Based in Joshua Tree, California, since 2019, the Desert Split Open encourages and amplifies literary work that is feminist, queer, or otherwise radical. It continues the conversation started by this book: Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology (World Split Open Press, 2018). Susan Rukeyser hosts the monthly Desert Split Open Mic, plus special events for Pride Month and Banned Books Week. The Desert Split Open also presents occasional readings and interviews with local and visiting authors, with a focus on feminist writers of extraordinary prose. Contact worldsplitopenpress @ gmail.com to join our mailing list.
Enjoy a playlist composed in the spirit of our open mic:
The next Desert Split Open Mic will be Sunday, March 17, 6-8 PM, at the Beatnik Lounge (61597 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA). Free. Sign up begins at 5:45. Yes, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, so we can’t help but think of snakes, metaphorical and otherwise. Sssssee where your serpentine thoughts take your words, whatever the topic. Read us your poetry or prose, any form, any genre, for up to 6 minutes (please time yourself beforehand!) Keep it feminist, queer, or otherwise radical. Show us what that means to you. 🎤✨
The Desert Split Open Mic celebrated its 5th birthday the best way we know how: with powerful words from writer friends old and new – and cupcakes! The quality of work shared was remarked upon by several attendees. What a talented group of writers we have living in this area. Many thanks to everyone who joined us, whether you read or just listened and heard. We were impressed with how each reader delivered their work with strength and vulnerability. We loved taking a look back at how we’ve evolved since January 2019, but we are especially excited about where we go from here. Hope you will be part of it.
from Susan Rukeyser’s introduction:
“The first Desert Split Open Mic met in January 2019, with the intention to continue and expand the conversation started by this book: Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. It was a response to Trump, but it became a much broader reckoning with how we got there, with our experiences, growing up and existing in this white, heteronormative patriarchy.
The open mic offered a place to read work that might be discouraged elsewhere for being controversial, or – god forbid! – political. It felt urgent that we consciously and regularly exercise our right to free speech.
But, first and always, this is a literary open mic. I use it as motivation to keep writing new work and reading it in public. I use it to try out new work and see how it lands. I do a lot of revising, after each open mic. I hope others think of the DSOM as useful, also.
In early 2020, just before Covid hit, we hosted the first of many author events, a colorful performance by Tami Hattis and friends. While the open mic was on pause for Covid, we held Zoom events for L.I. Henley and Vanessa Veselka, among others. In 2021, our return to in-person events was a fantastic – if unseasonably cold! – multimedia event with Annie Connole.
We restarted the open mic that August, outdoors at the Retreat Center, and we’ve met just about every month since, somewhere or other – we have been around, shall we say: Zannedelions, Art Trap, Taylor Junction, the Retreat Center, the Station, the Joshua Tree Lake & RV Campground, and of course, our current and best homebase, the Beatnik.
In 2022, the open mic welcomed visiting writer Kim Vodicka as a featured reader. Later that year, a small group of us performed at Hi-Desert Fringe. In 2023, we gathered a different group to appear at the Bombay Beach Lit Fest, where I hope we will return this year.
For the last couple of years, we celebrated Banned Books Week with a community reading at Space Cowboy Books. And of course, every June, we celebrate Pride. We will have an event here at the Beatnik this June.
In 2023, a special open mic at Furstworld included a screening of a community poetry film by artist L Akinyi. At The Firehouse, we hosted Annie Connole in conversation with poet Justine Chan, and then later in the year, I interviewed Alexandra Martinez.
It has been a wild 5 years. I think it helped a lot of us, having a place to regularly gather with likeminded writers. I appreciate everyone who shows up and makes it something beautiful and different every time.”
The last Desert Split Open Mic of 2023 was a powerful, moving experience, full of synchronicities. Writers BROUGHT the quality, with outstanding material delivered thoughtfully. The room was filled with folks who regularly attend plus some who were there for the first time. Our local writing community continues to expand and diversify, and it’s thrilling to witness. We will all be better writers for this community. Thanks so much for being part of it.
The Desert Split Open Mic was created to encourage and amplify the voices of writers exploring feminist, queer, or otherwise radical themes, especially the voices of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ people. We are off for December and will return Sunday, January 21, 2024, at the Beatnik. Hope to see you.
What a perfect literary evening in the high dez: local poet and library worker Alexandra Martinez came to the Desert Split Open to introduce her latest, prize-winning collection, Our Lady of Perpetual Desert (Inlandia). She gave a beautiful reading, which we enjoyed while gazing out at an expansive view of the desert, pinking up for sunset. Alexandra then sat down with writer/DSO host Susan Rukeyser, who asked her questions about metaphorical and literal cages; inclusive, intersectional feminism; (mis)perceptions of identity and speaking on one’s own behalf; and how these poems came to win the 2021 Regional Hillary Gravendyk Prize. Afterward, we all hung out and ate and drank and bought books and talked about poetry and other stuff, while we watched the desert go dark. Many thanks to The Firehouse for use of the space and the kind and generous help. Get yourself a copy of Alexandra’s book if you haven’t already! 📚🌵✨
See you next month on Sunday November 19, back at the Beatnik Lounge in the heart of JT.
