Now in its 5th year, the Desert Split Open was created by Susan Rukeyser and Mia Torres to continue the conversation started by Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology (World Split Open Press, 2018). We host the monthly Desert Split Open Mic, Joshua Tree’s feminist, queer, and otherwise radical spoken word open mic, and organize special literary events to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride Month and Banned Books Week. Occasionally, we host events with local and visiting authors, with a focus on feminist writers of extraordinary prose. Contact worldsplitopenpress @ gmail.com to join our mailing list.
New! The Desert Split Open Playlist, almost 10 hours of music inspired by our open mic.
SAVE THE DATE! Saturday, June 17, 5-7 PM: the Desert Split Open celebrates LGBTQ+ Pride. More info to come. Stay tuned & stay strong.
The Desert Split Open presents Justine Chan in conversation with Annie Connole
Poet Justine Chan visits Joshua Tree to present her new collection, Should You Lose All Reason(s), just published by Chin Music Press. Justine will read a selection, followed by a brief conversation with fellow Chin Music author and hi-desert local Annie Connole. Afterward, Justine will sign and sell books as guests are encouraged to enjoy complimentary refreshments.
What a lovely evening we had, sharing poetry and prose among the Beatnik’s latest gallery show. Our readings extended into a spontaneous conversation afterward. It felt intimate, and the caliber of work was notably high. So much feels heavy these days, but it is finally spring, and we get to hear from some truly exceptional local writers once a month! I am grateful to be among writers willing to experiment and try out rough work, to take risks and trust that we will hear. There will not be an open mic in May, but please join us for a special event on Tuesday May 23: The Desert Split Open presents Justine Chan in conversation with Annie Connole. The open mic will return in June for a special event in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month!
Bombay Beach Lit Fest
Well, the Desert Split Open had an absolute blast at the Bombay Beach Lit Fest! Set within the Bombay Beach Biennale, with art installations throughout town, on the beach, and in the water, the Bombay Beach Lit Fest was just our vibe: down to earth, soaked in art, with friendly, feminist writer-people chatting about their work – how they do it and why. What’s hard about it. It was a full, miniature writer’s festival, with some workshops held in a converted shipping container. Headliners read at the Legion Hall. Reading on behalf of the Desert Split Open were Susan Abbott, R Gurley, lalo kikiriki, Alex Maceda, Susan Rukeyser, Cindy Weinstein. We were in the Theater, a garage of sorts with a gravel floor, bathed in red light from the shade cloth hung to block sun and wind. Bombay Beach and Joshua Tree may not be sisters, but we are some kind of cousins. It felt right for us to be there, and we were honored by the appreciative audience. Many thanks to Gina Frangello and the small group of volunteer organizers who pulled off a 4-day feat from afar that would impress anyone who’s ever tried to organize a literary event. In short: that was fun! 💖🌴
This month’s Desert Split Open Mic was a mix of old and new friends, joining us from just up the street to Palm Springs. The work read was the sort of stuff that sneaks up and follows you home. Someone read the lyrics to Workin’ On a World, a new song by Iris Dement, and honestly it was exactly what I needed to hear, because lately – have I mentioned? – I’m a little on edge. I recommend giving it a listen. We also screened a talk and slideshow by DSOM co-creator Mia Torres, who was unfortunately unable to attend in person. It was originally created for the event, “I’m Speaking,” presented by Lez Out Loud and the L-Fund. We were thrilled to welcome the host of Lez Out Loud, Mina Hartong, to introduce the film. All around us was the notably beautiful new gallery show, Fiber Optix II. See you next down by the Salton Sea at the Bombay Beach Lit Fest!
Surrounded by art hung for the Beatnik Lounge’s current group show, At the Intersection: Text & Image, our open mic was an intimate and powerful one. The quality of work shared was outstanding. Afterward, we turned off the lights for a screening of the show’s digital exhibit. We noticed how, as always seems to happen, unintentional, connecting threads began to appear between the work shared. It seems we did indeed meet at the intersection.
