Bar Flies commits early history to paper in new anthology

Bar Flies co-founders, Katie Bravo (left) and Amy Silverman, address the crowd at the Van Buren on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Meg Potter/DD)

The stories Bar Flies tell are buzzing far beyond Phoenix’s borders.

That’s because the monthly storytelling show held at Valley Bar has been officially put to paper. “Bar Flies: True Stories From The Early Years” was released at Bar Flies’ annual Eating Christmas holiday show at The Van Buren on Tuesday. 

Founded in 2015, Bar Flies is now in its fifth season. The event has given Phoenicians the opportunity to share their true stories live on stage. “At any given Bar Flies show, the audience could laugh, cry, gasp you name it,” curator Katie Bravo said. “The stories people tell on stage really run the emotional gamut.”

Bar Flies is different from open mic, poetry slam and improv events in that it features writers, Bravo said. “Each show features five people reading true stories that they have written, workshopped and rehearsed with us. Typically we tell interested performers to see a show first (to really understand what it’s like) and, if they have it, send us a copy of their writing. We book at least a few months in advance.”

Sixty of the event’s most popular stories from the first four seasons were immortalized in this new book. It wasn’t easy for Bravo and Amy Silverman, Bar Flies’ other curator, to identify their top picks. 

“We sat down individually and made lists of the stories that had stuck with us, the stories we wish everyone could have heard and the storytellers that we wanted to feature,” Bravo said. “Then we cross-referenced our ideas and went from there. Honestly, after almost five years of monthly shows, it’s hard to pick just 60.”

Their next step, publishing the book, wasn’t easy, Bravo said — but, luckily, they had a lot of help. “I’m honestly the most excited for everyone who is in it,” Bravo said before the show. “Eating Christmas isn’t just going to be an amazing show, it’s also going to be the first time people have a physical copy of the book.”

Every person at the show received a free copy of the book with their $20 ticket. “We’ve invited all 60 authors to be there so they’ll have a chance to sign books,” Bravo said. 

When Bravo and Silverman first started Bar Flies, they were largely inspired by the Lit Lounge, a storytelling series run by Tania Katan at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. 

“While there are other storytelling projects in Phoenix, wanted to create one that had a literary basis: True stories, written down and read on stage,” she said. Local business leader Charlie Levy, who owns and operates Crescent Ballroom and Valley Bar, was a huge help in getting Bar Flies off the ground, as well. Both he and the Phoenix New Times helped to spread work of the then-nascent event.

Now, nearly five years later, Bar Flies has evolved into a multi-pronged affair.

“I don’t think we realized how much growth there would be,” Bravo said. It now hosts writing workshops, or all-day, page-to-page boot camps. “We have a little sister series called Shoo Flies that works with high school students, helping them tell their true stories on stage. We operate under our larger umbrella called Fly Paper to encompass even more workshops, paper-based events, merch, etc. Oh — and we wrote a book.”

The book launch event began at 5 p.m. with a book reception and Bar Flies’ first-ever popup market, Paper Mart, which featured paper goods for sale by local makers. 

Fifteen local writers then took the stage to feature their short readings.  

Before the event, Bravo foresaw an emotional reaction. “I hope people are proud of this book,” she said. “This project, and the whole series for that matter, would not have been possible without the Phoenix community showing up month after month, year after year, to hear people read their stories at Valley Bar.”

“Bar Flies: True Stories From The Early Years” is available for purchase at Changing Hands as well as select Bar Flies events.

Contact the reporter at [email protected].