It began with Drizzy. Last spring, Alicia Kennedy, Mensah Demary, and Sareen Yogesh Patel started hosting LIT: A Music and Reading Series at Williamsburg’s Over the Eight. Aiming to both bridge the gap between pop culture and literature and create a space where music, words, and dancing coexist, LIT’s founders began what has now become for so many a memorable night of heartfelt poetics and visceral backbeats. Self defined through the tagline “Literature. Music. Booze.,” LIT began with two vital components of postmodern life: Twitter and Drake.
“Mensah tweeted that he wanted a reading series,” Kennedy recounts. “It was just a random thought, and I was like, ‘So do it!’ and we ended up on a text thread talking about it. We were like, ‘What is this reading series going to be about?’ and then it came up that it was going to be about Drake, as a joke. I was like, ‘There’s a way that we could make it about Drake and it’ll be cool and people will want to come.’ ” For Kennedy, who is also a DJ, the idea of hosting a music-based reading series was not only inevitable but a dream come true. “I booked it at Over the Eight and we went from there,” she explains.
After Drake came Rihanna. “It happened that we picked Drake and then he came out with his album; then we picked Rihanna and then ‘B**ch Better Have My Money’ came out….So we are a little bit psychic,” Kennedy jokes.
For the reading series’ resident DJ Sareen, timing has proven to be vital for LIT. “It was a blessing that [Drake] dropped his album when it did because it inspired people,” Sareen explains. “I’m sure that people would have had many things to say about him anyway, but everything coalesced and he brought out this array of feelings. it wasn’t just ‘Let’s talk about rap music, about males, about feelings’ — he was a perfect jumping-off point because he has such a broad cross-section of things that he touches on in our culture. And Rihanna seemed like the next logical step because she occupies a similar spectrum.”
Attuned to the steady pulse of pop culture and music trends, LIT’s knack for picking performers at their most temporally relevant moment has in many ways become recurrent. Placing the thematic spotlight on legends (like Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in advance of Montage of Heck’s re-release) and larger-than-life icons (like Kanye West, who in his acceptance speech at the VMAs declared his plans to run for the 2020 presidency) proves that LIT is, in its own way, synonymous with the zeitgeist.
Set to hold their fifth installment of the reading series that began with a tweet, Kennedy and her fellow founders plan on “welcoming fall with a literary group therapy session” centered around “the incomparable Kanye West.” With an impressive roster of ten readers, the forthcoming Yeezus-themed evening will undoubtedly continue to seamlessly mesh the music scene with the literary. “I don’t really like the literary scene, which is why I wanted to do a reading to give outsiders a point of access for coming to a reading,” Kennedy confesses. “If you go to another reading, it’s dry and oftentimes pretentious, and you’ll hear people talking about their semiotics courses at their Ivy League schools….I didn’t want any of that. Whether we love [pop stars] or hate them, we have an opinion on them, so it really brings in a lot of people who wouldn’t come to a reading normally. It gives them a different experience. It’s more than a way of bridging the literary and music worlds.”
For Sareen, the reading series/dance party is the appropriate space for all feelings, big and small alike, much like the virtual space of Twitter. “For me, mentally, it all takes place on Twitter,” he explains. “Kendrick comes out with something and everyone will talk about it at length and for me that seems very fluid. People will write a thinkpiece and then there’ll be other people who will just be like, ‘This album is dope.’ I see it all happening on Twitter, and [LIT] just feels like the IRL version of that. You can have a tiny feeling about the artist or you can have strong feelings. Whatever.”
In a little less than a year, LIT has managed to celebrate some of the most iconic performers of our century. For Kennedy it is only the beginning. “I would love to have a LIT for Lana Del Rey,” she says. “We’re doing Prince in October and then we’ll mirror Kurt and Courtney with Beyoncé and Jay Z. We’re also thinking about doing David Bowie or Morrissey, but Morrissey is like Kanye….It has to be at the right time.”
From humor writing to poetry to nonfiction, LIT is redefining audiences’ expectations of what a reading looks (and sounds) like. From prefacing readers’ sets with thematically suitable tracks to offering an outlet for fans’ feelings about the ways in which their favorite albums have shaped their lives, this Brooklyn-based reading is already transforming the literary scene. “We’re kind of a middle ground between things,” Kennedy states. “We want to take the experience of listening to music in your room and writing in a journal and just bring it out into the open.”
LIT plans to celebrate Yeezus on Wednesday, September 9, at Friends and Lovers. RSVP here.