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10 Great Literary Salons to Check Out in Chicago

Read, write, and laugh with some of the best literary minds in the city.

Comedian Natalie Jose performs with the comedy group The Kates at the Book Cellar.   Photo: Andrew A. Nelles/Chicago Tribune

Though literary salons have been around town for decades, they’ve taken off dramatically in the past two years. In bars and bookstores around the city, writers are spouting an admixture of terrifying true tales, clever wordplay, and standup routines. It’s called “live lit,” a term coined by one of its key progenitors, Ian Belknap (see Write Club below). Check out 10 of Chicago’s best ongoing events—most of which are free.

Essay Fiesta

Mixed Bag Expect clever treatises on how to ditch school like a pro or what to wear for a doctor’s weigh-in at this essay-centric event, the “only live lit show with its own theme song,” according to its quick-witted hosts, Karen Shimmin and Willy Nast. Every third Monday. The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. Free. essayfiesta.com

Funny Ha-Ha

Funny Writer Claire Zulkey started this series in 2004, and it hits the sweet spot between standup comedy and something more amorphous. Past guests have included The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and comedian Cameron Esposito. Quarterly, with next reading on September 19. The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. $10. zulkey.com

Guts & Glory

Mixed Bag Whip-smart live lit vets Keith Ecker and Samantha Irby host this scaldingly honest series where tales of bad dates and the horrors of sexual assault are told by some of the Midwest’s finest writers and performers. Every third Wednesday. Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave. Free. facebook.com/gutsandgloryshow

The Kates

Funny For a casual all-women show, this popular standup-vaudeville hybrid hosted by comics Amy Sumpter and Kelsie Huff more than delivers. Every female Chicago comic worth her salt has passed through. Monthly. The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. $10 suggested donation. thekates.org

The Marrow

Earnest Come for hosts Naomi Huffman, managing editor at Curbside Splendor, and Leah Pickett, a regular Tribune contributor, and stay to soak in gorgeous Thalia Hall at this Pilsen event that has quickly become a South Side hub for rising literati. Every third Sunday. Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport St. Free. curbsidesplendor.com

The Paper Machete

Funny Writers, comedians, actors, and journalists put out a “live magazine” every week, addressing the news of the day with varying degrees of snark in Christopher Piatt’s popular Uptown series. Every Saturday. Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway. Free. thepapermacheteshow.com

Red Rover Reading Series

Earnest Jennifer Karmin and Laura Goldstein encourage participants to interrupt one another, experiment with volume, and exploit awkward silences at this avant-garde series they started in 2005. Monthly. Outer Space Studio, 1474 N. Milwaukee Ave. Free. facebook.com/pages/Red-Rover-Reading-Series/198562136827206

2nd Story

Mixed Bag This intimate salon-style event offers wine and dinner (and live music on occasion) interspersed with four or five stories with featured themes told by seasoned performers. Monthly. Various venues. $18. 2ndstory.com

Story Club

Earnest Catch new talent at Dana Norris’s five-year-old open mike night, where newbies test their public speaking abilities. Fans of Moth-style epiphanic moments, this one’s for you. Monthly. Various venues. $10 suggested donation. storyclubchicago.com

Write Club

Funny Six writers duel for oratorical victory, arguing in three rapid-fire rounds for their side of seemingly random debates. The topics (guns vs. butter, kick vs. punch) are picked by founder Ian Belknap. Audience applause determines the winner. Every third Tuesday. The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. $10. writeclubrules.com

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