The cool part of Birmingham or: Kafka in 'bama

If you ever find yourself in Birmingham, Alabama, and you want to be reminded of, say, East Berlin not long after the fall of the Wall, when lots of artists cooperatives and little restaurants sprang up in alleyways and empty buildings, then take yourself to Greencup Books, 105 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. South. This space (and this space only) has the feel of E. Berlin. I had a little reading there on Friday. Next door is Bare Hands Gallery, which had on display some shiny silver deer heads and a political piece made of an old water fountain. (You look down in the hole where the pipe went and you see Obama cards and in the middle, a black and white photo of a bigot in front of the statehouse, probably in the 1960s.)

Greencup has a portrait of Kafka painted on the wall, flanked by (painted) cockroaches, and a couple of shelves of lit mags and zines from all over. It's a nonprofit, which hosts classes and performances, and designs and prints books. Outside on the sidewalk was a bin of romance novels. Inside were shelves and shelves of used books. Plus some couches, typewriters, and people sitting with their laptops. My reading started late, upstairs, where there were large skeleton costumes hanging up, in storage from the annual Dia de los Muertes festival. Not that many people are here, the head guy told me, after checking upstairs, where the reading would take place, and then I went up there and saw one person waiting. In the end, there were seven in the audience, plus a dog, who didn't seem to be much interested in cancer or Cancer Bitch. I'd met three of the audience members at the gallery. One of them had a mastectomy about 20 years ago when she was penniless and insurance-less, and had reconstruction more recently. She said she was sick of pink ribbons and we talked about pink-washing, whereby corporations and sports teams support breast cancer benefits in order to clean up their public profiles. We sat in a sort of oblong and I read and we talked. It was very intimate. I'd read the night before at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, in a gallery, with an audience of students and faculty, as far as I could tell. All my books were for sale but I don't know how many were sold. Friday night I brought books to sell and sold two. Which is a good percentage.

I have a reading in Princeton tomorrow at noon and am now in the basement of my friends' house in that fair city. I met G in France ten or more years ago at a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar on the legacy of fascism in France, Germany and Italy. Her husband is here on a Hodder fellowship. I don't know yet where the cool places in Princeton are--beyond here, in this house.

Tacheles, Berlin

Greencup, Birmingham