Guest Blog: A Lion, A Pirate, an (unplugged) Open Mic, Music, and Poetry in Austin, Texas

David Borden
Artist & Author

March 10, 2017
Originally posted February 21 at Edited for length and reposted with permission.

It's another Lion and Pirate Open Mic night at Malvern Books in Austin, Texas. The night was filled with cake (3rd anniversary of the event), poetry, funny stories, advice, songs, and art (view videos below)!

The event is put on (roughly) monthly by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD)'s Pen 2 Paper creative writing contest and VSA Texas. CTD's Laura Perna and VSA's April Sullivan co-founded and continue to co-host the event.

On the origins of the event, April recalls that VSA Texas had hosted an open mic for a few years when they had Access Gallery.

It was popular and fun, but we were unable to keep it going when we lost the funding to keep the gallery open in 2012. So in December 2013, Laura and I were both attending the Mayor’s Committee on People with Disabilities Annual Holiday Party at Threadgill’s (always a fun time with a fierce White Elephant Gift Exchange!). We started talking. Laura met Becky of Malvern Books at the Texas Book Festival around that time, and she mentioned that Malvern wanted to be a community space, not just a book store. This seemed like a perfect fit- and it has been!

Photographed through a floor-to-ceiling, a marquee reads The Lion and Pirate Unplugged! Saturday 7pm OPEN MIC VSA TX & P2P. The lettering is black and red.

To date, the Lion and Pirate has had 304 open mic performances (almost all of them posted to Malvern's Youtube channel). On those performances, April notes,

We have had great feedback. We're told the atmosphere is very inclusive and friendly and nothing like the other open mics out there. For many people, this is the first time they have presented in public. And our audience is always open to new things. We've had singers, writers, storytellers, magicians, comedians, musicians, artists showing their latest work, even interpretive dance.

The safe environment encourages spontaneous collaboration. On this night, several poets had unrehearsed improvisational musical accompaniment. But this kind of thing happens all the time, which makes this creative space unpredictable and fun.

Sometimes the surprises come from random people. April remembers,

One time there was a guy here early. He came up to me and confessed that he had hijacked our Open Mic for his birthday party. He took our flyer for the event and added details about this being his birthday party and then everyone going over to Conan’s for pizza afterward [below]. It was great! We had a big turnout, lots of new people, fun poems being read that were written specifically for him. Then some of us joined him and his friends for pizza. The guy- Richard Allen White, we discovered- did it again the next year!

A hand holds a sheet of a photocopied flyer. The flyer is a messy collage of printed and handwritten info and drawings.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the Lion and Pirate, though, is the community that has grown around it. April says,

We find ways to share our pain through sharing our stories and songs and sharing their stories and songs. When Bear left to move away, when we lost Milton, and most recently SylviAnn, we all shared that loss together. Even you, David, sharing about your daughter is such a hard thing, but we were all there for you and feeling that with you. So it helps to have that community.

On April 2, 2017 at 2pm I'll be throwing a book release party for And Yet We Rise at Malvern (details + RSVP). I'm grateful to VSA Texas, CTD, and Malvern for their support [below: David and Ruby Borden read excerpts and present drawings from their book, Make America Purr Again: Cat Wisdom on How to Heal the Divisions between Human Americans. Photo by Malvern Books].

In the corner of a wood paneled room, a girl with cat leggings stands next to a man who is talking and gesturing with his hands. Both are holding sheets of paper.

About David

Standing with his shoulder to a red brick wall, a man in black glasses smiles broadly at the camera.David Borden is an award winning artist and writer. About a year and a half after his teen-aged daughter died unexpectedly, he founded ScribbleFire. Our motto is: what starts with a scribble ___ (you fill in the blank). That’s exactly how he feels. ScribbleFire gives him the place to experiment with writing, illustration, story-telling, and fine art. He spent his adult career in service of literacy as a teacher, educational program manager, and college administrator in both the United States and abroad. As a leader in adult literacy, he is a sought after public speaker, presenter, and trainer. He blogs at

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