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The Short List: Smut

Here’s something we love this week.

Smut. Yep, you read that right. This week, we are excited about smut. More specifically, Rust-N-Shine’s “Evening of Vintage Smut” reading series in Highlandtown.

Stay with us here.

Each month, the Highlandtown Arts District hosts a First Friday Art Walk from 5-9 p.m. And at each walk, the Rust-N-Shine, an antiques store that is currently closed for renovations, hosts a pop-up shop. It includes, in addition to mid-century furniture and felt sports pennants, a reading from vintage soft porn titles.

Oh, hon, it’s just so Charm City.

It is indeed one of those only-in-Baltimore experiences, agrees reader and “Mistress of Smut” Jocelyn Broadwick. “I mean, where else do you gather around with your closest friends and neighbors once a month to read old-timey porn for fun? I haven’t heard of anyone else — let alone any other city — doing it.”

Baltimore has a rich history of making the lowbrow highbrow, she says, in addition to providing inclusive and accessible events to everyone. These campy corner porn readings are no different.

Jocelyn Broadwick reading at Rust-N-Shine

“Couples come. Friends come. Families come. Dogs come,” Broadwick says. “You’ll see local business owners, community leaders, pastors, all brought together by really, really awfully written smut. … Plus, there’s free booze.”

How bad is the prose? “You can drop dead, or have a martini.” That’s a line from one of the recently read titles. I happen to be fond of that sentence, actually, and am trying to figure out how to work it into a poem. But overall, this is prose that is formulaic and forced — in other words, just perfect for poking fun.

For her part, Broadwick is a writer and freelance editor specializing in creative nonfiction, specifically memoir, personal essays and flash nonfiction. She earned her MFA from Goucher College and now teaches at local colleges and universities.

“I’m nearly certain that no one from my past ever expected me to grow up to become Highlandtown’s ‘Mistress of Smut,’” she wrote to us. “I was raised very religiously and conservatively, and actually studied to become a church worker in college. Like a lot of millennials, during my late teens and early 20s, I began to question my faith and eventually left Christianity. Since then I’ve experienced a significant amount of fallout in most areas of my life, but especially in regards to my sexuality and the ownership of my body, my desires and my choices regarding how I wish to present myself.”

The crowd chuckles.

“When you grow up so repressed, you lose yourself,” Broadwick says. “And so becoming a smut reader in many ways for me is a reclamation, and I think part of the reason why I enjoy doing it so much.”

OK, so there is definitely a lot going on here.

For me as well. Full disclosure: I am currently the writer in residence for the Highlandtown Arts District, which is how I met Broadwick and learned about the smut readings. It’s also why I wanted to write about them. When a recent reporting trip took me to the Midwest, I found myself once again answering questions about Baltimore and its scandals. I returned home and happily to a meeting for literary volunteers, and was reminded of both the creative spirit and stubborn pluck of our citizens.

By writing about this series, it’s my hope that others will share the fun and oh-so-Baltimore community events on their blocks. This is a city where we still make art for art’s sake — and often have a lot of fun doing it. Let’s spread the word!

The next First Friday Art Walk is Friday, July 5, from 5 to 9 p.m.

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