FREAKS READ showcases gay literature, erotica in East Village

by Scott Stiffler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday August 28, 2008

Just as the city's gays were starting to clean up their act, along comes a bold and unapologetic happening that puts specific elements of gay life behind the mic and back on the front burner.

Working in the tradition of literary salons set in literate saloons, FREAKS READ is a new monthly event whose gay bar location and 21-plus policy guarantees exposure to the sort of provocative adult content on which urbane LGBTs used to thrive.

Founder and host Charlie Vazquez books the unconventional talent.

"We call it FREAKS READ because we started the reading as part of Freak Week, a week of events leading up to Pride," he said.

In the true spirit of Pride and all things freaky, Vazquez sorts through the submitted material to ensure the poetry and fiction on display is filled with enough sex, gore and out there concepts to provide LGBTs with an antidote to the encroaching world of baby carriages, Jamba Juice franchises and other soul-crushing hallmarks of urban hetero-assimilation.

Although the content is heavy on erotica, FREAKS READ has also featured African American poetry, horror writers, gay fiction and other genres.

"We don't want ordinary stories." Vazquez said. "What FREAKS READ does want, and works hard to cultivate, is the notion of "a small intimate event that tries to recapture a lost tradition of hearing queer oriented literature in queer bars. We're the only queer bar in [New York] that does it."

Vazquez and his pervy cohorts have found a kindred spirit in their venue-Nowhere on East 14th Street. It has brick walls, wood floors, mirrors, wallpaper, plush couches, lamps and other throwback elements that give the place a Victorian feel. Faggy Christmas lights strung about and Blondie on the jukebox, however, anchor the place in our modern era.

"What FREAKS READ does want, and works hard to cultivate, is the notion of "a small intimate event that tries to recapture a lost tradition of hearing queer oriented literature in queer bars.""

Its casual and book-friendly vibe extends to the treatment of FREAKS READ patrons. The bartender won't
stick to the two-drink minimum-in fact, he won't even pressure you to buy one. It's a rare show of support for the queer literature enthusiast, whose chosen career path often comes with a vow of poverty.

FREAKS READ held its third installment at Nowhere on Wednesday, Aug. 27. Vazquez continues to search for talent and vows that he's in it for the long haul. He recruits his participants from Yahoo groups geared towards queer and horror writers.

"I do online solicitations, and look for unusual elements," Vazquez said.

Part of the challenge of curating a reading series as opposed to editing an anthology is finding writers who have a flair for performance and an ability to communicate the essence of what's on the written page to their audience. Vazquez trusts his instincts.

"I look for the quality and content of the work itself and hope that it will translate while it's actually being read," he said.

Those who make the cut get 15 minutes. With just four freaks on the bill, that makes for an uncommonly breezy night which actually leaves the audience wanting more.

"Usually they read excerpts from a novel or novella, a short work or a succession of poetry," Vazquez said.

The talent roster on Aug. 28 included Linda Addison, an African American poet who won two Bram Stoker awards. She came in and read some fantastic poetry. Lee Houck, who works for Circus AMOK, read some erotica. Vazquez, who hosts and opens the night with a reading, described his own style as one that spans "from the very absurdist to very suspenseful fiction."

FREAKS READ is a free event that happens at 8 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month at Nowhere (322 E. 14th St. between First and Second Avenues). No cover, 21 and over. Join the moderated "nowherenyc" Yahoo group at to receive future announcements. Interested writers can send a story sample to Charlie Vazquez at [email protected] with FREAKS READ as the subject.

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy's at The Palace. . .at Don't Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli's 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.