Creative Loafing's "Story Time" Gives Tampa Bay Writers A Stage To Share

People tell stories to entertain, share triumphs, pains and lessons learned. Sometimes we're just looking for someone to laugh with us. As St. Pete-based journalist Heidi Kurpiela Bardi shares her story of a Rubbermaid tote and the tearful love letter she uncovered inside of it, the crowd at Creative Loafing's Ybor City office isn't just laughing, they're experiencing every cringe-worthy moment she divulges.

This is "Story Time: Fate and Fortune" -- the second event in a series of narrative essay readings by Tampa Bay-based writers..

It started when Creative Loafing Arts & Entertainment Editor Julie Garisto woke up on an October morning in a depressed, hungover state.

"I heard on the radio that your creativity is at its peak when you're saddest," she recalls.

Eager to lift her spirits, she began brainstorming for a project to work on with other writers. She knew she wanted it to be performance-based, but was sick of overdone open mic nights and spoken word poetry readings.

Fueled by her love for programs such as The Moth on NPR and This American Life, Garisto created "Story Time" and invited some of her favorite local talent to get involved.

The first event, "Shot Through the Heart: Tales of Love, Heartbreak and Humiliation for Valentine's Day," featured readings from six writers including Garisto and WMNF's "Artful Dodgings" DJ Arielle Stevenson.

This month Garisto enlisted the help of Kurpiela Bardi, Creative Loafing's 2011 Best Spoken Word Artist Walter Jennings, Creative Loafing Music Editor Leilani Polk, frontman of Tampa-based metal band Light Yourself on Fire Matt Coplon, guitarist/singer Shae Krispinksy of Tampa trio Y Los Dos Pistoles and WMNF News Director Rob Lorei.

Tampa's Sleepy Vikings closed the event with a five-song set, fresh off their appearance at South By Southwest in Austin.

"Story Time" aims to give attendees a rare glimpse into the personal side of a writer, according to Garisto.

Part of this event's charming appeal is the atmosphere. Stevenson spins the latest in alternative and indie-pop as guests mingle throughout the space. They sip on beer and wine while posing with oversized props and costumes for photographer Shanna Gillette's Sasha Rae Photo Booth.

Downstairs in the courtyard, Mitzi Gordon's Bluebird Book Bus entices pedestrians with its vibrant paint job. On board librarian Elizabeth Williams chats with customers as they browse the color-coded shelves. Not quite as effective as the Dewey Decimal System, she admits, but they're going for aesthetics.

For $2 donations Max Valentonis and David Durney, participants in Bluebird's Captive Poets Program, craft poems on the spot from two-word prompts. A courtyard reading of their efforts precedes the main event, which features a little poetry of its own.

After charming the audience with a meandering story of how he met his wife, Jennings stuns the crowd into silence with his poem "Paint By Numbers." It was precisely the kind of moment the event was created for -- a chance to peak into a writer's soul.

Garisto plans to continue the event monthly with a potential nod to National Poetry Month in May and selections from University of Tampa writers in June.

"I needed something to be excited about," she says. "So far, its exceeded my expectations."

You can catch the next installment of "Story Time" on April 27. Check out Creative Loafing Tampa for more information as it's released.

Matt Spencer, a University of South Florida grad, is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.