Naked Girls Reading: Banned Books asks its audience to consider women's bodies and their minds
This Thursday night, the Minneapolis chapter of Naked Girls Reading will host its third event. Beginning at 7 p.m., the first of an expected 50 attendees will start trickling into a studio in the Northrup King Building. They might be nervous about what they're about to see, and sip some wine. By 8, three women will take their seats in front of the crowd. They will be wearing only shoes, jewelry, and makeup, and they will begin to read out loud.
Naked Girls Reading is part just what it sounds like, and part hard to describe. Founded by burlesque performer Michelle L'amour and her husband Franky Vivid in Chicago in 2009, the literary salon has since spread to 19 cities internationally. After briefly flaring in the Twin Cities in 2011, it returned in December 2012 in the hands of producer AJ Peterson.
Readings at the kick-off event in December were holiday themed; at the second salon, in January, the texts were about movies. On Thursday, three of the chapter's six readers ("Or the Girls," Peterson says, "with a capital G."), will focus their minds and their voices on banned and censored books.
See Also: Slideshow: Naked Girls Reading: Behind the scenes of "Banned Books" [NSFW]
"Naked Girls Reading marries the beauty of the intellect and the beauty of the female form," explains Curtis, one of the readers and a co-producer. "When you talk about that you think, 'Yeah, I see that sometimes,' but when you go to Naked Girls Reading, you realize that you really don't."
Peterson first went to a salon in Chicago, and remembers not knowing what to expect. "I was thinking, 'Oh my god, they're going to be completely in the buff," he says. "But it's really magical what happens. Because the show is very content-driven, you're so into the readings that you actually do forget that they're naked for a little bit, and then suddenly you realize that they're naked again and it's a happy surprise. That ebb and flow of your mind happens the whole time."
For spectators, Peterson says, the readers' nudity both grants a powerful "permission from the girls to look," and illuminates familiar texts in surprising ways. "The nudity changes what you're reading," he explains. "Every single time we've talked about it we say, 'That excerpt was so different when we read it clothed.'"
The Girls have chosen Thursday's readings from banned and censored texts, including excerpts from Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. If you're puzzled by how that last one fits the theme, between passages, the readers will discuss when and why the reading got slapped with the censor's black bar.
"I'm a life-long lover of literature," says Elektra Cute, a local burlesque performer and another one of Thursday's readers. "And it's the best literature that gets the most attention and gets banned. It's the really human stories that upset people." When the Naked Girls started putting together their reading list for Thursday's show, Cute realized that most of the books that she owns are on some country's banned books list.
Thursday will be Curtis's third time reading in person. She first read at December's holiday salon, and remembers the early moments of that show as "a little terrifying," she says. Though she's a comfortable public speaker, she was less used to the physical exposure.
"It was the reading that saved me, not the simple act of reading but the stories," she explains. By the end of the night, she was so moved that she cried. "You are so vulnerable on so many levels," she says. "It was empowering in a way I did not anticipate."
Both Peterson and Curtis admit that this power can be tough to describe. "We're constantly trying to explain the unexplainable to people who have never been," says Peterson. "When they first come in, they actually come up to us and tell us that they're nervous. But it's BYOB, and people have a glass of wine and let down their guard."
"One thing I've heard across the board is people say that it's not what they thought it was going to be," Curtis continues. "I have never once heard someone say that they didn't love it, but we had people who admitted that they thought it was going to be smut, or kind of like burlesque."
Instead, they get a unique "marriage," says Curtis. "In our culture we celebrate the intellect -- we celebrate smart career women -- and we celebrate the female body. But when you see a beautiful woman walking down the street, there is not a person alive who thinks, 'Wow she must be really smart.'"
Naked Girls Reading asks its audience to think both.
For more on Naked Girls Reading, take a look at the slideshow.
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