📷: Kelly Burns 🙏
“In Our Lady of Perpetual Desert, a collection of poems both personal and political, Alexandra Martinez peels back layers of expectation and assumption to offer her own citrus heart as participant and witness to uncertainty, insecurity, and injustice. … What is it like to live between deserts? Open these pages, and Martinez will show you.”
– Matthew Woodman, 2022 Kern County Poet Laureate
This year we felt a particular urgency in planning our #BannedBooksWeek event with Space Cowboy Books. The shocking increase in attempts to restrict and remove books from school and public libraries was obviously driven by the larger, so called “anti-woke” movement. They targeted bold, bestselling, award winning books, overwhelmingly written by and about members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. It is a blatantly racist, transphobic, and homophobic attempt to silence voices and stories from outside the mainstream, anything that challenges the old cishet, white, patriarchal narrative. We gathered on a clear afternoon that grew chilly, reading passages from these books that highlighted what makes them beautiful and important. We were reminded of how critical it is to see and hear ourselves in the books we read. We were reminded that we don’t want a small-minded, prudish minority making decisions for the rest of us. I am so grateful to the members of our local writing community who came out and participated, and especially Space Cowboy Books for hosting us. Don’t forget that you can buy any of the books you heard last night – or any others – on bookshop.org and support your local independent bookstore.
Well, wow. The Desert Split Open Mic returned to the @beatnikloungejt, after a brief summer break, to a packed room of old friends and new – a dozen of them reading powerful work, much of which was in progress or revised, a nod to September’s informal, optional theme of revision. Many thanks to everyone who came and was part of it, especially each brave reader who trusted us with a sliver of themselves. You are beautiful.
This gathering marked a new season for the open mic, so I took the opportunity to restate the intention behind it: “Officially, the Desert Split Open encourages and amplifies literary work that is feminist, queer, or otherwise radical. My goal is to get us thinking about these words and ideas and writing into them more consciously. Our feminism is intersectional, anti-racist, and trans-inclusive, and we are all always learning. We hold each reader in respectful attention. We take writing seriously as an art and practice at least once to make sure we come in under 6 minutes. 😉 And we cheer each other on, because writing is hard and competitive enough – and this is a space apart from that.”
The Desert Split Open Mic returns Sunday, September 17: back at the Beatnik Lounge (61597 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA), 5-7 PM. Stay tuned for more info. As always, read your poetry or prose, any genre, for up to 6 minutes. Keep it feminist, queer, or otherwise rad.
It has been quite a year so far, and for those who might enjoy a quick look back: We began with a special event at Furstwurld, welcoming artist and filmmaker L Akinyi for a screening of their community poetry film, “Masks and Mirrors,” followed by an open mic on the same theme. February had us considering intersections, inspired by the Beatnik’s Feb show: At the Intersection: Text & Image. The March open mic gathered old friends and new to share work in progress. In early April, a few of us performed on behalf of the DSOM at the first ever Bombay Beach Lit Fest. The April open mic had us thinking of poetry and springtime, of course! In May, we were at The Firehouse, presenting Justine Chan and her new poetry collection from Chin Music Press, Should You Lose All Reason(s), in conversation with local writer and fellow CMP author, Annie Connole. In June, our open mic was integrated into Hi-Desert Pride, and we had a vibrant, vulnerable experience, surrounded by the Beatnik’s “Queerated” art show. After that meeting, we began our short summer break. Hope you will join us when we return on September 17.
In the meantime, keep writing like the truth matters, even when it is drowned out by lies. Dig deep, be brave, and say what you mean. Don’t forget to breathe (I always forget). Thanks to everyone who came to one or all of our events this year, to read or just listen.
What is it about Pride that makes everything sparkle? Our celebration of Hi-Desert Pride 🏳️⚧️🏳️🌈was a special one. We read surrounded by the “Queerated” group art show, life and color filling the space. Check out the fantastic Aaron Sheppard piece we had as backdrop! 😍 We were treated to readings by friends old and new, with lots of folks just there to listen. What a great, engaged audience. Thank you to everyone who made time in their Pride celebrations to be part of it. 🌈📚✨ The Desert Split Open Mic will not meet in July or August, but we will return to the Beatnik Lounge (61597 29 Palms Hwy, Joshua Tree, CA) in September. Contact Susan at [email protected] to join the mailing list. Have a happy summer, if you can. Be proud and loud. And write a LOT, will ya? See you soon. ❤️🧡💛🌵💙💜
The Desert Split Open presents Justine Chan in conversation with Annie ConnolePoet Justine Chan visited Joshua Tree to present her book, Should You Lose All Reason(s), just published by Chin Music Press. Many thanks to everyone who came out to The Firehouse on a glorious, golden evening in Joshua Tree. 🧡 This was a special literary event. We’re thrilled that so many people got to know this beautiful book. What’s better than gathering writers and readers who appreciate the art and music of language? It was pretty magical, that view of the desert, while listening to poetry and then, two talented writers discussing themes and craft. We are grateful to Justine and Chin Music Press, and of course Annie for asking the most thoughtful questions, and The Firehouse for lending us the perfect space for an evening we won’t soon forget. 🤎
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.