‘Books and Burlesque’ returns to the Lower East Side this weekend

“Books and Burlesque” returns to the small cabaret theater Caveat on the Lower East Side this Saturday.

As with most book events, a writer will read an excerpt from their work. However, what comes next is not a book signing, but rather a burlesque performance interpreting the book.

“It’s just an amazing experience to see their words come to life in an actual person,” said the creator of the series, who performs as Fortune Cookie. She preferred to be identified by her stage name due to fears of professional blowback in her career.

Fortune Cookie hosting a previous “Books and Burlesque” event.

Photo by Rengim Mutevellioglu / Courtesy “Books and Burlesque”

The first “Books and Burlesque” event took place in 2022 and it has sold out every show since. Saturday’s event is almost sold out, but tickets to the livestream are available for $10.

Several local authors said that “Books and Burlesque” gives audiences a fun way to engage with books – an ever-increasing challenge as entertainment options expand and attention spans shrink.

“Whether it’s your phone or social media, TikTok, YouTube there’s so many things you could be doing with your attention,” said Katie Gee Salisbury, an author whose book “Not Your China Doll” will be showcased this weekend. “Books are not necessarily always the flashiest thing.”

Rosie Tulips interpreting Rachel Grossman’s book “Vagina Obscura.”

Photo by Rengim Mutevellioglu / Courtesy “Books and Burlesque”

The idea of pairing books with burlesque performers may seem unexpected, but for Fortune Cookie, they’re both ways of telling stories.

Fortune Cookie was born and raised in Chinatown, and said she was an avid reader while growing up. She added that she even worked at the publishing firm W. W. Norton & Company in the early 2010s after graduating from college. She took burlesque classes a few years ago to get over a bad breakup and was drawn to the narrative element.

Each “Books and Burlesque” event since the series’s first iteration in 2022 has highlighted five different New York City-based authors, whom are all selected by Cookie.

Author Eliot Schrefer, author of “Queer Ducks” at a previous event.

Photo by Rengim Mutevellioglu / Courtesy “Books and Burlesque”

Cookie assigns each book to a performer, who then has a month to read it and devise an interpretation. She said “Books and Burlesque” mostly spotlights debut authors, though there are exceptions, and she said she’s particularly interested in books that tell queer or “subversive” stories.

Books featured at Saturday’s event include: Richard Mirabella’s queer, coming-of-age debut “Brother & Sister Enter the Forest: A Novel;” Shastri Akella’s debut novel “The Sea Elephants;” Jeanne Mackin’s historical fiction “Picasso’s Lovers;” Katie Gee Salisbury’s biography “Not Your China Doll;” and Hilary Leichter’s second novel “Terrace Story.”

Brooklyn-based debut author Salisbury said she agreed to be part of “Books and Burlesque” because it felt like an exciting way to see her words come to life.

“It’s hard to get books to break through to people because they’re a time commitment,” she said. “I appreciate the desire to bring books into a performative space.”

Jonny Porkpie paired with author Eliot Schrefer.

Photo by Rengim Mutevellioglu / Courtesy “Books and Burlesque”

Cookie said she wanted to interpret “China Doll” herself because, “it breaks the cute meek ‘model minority’ stereotype.” She’s interpreting a section of the book about real-life actress Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star.

Cookie, who is also Chinese American, said her performance will celebrate Wong’s “enduring and strong legacy.”

“Terrace Story” author Leichter said she’d been seeking a new way to promote her second book and was thrilled to connect with “Books and Burlesque” because it was “a new way to bring literature to people.”

“I’ve done pretty much every kind of reading series there is, and this one stood out,” she said. “Especially after doing a lot of Zoom events for my first novel, I’m really passionate about events as experiences.”

Cookie said she hopes to create an event that people remember.

“The goal of the show is for people to take away hopefully a book,” Cookie said, “But also to come away with the feeling of like, ‘This is a real New York City moment.’

“Books and Burlesque” is Saturday, Mar. 9. Doors open at 9 p.m. and the show starts at 9:30 p.m. Some tickets will be available at the door for $40. For more information visit here.

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