"The solar annulus is the intact anus of her body at eighteen years to which nothing sufficiently blinding can be compared except the sun, even though the anus is night," reads the last line of Georges Bataille's "The Solar Anus," the surrealist text for which authors Blake Butler, Jamie Iredell, and Amy McDaniel named their upstart reading series in October 2008.
The three writers were practically strangers when they formed Solar Anus. "I didn't know anyone in Atlanta who wrote, really," says Butler, a boyishly good-looking author of dark, surreal prose who already had a devoted following from publishing his work online. "Then Jamie sent some stuff to an online magazine I was doing." That same month, they met McDaniel, who writes funny yet mesmerizing poetry, at community arts center WonderRoot.
Iredell started complaining about the state of reading series in Atlanta. "Like Poetry at Tech," he says. "They're always going to have someone like Natasha Trethewey — a Pulitzer Prize winner, a well-established writer." Butler agreed, "It seemed like it was really hard for authors from outside of town, if they weren't someone like Bret Easton Ellis, to get a reading." The trio felt like they could start a series to reverse what Butler calls "a vortex of literary action in Atlanta and the opposite of that on the Internet."
McDaniel says the name Solar Anus was just a half-joking suggestion, but the qualities of Bataille's writings (difficult to classify, equal parts disorienting and entertaining) make a fine description of the reading series they run today.
Scott McClanahan reading at Solar Anus
The mention of Bataille to the Solar Anus organizers produces a wave of uncomfortable laughter. Over pizza and beer, Iredell remembers a drunken conversation during which he claimed, "Bataille was the biggest piece of shit I've ever read in my life," then, almost immediately, changed his mind. Butler recalls reading Bataille's The Story of the Eye at the gym, a muscle-bound dude pumping weights next to him while Butler turned through page after page of sexual degradations. "I like reading sexual books on an exercise bike," he says, laughing.
Solar Anus styles itself as an iconoclastic reading series. Typically held in local lowbrow art hub Beep Beep Gallery, the events are focused on upcoming and established authors from the world of small presses and indie lit. Iredell says newfound accessibility to publishing technology has produced a scene that's not unlike the punk and indie rock scenes of the '80s and '90s, when cassette tapes and independent record labels helped proliferate passionate, fiercely individual artists. "It feels more like when I used to go to house shows when I was 16 or something. It has more spirit," says Butler.
McDaniel recalls an early reading with Laura Carter, John Dermot Woods, Sandra Simonds, and Sabrina Orah Mark where, "It was literally a one-to-one-to-one, reading-to-organizer-to-audience ratio, but we all made a circle, like a giant anus, and everyone introduced themselves." The series, which happens in sporadic bursts of once or twice a month, has garnered more of a following as notable authors such as David Lehman and Kevin Sampsell have come through town. Big crowds, though, aren't necessarily a priority. That reading with just a few people was "one of our best," says McDaniel.
Their earnest enthusiasm is matched by the trio's disdain for popular fiction and poetry, even as Butler readies a novel for Harper Perennial next spring. Poet Heather Christle, joining them for pizza and beers, sums it up best: "Garrison Keillor makes me want to shoot myself in the face."
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