The Show Must Go On

A new literary collection highlights the ups and downs of a legendary queer road show.

BY Diane Anderson-Minshall

September 11 2012 3:00 AM ET

Tea om the street.

For the last 15 years, award-winning writer Michelle Tea has helmed the acclaimed queer genre-busting literary road show called Sister Spit. A sort of traveling writers’ cabaret, Sister Spit has become an underground cultural institution that brings an ever-changing roster of queer and trans writers — from Eileen Myles and Dorothy Allison to Cristy Road and Ariel Schrag — to universities, art galleries, community centers, theaters, and other venues around the globe. What began as a trans-friendly women-only show eventually developed into one that allows anyone who fits the Sister Spit ethos.

“Sister Spit features underrepresented gay and queer writers whose content often defies and subverts conventional notions of sex, gender, sexuality, race and class,” Porter Gilberg of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Greater Long Beach told the blog Out in the 562.

Now along comes the show’s first anthology, with a who’s who of queer writers and artists. The first release under the new City Lights/Sister Spit imprint, Sister Spit: Writing, Rants and Reminiscence From the Road ($16.95) captures just a fraction of the provocative and risk-taking show, and features some of its many literary superstars, including Myles, Beth Lisick, Ali Liebegott, and Lenelle Moise. Encapsulating 15 years into one book was agonizing for Tea; even cofounder Sini Anderson didn’t make the cut (“She lost her notebooks from the ’90s, which is so upsetting,” Tea says).

Many of the queer writers with Sister Spit were self-taught. “After our UC Santa Cruz show we had a panel about class, and while talking about all the real class-based barriers that kept me from attending [college], I was struck and said, ‘You guys, if I had gone to college none of us would be here right now!’ ” says Tea. “It never stops thrilling me that I get to perform and also teach in colleges yet never attended. I know that you learn a lot outside that system and I feel proud that Sister Spit gets to bring some of that perspective and life experiences into schools.”

Sister Spit’s always had drama. Once the tour van engine cracked on the Alabama-Mississippi border at midnight, Tea recalls. “We all had to cram into one hotel room, we were so broke. We had to leave a lot behind. We finished the tour in a cargo van it’s illegal to transport people in, so we were all flopping around in the back. The logistics of getting to that van were so convoluted, and in order not to miss a show we had to drive without stopping and someone had to pee in someone else’s French press.”

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