What a night! L Akinyi is an artistic force – and a sweet person, too (work with L if you get the chance!) The Desert Split Open was thrilled to host a screening of her short film, Masks + Mirrors, a “community poetry project” incorporating the poetry of several area writers: Ona Adhiambo, Aries Jordan, Marie Montano, Yoojin Oh, La Toro, Beth Benson, Lotus Poet, Ismael Gonzalez, Susan Rukeyser; and featuring artist Jina Imani and music by The Jehovas. The film was produced as part of L’s residency with Arts Connection, the San Bernardino County Arts Council, at the Garcia Center for the Arts. The film is part of a larger thematic series, combining “physical mask-making with virtual masks in the form of layered photo filters and self-taught video-editing.” We followed with a brief Q&A and then our open mic, continuing with the theme of masks and mirrors, which aligned with L’s desire to open up the project for “others’ interpretation, contribution, and participation.” We were impressed with the quality of the work read, and reminded of how many different interpretations are possible of those two words/symbols. L’s project, inspired in part by recent global mask mandates, has evolved and we can’t see why it won’t continue to expand! Thank you to everyone who braved the desert winter weather to be part of this. That night happened to be the 4th anniversary of our very first Desert Split Open Mic, and we could not have asked for a better celebration.
The November meeting of the Desert Split Open Mic was our last meeting of the year, and it was a good one. Notably, it was both Transgender Day of Remembrance and also the day after another mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub, this time Club Q in Colorado Springs. It was a reminder that hateful rhetoric about gay and, in particular, trans people, spewed by many members of the Republican party, leads inevitably to violence. It felt right, or necessary, to be with friends and like-minded writers. We were reminded of how grateful we are for the community we become, once a month, how we hold each reader, how we are allies for each other.
We are continually moved by the quality of the work shared and the beauty of writers speaking words they were compelled to write. We hear work in progress and work polished to perfection. Thank you to everyone who came to this or any of our events in 2022, who read once or every time, who helped spread the word or brought a friend. And huge thanks to all the wonderful venues that hosted us over the past year: The Station Joshua Tree, Josjua Tree Lake RV & Campground, Space Cowboy Books for our Banned Books Week event, and our current home, the Beatnik Louge, where we held our Pride month celebration 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ as well as several regular open mics. Thank you all for giving us a place to be.
⚡️Featured Visiting Writer Kim Vodicka lit up the room, the block, and the night with a dynamic reading from her latest book, Dear Ted, a “hybrid work of poetic diatribes and erotic horrorscapes.” Defiantly feminist, sly, and playful, her words set the tone for a powerful Desert Split Open Mic, with local readers sharing intense and intimate poetry and prose. The doodles of Lauren Wolpert, currently lining the walls of the Beatnik, surrounded us. Were those faces listening, too? At times it felt like it. Thanks to those who joined us, including the Democrats of the Morongo Basin (@democratsmb), who provided information on local candidates and propositions, which can also be found on their website. For the love of everything feminist, queer, and otherwise radical, please vote by Nov 8. 💙
What a wonderful experience! The Desert Split Open Mic’s celebration of #BannedBooksWeek at Space Cowboy Books brought out the community in a strong show of support for free expression. We were treated to readings from an exceptional array of banned and challenged books, including 4 of the top 10 most challenged in 2021: Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe; The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; and Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin. We also heard excerpts from books by George Orwell, Henry Miller, Alison Bechdel, J.G. Ballard, Akwaeke Emezi, John Steinbeck, Khaled Hosseini, and more. Huge thanks to everyone who came out to read, listen, or pick up information from the Democrats of the Morongo Basin! We have some terrific writers (and readers) in our midst. Much gratitude to Space Cowboy Books for supporting this event and for having a whole lot of banned and challenged titles in stock! Locals, don’t miss this beautifully curated bookshop. The DSOM is back to our usual open mic format next month, with a special guest we’re excited to announce soon. ✊📢📚
Well that was exciting! Last Sunday’s Desert Split Open Mic opened with a few rousing words from Derek Marshall (candidate for US House CA 23) about his goals for our district, impressing us with his energy and focus. Several people in attendance told us how glad they were to know him better. Afterwards, we held our open mic and were dazzled, as always, by the fierce talent and variety of voices in our community. The work chosen to be shared with us is often vulnerable, or risky in that it would not be welcome everywhere. That feels like something to encourage and protect.
