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Queer femme, Sister Spit visits Oakland

Sister Spit, a troupe of savvy queer women with a knack for rhyming and wit, made a stop in Oakland as part of their latest nationwide tour.

The performance was held Oct. 7 at the Oakland Metro Opera House.

Michelle Tea, a San Francisco-based writer and co-creator of Sister Spit, stood on the stage in a navy polka dot dress and spiked heels and welcomed the crowd with her signature wide-mouthed grin.

Tea, author of such books as Valencia and a former visiting professor at Mills College from 2008-2009, created Sister Spit in 1994 as a way for women to share their poetry, photography and writing. This year’s roster includes Berkeley-born graphic novelist Ariel Schrag, longtime SF Gate columnist and author Beth Lisick, and photographer Rhiannon Argo. Also performing this year is photographer and author Sara Seinberg.

“I’ve been running around with this amalgamation of female centric people for over a quarter of my life now. It’s hard to find the words for how important Michelle Tea and Sister Spit have been in my life,” said Seinberg, who traveled from Brooklyn to perform.

Seinberg read an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, The Madness of a Simple Red Stone, a contemporary rendition of the Greek Myth Pandora.

“I’ve never written a novel before. I can’t believe how many folks have done it. It’s just so difficult. I mean for real. So difficult. An unwieldy squirming little beast some days. Like trying to bathe a cat,” she said.

In her novel, Seinberg portrays Pandora in a modern setting, looking through the eyes of a woman who has been blamed for all the evil in the world. Her work delves into the topics of war and womanhood, and the crowd cooed with approval after she delivered her last line.

The women of Sister Spit displayed a wide variety of pieces, with some, like performance artist and advice columnist Ben McCoy’s, inciting bursts of explosive laughter from the audience. McCoy read an uproarious excerpt from one of her columns, where she offers advice to a young gay teenager with a crush on a straight classmate. Other pieces, like performance artist Kirya Traber’s piece, spoke about race, gender and politics, leaving the crowd quiet with consideration.

“Black Chick’ is my first chapbook, and first solo published work. I was featured in a collection of five women put out by First Word Press called Tiny Little Maps to Each Other, but I was much less conscious of my work on the page at that time,” said Traber, who recently won a slam poetry competition at San Quentin Prison.

“I went to San Quentin through an English department program with other poets and inmates who are there, and we all performed and were judged by the crowd,” she said. “They picked the bi-sexual chick!”

The poems she performed were rhythmic and bold. They described her life in terms of her race, sexuality, womanhood and the injuries she sustained throughout the years — both literal and figurative — as a result of these identities.

Goldie Negelev, a sophomore at Mills College, also performed a passage from a short story she wrote while taking a creative writing class with Michelle Tea.

Afterwards, she confessed her nervousness and heaved a sigh of relief that her turn was over. Still, she was grateful for the experience.

“I’m from Massachusetts and so is Michelle Tea, so I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time,” Negelev said. “She’s really good at getting people exposure, and making performing a more accessible and welcoming experience.”

After the show was over, Seinberg reflected on her involvement in Sister Spit and the impact it has had on her life.

“Sister Spit has been a family to me, a girl gang, a writer’s shrink session. It’s incredible to be a part of something for so long, and to be asked back over time has only made me a better person in the world,” she said.

“Michelle Tea is an uncommon human full of such generosity, talent, and grace, being around her inspires not just one’s art, but also one’s desire to strive as a human on the planet, and ability to laugh when that task feels impossible.”