A Short Oral History of Revolver

Since founding the literary organization in 2011, the team at Revolver have become just as well known for their outrageously entertaining live events as they are for continuing innovation in publishing. Here, they recall their favorite moments from the past three years.

revolver at the ritz

There’s this thing that happens when you’re surrounded by Revolver’s cadre — everything around you starts to feel a little bit more interesting. You’re backstage at one of their beguiling literary events, soaking up some pre-blitzkrieg vibes, or maybe sitting across from one of them at a dive bar slinging back cheap drinks and sparkling conversation. You feel their distinctive élan wash over you and suddenly you, too, are a risk-taker, a boundary-pusher throwing caution to the wind. And among the folks of Revolver, you are in good company.

Before their live-event spectacles and performance events, Revolver was and continues to be an online magazine. Full of regular contributors as well as confident newbies, the pieces published through this Twin Cities’ mini literary organization are anything but typical. Indeed, Revolver’s editorial vision seems to follow only one rule: to create a space for publishing writers’ risky compositions (with the definition of “risk” left up to personal interpretation). Though now in their third year, Revolver still feels strangely like a secret society, privy only to those who specifically angle for it — like that Aleister Crowley cult that was supposedly at work inside the maze of cubes of the Thorp Building a few years ago. Sitting in the audience at a recent weekend’s Revolver at the Ritz: #9 Experiments, I felt as if I was taking part in a ritual both underground and familiar. It felt like a room full of kindred souls, bonding over the way words can unbind us, move us, confuse us, complete us. As editor Ross Nervig says in his unofficial Revolver bio: “I read to be surprised. I write to surprise myself. It would be a bore if I knew what I wanted. Surprise me.”

“Greco Times New Roman” wrestling (note editor Luke Finsaas, at left), one of the “experiments” included Revolver’s 2013 show. 

And Revolver continues to surprise with its offerings. They charm us, absorb us, and challenge us to tell not just stories, but the rawest of our stories, welcoming those that seem most unfit for public consumption with the assurance that such are the stories most likely to strike the deepest, most resonant chord. Like some sort of social experiment, Revolver offers its audiences an endless game of literary truth or dare, where every dare and every truth, once shared, becomes an exquisite act of defiance.

Have yet to experience the awesomeness that is Revolver’s energy on stage? Unfortunately, you may have to wait a hard couple of months to get in on another live show. Editor Luke Finsaas explains, “Revolver is hunkering down until fall 2016 to concentrate on our online publication and to be spectators again.”

In the meantime, in honor of their three-year anniversary, I asked editors Alexander Helmke, Lara Avery, Luke Finsaas, Marcus Downs, and Ross Nervig to revel in a few of their favorite memories from the Revolver archives.

Images from Dark Room, courtesy of Revolver.mn

“The first moment the blacklight hit the walls of on our MCAD Main Gallery installation, The Dark Room, and illuminated the giant web of sentences that formed three full stories—i.e., failures and dead-ends included— created by twelve writers over 13 days…[At another event] the line of people waiting up to 30 minutes to go into the paint oven in Thorp Building NE and confess their darkest secrets to Emily Baxter, the artist/attorney behind We Are All Criminals, during our installation/party CONFESS (which happened to be the premiere of WAAC). It really alleviated the line at the bar.”

— Luke Finsaas

Maggie Ryan Sandford writing under pressure during a Write Fight at Northern Spark. Photo courtesy of Revolver.mn

“For me it’s all about the crowd. I love the way people went nuts at the boxing match [Write Fight] between Courtney Algeo and Sarah Moeding. This was our launch party. It was to highlight the local literary scene, sure. But it was mostly just a crazy party. If you want intense crowds, nothing beats our Write Fights, where we pit two local writers tete-a-tete, to see who can write a better story in 10 minutes flat. It’s hard enough to write in front of a crowd, let alone with a medieval sword duel happening inches away, or when someone is trying to feed you pudding, or any number of distractions we’ve concocted. So fun.”

— Marcus Downs

Photo from one of the Firelogues, courtesy of Revolver.mn

“It’s hard to to pick, but I thought immediately of the second ‘Firelogues,’ on Dayton’s Bluff in St. Paul. It was one of the warmer nights of the winter, at 20ish degrees, and we had almost 50 bodies around this roaring fire. Everyone’s eating and drinking, and their frozen breath was blending together in a big cloud. Andy Sturdevant was about to talk about the history of Pacific Street. I asked the crowd, ‘Are you ready?’ And even outside in February, when they could be doing so many other things on a Thursday night rather than have someone read aloud to them, everyone responded with a resounding ‘Yes!’…Then there was the ‘Revolver meeting’ that ended with more than one Revolver editor in a lukewarm bath, all together in their underwear, polishing off a bottle of Maker’s Mark and dipping pages of T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland into the water, while shout-complaining about what a bullshit poem it is. This actually happened. There is evidence on film.”

— Lara Avery

“At our launch party, we featured people with body paint. A few nights before, a bunch of editors decided to have a number of drinks and try out the paint at our art director’s house near Lake Nokomis.  Revolver ‘R’s were painted all over everybody, and then we ran to the lake to wash the paint off.  I remember laughing my head off in the water, looking around at people who were fast becoming my best friends. …[And another:] The week leading up to CONFESS, our event at the Thorp building, was incredibly stressful. We spent every night after our day jobs building listening booths, beer bottle chandeliers, and a bar, stealing wood pallets from the back of big box stores.  We called it quits each night around midnight and headed to the Vegas Lounge to unwind and sing some karaoke. A few of us were so tired from working so hard, we would fall asleep at the bar. I’d never seen people volunteer so much of their free time working together toward a common end goal.”

— Ross Nervig

Photo courtesy of Revolver.mn

“These little glass bottles from CONFESS: People wrote how they could be better humans on little scraps and inserted them into a little bottle, then dropped them into a big tub. You’d walk by and take a stranger’s bottle as you left.  It wasn’t the clearest exercise we’ve done, but I liked it. I have mine even now, but it is still unopened. Maybe we’re all waiting to be better humans….[From the same event,] the lone lightbulb above Emily Baxter as she listened to stranger’s confessions: I feel like that image alone explains a lot of Revolver‘s mission—illuminating, listening, always remembering everything you say.”

— Alexander Helmke

Related information:

Read the latest published work online and keep track of upcoming live events on Revolver’s websites, www.revolver.mn and www.around-around.com.

Juleana Enright is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, MN. Her education includes writing extensive classes at the Loft Literary Center, and a major in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature and minor Women’s Studies at the University of Minnesota, a mixture that’s led to a persistent love/hate relationship with pop culture. She’s served as Culture Editor for local arts/ culture/fashion blog, l’étoile magazine, contributed to local online platforms Secrets of the City, the 651 blog,RedCurrent and City Pages, and has written reviews for Discodust, a German-based electronic music blog.

Juleana Enright

Juleana Enright (they/them) is an Indigenous, queer, non-binary writer, curator, sound and theatre artist. They are an enrolled member of the Lower Brule Lakota Tribe. Juleana is the Gallery and Programs Coordinator at All My Relations Arts. Their past roles have included Culture Editor for l’étoile magazine and Communications Specialist for Gamut Gallery. They have contributed to local platforms, Pride Magazine, mplsart, Primer and City Pages. As an independent curator, Juleana has curated …   read more