For the past five years, the monthly In the Flesh Erotic Reading Series has brought people to Happy Ending to eat free cupcakes, and also to listen to readings of sexy fiction and personal history from authors both within the erotic-writing community and outside of it. It’s been announced that this month’s reading, scheduled for Thursday night, will be the last-ever In the Flesh; as this moderately iconic city institution comes to an end, we had a couple of questions for its longtime organizer, sex writer Rachel Kramer Bussel.
So. When, and why, did you make the decision to end the In the Flesh Erotic Reading series?
I’ve loved hosting In The Flesh, but I needed a break; it’s much more time-consuming than it seems, and I was losing money every month after all my expenses, and want to find something lucrative to do with my time. I also think it seemed fitting that just after five years, we go out with a bang. I made the decision back in May so I’ve had time to let people know and it’s brought out some wonderful audiences and performers for the last few shows. I have a few repeat performers, like Lambda Literary Award winner Rakesh Satyal; last time he sang Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” and this time he has some very special, celebratory pop songs for us, plus there will be bondage burlesque (among other types of burlesque) and I think it’s going to be a truly special evening. It’s bittersweet for me in a lot of ways, but I’d rather end on a high note than keep going and resent it.
I’ve learned so much about my readers (like most of them get nervous at one point or another) and audiences (that they are very appreciative, of the food and the stories and the friendly atmosphere). It’s taught me to be a better reader (even though I still get nervous) and has shown me I know how to put together events. I think of it like throwing a party, which is fun, but also exhausting to do every month!
I’m honored that In The Flesh LA has been a success, and that erotic reading series are thriving across the country; I’ve had inquiries about starting an In The Flesh in other cities, and others are more than welcome to take the idea and run with it.
What changed over the past five years of In the Flesh? I mean in terms of both readers and audiences.
About eight months in, I hosted a night of True Sex Confessions with friends like Jessica Cutler, and that brought a huge crowd and showed me what people really enjoyed—true stories. So I’ve tried to incorporate that into the series as much as I can. Over the years I think the biggest change has been that instead of having to hunt people down, authors have come to me. I was so honored to have people like Susie Bright read, and to have Diana Joseph, author of a book I am madly in love with, I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, fly out all the way from Minnesota just to read at my series. That was so moving and gratifying and I will miss reading an amazing book like Adrian Colesberry’s hilarious memoir How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry and not having the chance to say, “Please come read for me.” I also found that the word spread, so people would come who were visiting New York from out of town, and there wasn’t a typical audience. Whereas at first it was mostly people I knew, it quickly grew to a wide range of people who simply wanted to hear stories about sex, whether they were sexy or funny or dark or bizarre, or all of the above. One of the high points, for me, was hearing Marcelle Manhattan read her story “Second Date” in which I make a cameo; it’s set at In The Flesh, and can be found in Susie Bright’s anthology X: The Erotic Treasury (you can watch it here).
But now where can people go to hear sexy stories and eat free cupcakes?
Well, I’ll still be doing readings, all over the country (tell your San Francisco and LA friends to catch me at the end of January and early February) and sporadically in New York—I’m talking to Bluestockings about a Valentine’s erotica event and I’m moderating a talk at McNally Jackson February 17th. I have a newsletter you can join on my site (rachelkramerbussel.com) which lists my upcoming events.
And, it’s not free, but next Tuesday I’m part of Heeb Storytelling: Live Comics Edition at Joe’s Pub, along with Molly Crabapple, who drew the In The Flesh logo, and Seth Kushner, who’s also presenting at the last In The Flesh, among many other talented folks.
After that, who knows? I may revive the In The Flesh name and would like to do occasional multimedia shows, but without the pressure of bringing out an audience every month. And the third Thursday also features great free reading series like Drunken! Careening! Writers! at KGB and the Steamboat series at WORD in Greenpoint, among many other activities. I highly doubt sexy New Yorkers will be lacking in places to go! I also plan to be doing more audio erotica recordings you can listen to from the comfort of your home (or headphones).