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Issue Date: July 2006 Issue


Irreverent Literary Revolutionaries Taking Over


Christopher Johnston

Just who is Fred Wright?

On his Underground Literary Alliance All-Star card, he sports a black Mexican wrestler’s mask with Mouseketeer ears, big white O’s for eyes and a round red mouth.

He answers to the nom de stage “Wred Fright.”

And also to Gertrude Grumblebunny.

If you don’t know what to call him, call him “chief,” as in Ohio bureau chief of the Underground Literary Alliance (ULA). The ULA is a small but tenacious organization of writers you won’t see chatted up on “The Charlie Rose Show.” They carry on the tradition of Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg or Charles Bukowski, who in their lifetimes were critically acclaimed but commercially challenged.

“Part of the ULA thing is to make literature a livelier art form that’s not going to be entombed in a library,” Wright says. “The goal, pretty much, is just have a good time.”

Wright is also the writer and performance poet behind “The F Independent Literary Festival” or FILF, coming to three local venues July 6 through 8.

Although FILF creates “a nifty acronym,” the first F is meaningless, Wright says. Or it could stand for “fabulous.” Or maybe “Fred.” Or “fantastic.” “Frightening?” Wright leaves it up to you to figure out.

“People can say afterward, ‘That literature was utter FILF,’ ” quips Wright, who pays for his pens and paper by working as an associate professor of English at Ursuline College. “I’ll go a long way for a pun. My apologies.”

What Wright won’t apologize for, even though it pushes him to the academic edge of the underground, is his Ph.D. in English from Kent State University. He wrote his dissertation on zines and e-zines: cheap, anticorporate media used by underground writers to disseminate their works, which they hawk at readings, put online or sell by consignment at bookstores. Later this year, Underground Literary Alliance/Out Your Backdoor Press will publish Wright’s serial zine,“The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus,” about an ill-fated college rock band, as a novel.

FILF, Wright’s latest brainchild, will feature his grassroots, DIY comrades throughout the country. Underground literati, such as King Carl Wenclas, Frank Walsh and several others you’ve never heard of, will perform for free each night.

“You get to hear some good writers that Borders isn’t going to bring in,” Wright says. “They may not be David Sedaris, but their work may be just as good, and you’ve never heard of them. Plus, it’s more homegrown, folk-type literature than what the corporate press pushes, or what I call ‘industrial literature.’ ”

There’s no payment, but writers get to sell or trade their zines, chapbooks, Xeroxed poems or other pieces. There’s no charge, so patrons have extra cash to spend on buying the writers’ wares. Some local artists will read as well, including Lakewood’s own poet laureate, Jack McGuane, and Cleveland Heights poet rocker John Panza.

Cool. But where does any self-respecting literary libertine obtain a Mexican wrestler’s mask?
A few years ago, Wright attended the Pittsburgh Comic Convention, where artist Rafael Navarro, author of “Sonambulo,” a comic about a Mexican wrestler who is a detective, was selling them. “I had $20 burning a hole in my pocket, so I bought something stupid,” Wright says. “And I’ve been trying to make use of it ever since.”

And that’s one more reason for the festival.

The festival runs from July 6 to 8. For more information or to read Wright’s work, visit www.wredfright.com.


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