Bold & Beautiful: Drag King Story Hour at Under the Umbrella
Performance & Theatre
I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I opened a pair of unsuspecting doors to the quaint Under the Umbrella bookshop on a rainy Saturday morning. But as I took my first glance at the vibrant and diverse offerings held inside, a warm smile of recognition instantly rose on my masked face. Under the Umbrella is a queer-focused bookshop that celebrates books written by queer authors and/or are queer in content.
Their shelves are lined with lesbian romance novels, Drag Race coloring books, queer parenting literature, children’s picture books, graphic manga, locally-made zines and so much more. Apart from its textual collection, the shop also sells trinkets, stickers, clothing and jewelry. While it was difficult to refrain from getting swept away in this little shop of wonders, my visit to Under the Umbrella on April 16 was for an event they hold every third Saturday of the month—Drag King Story Hour.
This edition of Drag King Story Hour featured Kory Edgewood and Autumn the Oddity, each reading a book of their choosing that was enjoyable for both kids and adults. We gathered in a room near the back of the shop, and the considerable group overflowed into doorways and hallways. Kids of all ages sat contently in beanbags while adults arranged themselves into the appropriate criss-cross-apple-sauce position. After quieting ourselves, Madazon Can-Can, a local performer and educator, kicked off the event by thanking Project Rainbow for the grant that allows the store to pay performers while maintaining free ticket prices. Then, it was time for the storytelling to begin.
Donning a powder blue suit, rainbow suspenders and a plum-hued top hat, Kory Edgewood energized the room by performing a lip-sync to It’s Alright by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions. While the certified bad boy softened his look for the event, his signature long orange locks and chiseled contour definitely served rock and roll fantasy. “Don’t be fooled by his bad boy style,” Edgewood assures. “He’s all heart.” Once the performance ended, he settled down to read the children’s book Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Stevens Salerno. “I wanted to choose a book that helps give background on how the Pride movement started,” Edgewood says. “Harvey Milk is a name all queer youth should learn about.”
With Pride month just around the corner, the book was a great reminder to children and adults alike of the flag’s meaning and the sacrifices that were made in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Edgewood finished his reading with a friendly pride flag quiz, in which kids around the room proudly exclaimed which flags represented the asexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
“I wanted to choose a book that helps give background on how the Pride movement started,” Edgewood says. “Harvey Milk is a name all queer youth should learn about.”
Autumn The Oddity took the floor next, dressed in medieval fairycore garb—complete with a Viking horn goblet—white freckles and a red mushroom beret (that I desperately need for myself). Their whimsical aesthetic seemed to fit perfectly in this place, where fairy tales and adventures are only a book cover away. “As a drag changeling, I am transforming all the time,” Oddity explains. “One day I might be a frightful demon, the next a hyper-masculine, Viking barbarian—and after that? A childlike lost boy right out of Peter Pan.” Though you might never know what to expect from the spritely creature, a performance from Oddity always promises that “shit is about to get weird.”
For their reading, Oddity chose My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, illustrated by Shame Evans. April being Austistic Appreciation/Acceptance month, the book felt a perfect fit. “The book is a very moving story about a family coming together to love and appreciate Charlie just the way he is,” they explain, “something queer children can also relate to.” Oddity ended their reading with a lip sync to the queer anthem This is Me, a song from The Greatest Showman sang by Keala Settle. Clapping and humming along with my fellow audience, I felt the upbeat tune was a spirited close to Drag King Story Hour.
“As a drag changeling, I am transforming all the time,” Oddity explains. “One day I might be a frightful demon, the next a hyper-masculine, Viking barbarian—and after that? A childlike lost boy right out of Peter Pan.”
Events like this underline the importance of storytelling in the queer community, and the power of representation in all spaces, including those of children. “Storytelling is such an important bond and educational tool that brings all humankind together, so it’s only natural that it would extend to the queer community,” says Oddity. The educational element of storytelling also has the ability to create safe spaces of acceptance and validation, spaces that are paramount to queer youth in today’s increasingly hostile environment. “The political events happening right now make Drag King Story Hour that much more important,” says Edgewood. “The youth need to know they have community, safety, acceptance, love and elders who are willing to give them the knowledge they might want or need.”
Under the Umbrella hosts new events every week, including open mic nights, yoga, tarot readings and speed dating. Check out their calendar on their site undertheumbrellabookstore.com and connect with them on Instagram @undertheumbrellabookstore. You can also find Edgewood and Oddity on Instagram at @autumntheoddity and @kory_edgewood respectively.
Visit Under the Umbrella at 511 W. 200 South, Suite 120. Open Tue–Fri 5 p.m.–9 p.m. and Sat–Sun 10 a.m.–4 p.m.