We knew it was coming. For decades we watched the GOP strategize the end of Roe. As they say, Roe was meant to be the floor, not the ceiling, but the floor just fell out from under us. Are you able to talk about it? What do you have to say? Who controls your privacy, health, future, body, choice? Who controls you?
Happy June, happy Pride! The Desert Split Open Mic: Queer Voices was a very special event and I’m grateful to everyone who came to the Beatnik to be part of it. We were treated to dynamic readings of work by poets and writers like Will Inman, Adrienne Rich, Denice Frohman, and Mary Oliver, among others, including work by the readers themselves. We have so many talented local writers! And many have personal experiences regarding queerness that added historical context and insight. It felt like every emotion was hit, cumulatively – joy, humor, lust, grief, wonder, shame, regret, vulnerability, and pride. The audience held each reader with generous, rapt attention.
: Sandra Goodin Photography
On Saturday, May 14, the Desert Split Open appeared at Hi-Desert Fringe! Caryn Davidson, Annie Connole, Dwayne Alicie joined host Susan Rukeyser to read vulnerable, thoughtful prose, reflecting our mission of encouraging and amplifying literary work that is feminist, queer, or otherwise radical. What a fun evening (and, wow… the location ). There is so much talent, of many varieties, in this desert.
The Desert Split Open Mic met at our new home, the Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground. We had easy access to the shady Pavilion, which Mia helped build! This is where Mia lived when she first arrived in Joshua Tree. It’s where the JT Music Festival happens, as well as other special gatherings, and the place has a friendly, warm vibe – and many happy birds singing along with our words! At one point a few ducks (from the lake) flew overhead. (Ducks in the desert – you gotta come see that.) We had a sweet mix of old and new faces and were treated to a variety of smart, funny, moving work on a range of topics. I love hearing what’s on a reader’s mind, what’s weighing on their heart. As always, it felt like a privilege to be there, listening and then sharing my own words. I wrote about my mother, Alzheimer’s, and feminism. It meant everything to be heard. Thank you to everyone who came out and shared that time with us. Let’s do it again next month.
Now at our new home, the Pavilion at the Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground (2601 Sunfair Road, Joshua Tree, CA)!
Many thanks to The Station Joshua Tree for hosting the Desert Split Open Mic when we found ourselves suddenly without a suitable place to meet. We LOVED being there! It is a popular venue for obvious reasons (great vibe; cool and funny items for sale all around). We hope to be back now and then. But we’re also excited about our new home, as of March 2022: the Pavilion at Joshua Tree Lake RV & Campground, home of the JT Music Festival and more. We are so grateful to the members of our community truly dedicated to supporting the dynamic local talent we have out here in the hi-desert.
January’s Desert Split Open Mic was a special one and I loved every minute. It was the kind of open mic that blows you away with the quality and diversity of work shared – we have some extraordinary local writers – but also in the notably receptive and kind audience. It feels like the right place to say what you really mean. I’m honored to be part of it. Huge thanks to Steve and Glen of The Station Joshua Tree for lending us their roomy, endlessly fun back patio at the last minute when our usual venue became unavailable due to renovations. Their enthusiasm for an opportunity to support their community meant the world to us. It was the perfect way to start off a new year – the DSOM’s fourth! There is a lot of talk about community, but last Sunday we saw it happen. I felt held and surrounded by it. I hope everyone there felt it too. Thank you.
