future reading installments, follow The Hatchery on Facebook: @The Hatchery Reading Series. And don’t miss the reading on Wednesday, April 20th  — a sure-fire crowd-pleaser for enthusiasts of literature and libations alike!

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