Chris is a man of the people.
“I want to invest exactly the amount of time that I have fun,” Chris Graham told me about Amazing New Stuff in Northwood Café on Bloor Street West. Amazing New Stuff began in October 2012 when Graham was still relatively new to Toronto. “I wrote this thing [on the National Congress of the KKK] and wanted to advertise it and to get people to buy it or even just read it. Nobody really knows me, so I thought, I will organize a reading.”
Graham was already a regular at The Common on College where his close friend Raven Shields worked, and he thought it would make the perfect venue for a reading. “She and I decided to have it one night when she was working because it’s just easier to coordinate when she’s there. She’s an amazing musician, so we brought in some music so she could participate.” After the first show, Graham and Shields decided to stick to the format of having three readers with a musical act in-between. The series runs every four to six weeks and took a break during the summer.
A stand out feature of Amazing New Stuff is its consistent branding, which Graham vows came about naturally. “I don’t even know how we came up with the name. I just came up with it. We make these very elaborate Facebook invitations. I make up all the quotations, all the description. None of the stuff is true. It’s just hilarious. I think if you wanted to describe it in a systematized way, it fits into some kind of branding, but it’s very organic. It’s not like we sit down and try to come up with all of that stuff. I don’t know about the advertising – it’s more or less word of mouth.”
Graham also takes pride in what he describes as the “disorganization” of his series. “That’s how it started out, and I’m not super interested in investing a lot of time to make it happen. So, in so far as that amounts to it being sort of ad hoc and disorganized, then we actively pursue that. We also actively do pursue a more rigorous schedule. I mean, it’s clearly within our power to get a website, but there’s been no interest in doing that. That’s how I describe it – as an ad hoc reading series that happens whenever Raven and I get our act together.”
“It’s also free. Another aspect of the show being disorganized. Raven and I really like that. Nobody gets paid. Readers don’t get paid, we don’t get paid, we don’t pay for the venue. I like that it’s a space that’s non-transactional. Unless you want a beer, then you can buy a beer.” Graham doesn’t claim people should give away their work for free, but that the free nature of the show encourages people to participate in the community, attend his event, and reinforces the intimacy of Amazing New Stuff.
“It’s really intimate. Often it’s standing room only. We picked a small venue because it makes us feel really good; it’s not that difficult to fill. We don’t need any amplification. You just stand on the bar and read. The last time we did it, we had people standing on the street. It was crazy busy, people were out the door, but I think that’s kind of fun. It’s fun to be at an event that’s so busy because then you go home and you’re like, ‘Man, I was at this killer event!’ We’ve had people sitting on tables; I sit on the floor a lot. The Common is a good size for us.”
Even with the inclusion of music, Amazing New Stuff is able to keep their shows short and efficient. “Every single person who is a writer who comes out loves that it’s only ten minutes [for each set] because everyone’s been to these shitty readings where it’s 20 minutes, or 30 minutes and so on. Ten minutes is a good taste.” Graham has rarely had a problem with people going over time. “Usually, the people who go longer are awesome. Russell Smith was up there for I think twenty minutes, but he also was doing this impersonation of PSY, the guy who did Gangnam Style, which everyone thought was hilarious.”
The music sets are also only ten minutes long, although at the next event, a separate music show will follow the readings. This may become the norm after Amazing New Stuff. “There is a lot of different music that Raven wants to bring in. Amazing New Stuff starts around 7, finishes at 8:30, so you can totally have a music show start at 9. Raven definitely is our tap into the musical crowd. She knows all sorts of musicians who play music that just works for us. There’s no amplification so you have to be acoustic. Her kind of music is folk/country/rock.”
Graham describes what he’s looking for in a live show through his experience of live music: “Sometimes I’ve been hanging out at The Common really late, and a bunch of her friends will come over, and they’ll just start jamming, and they’ll have a guitar and pass it around, and it’s just awesome. I guess there’s a spontaneous quality to that which makes it extra special or extra magical. Going to live things and just being delighted by the content is the same sort of spontaneous quality.”
Amazing New Stuff sometimes does special projects or one-off shows. This summer they organized a reading at Ward’s Island Café. Their newest project? A signature cocktail. “It’s going to be called The Ellipsis. Raven and I are still tinkering with the recipe, i.e. drinking very heavily.”
Back from their summer break, Amazing New Stuff starts up again on Thursday, September 19th at 7:30 p.m. with The Puritan’s associate fiction editor, Andrew Sullivan; the Puritan’s co-editor, Spencer Gordon; Cian Cruise; and music by Raven Shields and Julie Arsenault.
If Amazing New Stuff is the reading series for you, come on out to the show and meet Chris Graham. You can also friend him on Facebook to stay in the know about their events. If you email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and you’re lucky, he just may add you to a post-it note on his computer where he keeps a list of future readers.