Estlin McPhee, Leah Horlick, and friends reflect on five years of organizing REVERB: A Queer Reading Series

Photo by Daniella Barreto

What if instead of trying to do it all at once, you did one thing right, one at a time?

We’re just past one year of resting & celebrating REVERB, a labour of queer love that ran for five years on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land in Vancouver.

Coming out of an Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in 2012, Estlin & I were carrying a lot of disappointment; we could have maybe anticipated the heteronormativity, but not feeling proud or excited about bringing our (incredibly talented) friends to department events caught us both off guard.

That was the seed for REVERB—a space where you didn’t need an MFA to be taken seriously as a writer, where you could bring your queer content and queer self and queer family and know they wouldn’t be a joke or a symbol or a plot device.

Bringing your whole self meant we needed to be more than an LGBTQ reading series–calling the series ‘anti-oppressive’ meant we worked (and had to learn to work) to make the space accessible to our community. It also required us to ask for help and learn quickly–on our feet and on the ground. While the series started out as me & Estlin, it quickly grew to involve a whole team of queers who helped sell cupcakes, set up chairs, chop veggies, volunteer — and coordinate volunteers, look after little ones, drive each other home, and about fifty other tasks that required love and care and action.

It became super clear that we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do at once if we wanted to do it well. With community care and feedback, we were able to integrate one new accessibility measure per month for five years: from ensuring our venues were wheelchair accessible (including the washrooms!), providing creative childcare, offering American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, and creating a scent-reduced space.

We learned what we didn’t know fast, and who we could learn from – from our new friends at BC Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf (BCRAD) to our beautiful, long-term relationship with our steady venue, Gallery Gachet. We worked intentionally to always create a minority of white readers who knew why that was important, and centred writers of colour, especially trans and disabled and sick artists of colour, especially femmes.

We knew we weren’t going to get it right every time – and we sure didn’t sometimes, but moving slow and staying small within our community meant we had lots of space to integrate feedback and check in with people who cared about us and the work.

That kind of community care made it possible for us to move from holding quarterly events every season (how did we do that?) to the more sustainable two events per year while still hosting a sold-out crowd; it also made the decision to wrap up a real celebration rather than a sad farewell. We put a lot of heart and thought into the five years of events we had with REVERB and it was great to end a high note, surrounded by friends and long-term series supporters, with an amazing line-up of final readers. In the time we were focused on REVERB, the queer literary landscape in Vancouver changed and grew, and now that we’re done organizing, we have more time to support other events.

Our last event happened on June 12th, 2017! For more information what’s new with REVERB and other important gossips, visit us here.

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