The Gumbo Fiction Salon takes place at the Galway Arms off Clark and Fullerton, and I entered the pub’s front doors with journalistic intent. My plan was to review the event for Chicago Literati. I had my sound recorder ready and would take notes as I saw fit. I entered and went straight for the stairs to the second floor bar/eating area.
Now, I’d never been to Gumbo before, but I’d been to that room. The whole floor really. A little over a year ago, a good friend of mine had become - through ambition and his mentor’s resignation from the position - the PR manager of a small press publisher called Criminal Class Press. In trying to organize an event, he asked me for advice, stating I was more “part of the literary community” than he was, and after tossing out a few venues, I mentioned The Galway Arms simply because I knew Gumbo took place there. He got the venue and got me into the event for free. When I got there, my friend was nowhere to be found, the initial host of the event had to cancel and they;d scrambled to get a new host who was talented but not exactly relevant to CCP’s style of writing (CCP is gritty and noir, she wrote a scifi novella), the turnout was alright, which is Nice for “not really,” and one of my friend’s bosses was a blowhole for most of the night. It was a mess.
But enough about that because what matters is the space - it’s nice for a bar/restaurant/pub/whatever the fuck you wanna call it. When you come up the stairs of the second floor, there’s a narrow hallway to the side of the stairs that extends as far forward as it does backward. Forward are the bathrooms. The girls’ bathroom is nice because even though there’s only one toilet, that one toilet has its own stall, there are two sinks, a chair and table against a mirror if you want to sit down to do your makeup, and handsoap is actual handsoap and not just a bottle of Ajax next to a roll of Bounty. Backward is the bar area, a small room that overlooks Clark Street in all its drunken glory. To the right is a larger room where events take place.
The walls need to be mentioned - blood fucking red.They gave the place a series “redrum” vibe.
I sat in the seat and gnawed the inside of my cheek.
I pull open my drawstring bag and grab for the first four pages of a story I’ve been revising and tweaking and ignoring and not finishing for the past two months, though if we’re counting the time between rediscovering it on my computer and the time I first wrote it, I’ve really been working on it for two and a half years. It had to marinate in oblivion for a while.
I vaguely recognized some people from school, in this case, Columbia College. One person near me began talking about said school. They wouldn’t appreciate if I put their name down in this post, so for now let’s call this person Shemp. He was the Stooge that replaced Curly. He matters.
"…They cut the class, along with a bunch of others."
I asked, “How many?”
Incredible. “Wait. What’s going on with classes?”
Shemp turned to me. “Oh, the whole department’s in disarray.”
I’d gathered that much. “I mean, yeah. Since it’s now a whole Creative Writing Department and not just Fiction Writing separate from Poetry and everything else.”
"It’s more complicated than that." Shemp scooted her chair closer. "First, the Creative Writing Department lost 16% of its classes. Some were shuffled into Playwriting, and Screenwriting is now only in Film. Others were cut because of a low number of students.”
"What about the Story in Fiction and Film class?"
"Moved to the Film Department."
"Were any classes added?"
People gathered. There were maybe two dozen in the room including me and this person I sorta knew. Most of them had typed pages crumpled in their hands or laid out in front of them on their respective tables, scrawling edits on them.
My new friend snorted. “Two. Poetry classes. And here’s the thing, I feel really bad for the non Fiction Writing majors - Poetry and Creative Nonfiction - because they each used to have their own departments, and now they’re being shoved in with us, and a lot of their classes are being cut too. And don’t get me started on the workload. I am not going to finish my homework for the week.”
The workload for Fiction Writing majors was always a lot, but manageable nonetheless. “It’s still 60 pages total at the end of the semester, right? For each class?”
"Yeah, but all the teachers are scheduling these big projects all at the same time because NO ONE’S TALKING TO EACH OTHER. No one in the department is communicating."
He leaned in closer. “You didn’t hear this from me…” I tuned out the hum of the room and tuned him in, “Some of this is the English Department’s fault.” A twist of my mouth showed my confusion, so he clarified. “There’s been a huge misappropriation of funds on their end messing up the whole thing. They claimed to have had meetings about the situation to try and fix it, but they never happened and nobody knows what’s going on with that. Every day is a struggle to save money. A lot of part-time staff has been cut as a result.”
From there, the reading began. I went up to read, stayed for two more readers, and got the hell out of there because my glucose was crashing and the last thing I needed was to faint in front of two dozen people in an Irish pub in Lincoln Park. That’s too much for a Thursday night.
Of course, none of this is confirmed, as if the school would admit to any of it.