Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reader Meet Author

Jill Summers

"He had married June because her feet were huge, eleven-wide and flat as flippers. They produced a heady bouquet with a Limburger-esque pungency and no trace of the all-too-common ammonia in more pedestrian cases. They were true specimens, and they disgusted him." from In Crawling Place

The art of storytelling is an ancient tradition that goes beyond simply being a writer. To be a storyteller you must connect to the audience in a different way then just placing thoughts on a page. There is more attention placed on emphasis, context, and emotions. The storyteller must delivery and captivate.

Chicago's, Jill Summers is a storyteller in the classic sense of the word. Her aural delivery is so casually captivating you cannot help but be drawn into the images of love, hate, fear, and rejections. She spins tales of relationships that are genuine and honest, almost to honest at times. From secretly feeding your vegetarian husband meat products to the relational habits of insects, her work is universal yet slightly unsettling. Her audio vignettes have been featured on Chicago Public Radio's Third Coast Audio Festival, and a sample of her written work can be found a THE2NDHAND.

Recently, Jill was able to answer a few of my questions on her way back from the DMV.

Orange Alert (OA): In an interview you did about a year ago with Joanne Hinkel, you said "I've always written, but I never thought of myself as a writer". Has this opinion changed over the last year? In your opinion what makes someone a writer?
Jill Summers (JS): I think what I meant when I said that was that I don't think about being a writer so much as I just write and I always have. I guess a writer is just someone that writes.

OA: Your degree is quite unique, MFA in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts, and as far as I can tell is only offered at Columbia. What does this degree entail and what might someone with an MFA in IBaPA do?
JS: It's a book arts program within an interdisciplinary arts department, which is really sort of odd and I always assumed a remnant of some historic organizational weirdness at Columbia. I studied bookbinding, printing, and paper making and completed a required core of visual, sound, movement, literary and dramatic arts classes. Some grads I know work as binders or conservators or run independent presses. For me, it meant deadlines -- incentive to do the work I wanted to do and chance to work in a lot of different media. I still just work in an office like I always have, but the program made me want to look for more deadlines and more reasons to do real work.

OA: You are probably most widely known for your audio shorts that have been broadcasted over Chicago Public Radio. Does writing with the intent to record a piece audibly change the way you might write a piece? Are you more conscious of the way words might sound as opposed to how they are read on the page?
JS: I'm always conscious of the way my writing sounds out loud, and to me that is pretty much the same thing as being concerned with how my work is read on the page. Whether I end up recording something really has no bearing on my actual writing process - all the extra work involved with recording comes in after the fact. I do like to record, because it gives me total control over timing and tone, but really, if I've done a decent job with my text it hopefully translates just as well flat on the page.

OA: You and your husband run Stray Dog Recording Co., a place for independent musicians to find affordable recording space. How did you first get into this business? This seems like a vital service for Chicago musicians. What are your thoughts on the state of independent music in Chicago?
JS: Stray Dog Recording Co. is an extension of Dave's own project studio, which he set up for recording his own music after he graduated with a degree in audio engineering. I hope it's a service - we really try to run it that way. It is designed to help independent musicians on a budget. We welcome artists of all styles and genres. Basically anyone who is nice is welcome to record here.

People who want to record what they do, music or otherwise, have access to a lot of options that they didn't have even several years ago. It's an exciting time when anyone with a computer and a microphone can make excellent recordings, and even though running the studio is Dave's full-time job, we think that's great. As far as the independent music scene in Chicago goes, I don't have a ton of personal experience with it, but judging by what we hear from clients, it seems to be somewhat limited occasionally by a lack of open- and artistic-minded venues and the monopoly by certain people of the "alternative scene."

OA: What are your thoughts on "new media" (i.e. blogs, on-line zines, myspace) as it relates to the promotion and publication of literature and music?
JS: Myspace is a great vehicle for people, and particularly musicians, to communicate in ways that they never could have before. But, while I really hated to lose the advertising and networking benefits, we deleted the SDRC page when Myspace was bought by Rupert Murdoch and News Corp, the company that runs Fox News. This guy is arguably one of the biggest douche bags on the planet. He is politically at the extreme right, and his money contributes to the corporate takeover of the news and the reality that we are increasingly getting information through an evangelical lens.

I've certainly got no lofty notions about publishing through online zines and blogs. I think it's fucking great. The more gatekeepers, the more the gates. It makes it possible for more artists to reach an audience, to garner feedback, and connect with other artists. For me it means the possibility of readers, deadlines, and more reasons to finish work.

OA: What's next for Jill Summers?
JS: My first play, In the Curious Hold of the Demeter, just got a Henson Grant to be produced by The Incurable Theater this October at the Chicago Cultural Center. Tangentially based on F. W. Murnau's 1922 silent film Nosferatu, it basically chronicles the sea voyage of Count Orlock, stowed away in the cargo hold on the way to Bremen with a mad crazy case of insomnia. I'll be working with Incurable a lot over the next few months on staging and logistics and plans for getting people to come see the show.

Coming up soon, I've got a readings with the2ndhand at Quimby's on March 8; Spencer Dew's book release on April 4; and RAGAD on April 26. I'll be debuting some new music I'm working on for filmmaker Chris Hefner at the Sound of Silent Film Festival on March 26.

Other than that, I hope people will keep asking me to come read at their readings and that other people will publish things I humbly send them.

Bonus Questions:
Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
JS: Yes. I am so addicted to the Dunk, that not only will I refer to it unashamedly as "the Dunk" in print, but I will even admit to a once daily toasted almond with cream habit. And yes, I realize that not getting it black makes me an asshole and that Dunkin Donuts is the least cool place in the universe to get your coffee.

OA: What type of music do you enjoy listening to, and who are a few of your favorites?
JS: I don't really listen to music on a regular basis, and I pretty much depend on periodic gifted mix cds for anything current. Lately I've become momentarily obsessed and alternately sick and disgusted with the Decemberists and Joanna Newsom. I think Neutral Milk Hotel is pretty great. The last cd I actually bought was probably Teenager of the Year. I will always love the Thinking Fellers, Stuff Smith, and the ever-ubiquitous Stag Thurman & the Celebration.

To hear Jill's audio pieces go here, here, or here.


Pete said...

Jill, I really enjoyed your "Larry" story (I forget the actual title) at our Book Cellar reading last month - very touching. And just for the record, Dunkin Donuts isn't the least cool place to get coffee. McDonald's is.

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