Our return to (outdoor, distanced) in-person events was the desert launch of Annie’s gorgeous new book, The Spring , which debuted May 2021 from Chin Music Press. An enthusiastic crowd braved unseasonable cold – and kindly overlooked some technical hiccups – to enjoy a packed, multimedia program. Opening remarks by Chin Music editor Todd Shimoda were followed by Annie’s reading of a selection from her book, accompanied by a slideshow of her photographs. My conversation with Annie included thoughts about the desert as inspiration, radical structure, and feminist themes. Before and after, we enjoyed original music by Gabriella Evaro, Kendall Morgan, and the author, and a loop of Annie’s evocative photographs. Many thanks to everyone who joined us and helped make it a special evening.
The publisher calls The Spring “a mythic memoir… a book-length lyric essay that examines grief and transformation through the lens of mystical animal appearances following the death of the narrator’s partner.” The language in this slim volume is as spare and deliberate as poetry. It exists in the liminal space between genres and worlds, peace and grief, where animals appear with messages, and patterns emerge to make sense of great loss. Following the narrator from Montana to the Mojave Desert, the book is illustrated with the author’s own photographs, lending another layer of poignancy and also a grounding in realism.
The Spring is available for purchase at your favorite independent bookstore, Bookshop.org; Chin Music Press; and Amazon.
The Desert Split Open Presents… Bonnie Brady. Join us as we celebrate the publication of her new book, And That Was That: An Abortion Memoir, a straightforward collection of experiences before and after Roe v. Wade, recounted in Brady’s down-to-earth, engaging voice. Reading to include two special guests with Q&A to follow. This private event promises to reflect the intimate, empowering spirit of Joshua Tree’s Desert Split Open Mic, where some early excerpts from this book were first shared
RSVP worldsplitopen[at]gmail[dot]com to register.
And That Was That: An Abortion Memoir (ISBN 9780578806778, 35 pgs, $7.00) is available at Bookshop.org; Amazon; and at the World Split Open Press Etsy shop where, throughout February and March, we will donate all profits from this book to the National Network of Abortion Funds.
The Desert Split Open Presents… L.I. Henley and Zara Kand. We discussed their beautiful new chapbook, From the Moon, as I fell, a collection of poems and paintings they call “emotional landscapes,” set against a backdrop of the Mojave desert. It arose from the creative exchange, or inquiry, they began in early 2020, a response to the anxious isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine. In this clip, I had just asked about the various feminist themes present in the book and the idea that certain values, like thrift and resourcefulness, are inherently feminist. Their answers were beautifully thoughtful. Following is a snippet of their multi-media presentation.
Copies are available online from Joshua Tree’s Space Cowboy Books, or from local retailers Soul Connection and Rainbow Stew. Or order directly from their websites: https://www.lihenley.com/books; http://zarakand.com/store/.
For our first online event, we were thrilled to welcome Vanessa Veselka, author of The Great Offshore Grounds. Vanessa’s virtual book tour follows the routes taken by her characters, including Cheyenne, who has a memorable day and night in Joshua Tree. The publisher, Knopf, calls The Great Offshore Grounds, “A wildly original, cross-country novel that subverts a long tradition of family narratives and casts new light on the mythologies—national, individual, and collective—that drive and define us.”
In our opinion, The Great Offshore Grounds is feminist, queer, and otherwise radical. It is also beautifully written, thematically ambitious, literary fiction. It is a big book, in all ways, so I was glad we decided to focus our conversation on promiscuity and feminism and our expectations of female characters (and authors).
Vanessa was kind enough to mention our event in a recent blog post:
“Cheyenne travels through Joshua Tree, spending a night in past, very personal hells, heightened by designer drugs, menstrual cramps, and loneliness. I got to have a wonderful conversation with Susan Rukeyser at The Desert Split Open…”
We can’t wait to invite her back to read in person.
3 thoughts on “The Desert Split Open”
Comments are closed.