Other People’s Art That We Could Have Created Ourselves

By Max GordyMarch 27, 2024

Other People’s Art That We Could Have Created Ourselves
THE BIG ONE MAGAZINE RELEASE PARTY, Heavy Manners Library, Los Angeles, March 21, 2024.

On a cool night in Echo Park, Heavy Manners Library was heating up. The small space, normally filled with books and artwork, was crammed with dozens of people; it felt like anyone I’d had a conversation with or noticed on Twitter over the last five years was in the building. Or, more likely, stranded outside, as the Library had reached capacity and late-coming lovers of alt-lit were relegated to the sidewalk, where they loitered, smoked, and waited for word from inside. I’d never seen such hype surrounding a magazine launch—but then, this was The Big One.

Onstage, Gabby Sones and Jo Stone, co-founders of the magazine, attempted to quiet the overflowing crowd. In an atmosphere brimming with JuneShine and PBRs, this was no easy task; eventually, though, the noise settled to a murmur. Gabby and Jo introduced the theme of fear and imminent disaster (before then, the title of the magazine had gone completely over my head) and the first reader, Violet Treadwell Hull. Against a backdrop video of turtles kissing and fighting, they discussed the fragile anxieties of their family life. John Tottenham, an older British gentleman and the next reader, not only delivered the briefest reading of the night but also managed to generate the most laughs. (Clearly, his description of finding himself surrounded by “other people’s art that [he] could have created [him]self” and being “constantly disappointed by it” resonated.) He was followed by Jance Enslin, whose abstract and landscape paintings were displayed in the entryway. Enslin recalled a trip to the Angeles National Forest, where he spoke to a conservative shop owner about liberal urbanites’ removal from nature, and concluded by imploring audience members to plant a tree.

Midway through the show, a man seated up front and sporting a beret brought out his hand fan to cool himself down. Four more readers performed: Alana Cloud-Robinson, whose account of a condescending conversation about the decline of Los Angeles Eastside culture at a party received the night’s loudest applause; Ryan Riffenburgh, who read one piece on Thai boxing and one on Fresno (it was also his birthday); Marcel Monroy, who referred to a C-section as the “funny cut”; and Zeke Reffe Hogan, who recounted throwing up in a life coach/Uber driver’s back seat. With its row seating and stream of cultural critiques issuing from the pulpit, the Library might have been mistaken for a church—that is, if not for the boisterous crowd in the adjacent room, one that needed shushing after each performer.

The final two readers didn’t disappoint. Jane Shin, who co-hosted the Heavy Manners space for the event, delivered a dreamy dystopian picture of an impending dark future lit by candlelight, and of her own body peacefully merging into the form of the city. Meanwhile, Lily Frankel offered a duo of poems on driving, leaving us with a piece about a fleeting, distant romance after the violent but gentle “kiss” of a fender bender.

As sweaty listeners poured out onto the street, there were whispers of a move to El Prado. But progress down the block was slow. And as far as anyone on the sidewalk was concerned, they might have already been there: set in a fog of cigarette smoke, surrounded by alternative Eastsiders and niche online literary celebrities. For a moment, at least, the company felt like enough to stave off any imminent fears of disaster.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Max Gordy is a DMV-born and L.A.-based writer, DJ, and city planner. He’s not entirely sure what alt-literature entails but boy is he excited to find out. 


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