The Coffee House Community: Open Mic Night

Maddie Deshler, Arts & Community Writer

As I enter the packed building of Archives Coffee House and notice that everyone is crowded around the fireplace at the back corner of the shop, diagonal to the front doors. I make my way towards that direction of the coffee shop and notice that all of their attention is on a student holding a microphone while she quietly reads from her phone. The natural silence that follows her pauses between sentences is drowned out by the humming of the shop’s cooler and ice machine to the left of the audience. Once the student finishes, everyone politely claps or snaps. I softly smile to myself and take a seat as I become absorbed into what is known as Open Mic Night.

Many people might be unaware as to what an open mic night is, and although there can be many different versions of it, the University of North Dakota’s English Department defines it as an evening for people to share their creative work with one another. Or, if you prefer not to share your own work, you can read lines or passages from your favorite books, plays, etc. In general, it is a night for people to come together and share their love for the art of writing.

John Page, the President of the UND Writing Club, attended and spoke at the event. 

“I personally do think it’s rather invaluable [having an open mic night] because there are a lot of people out there who love writing [and] they love sharing stuff that they’ve read that they love,” Page said.

The Open Mic Nights used to be held in Memorial Union at the Loading Dock, but with the current lack of a Memoria Union, the Open Mic Nights have momentarily been moved to Archives Coffee House. If anything, though, this change in setting has created a more natural and welcoming vibe for open mic nights. It is no longer a stage where everyone’s attention is just on you. The event is now more public, but not everyone is there just for the readings. Some people might have gone to Archives simply to study or catch up with friends, not knowing that Open Mic Night was occurring. However, even though their attention might not have been on the event, they were still exposed to the beautiful language of the students and staff being projected throughout the shop.

The beauty about UND’s Open Mic Nights is that they aren’t exclusively for English students and staff. The English Department strongly encourages that anyone who has something to share, or who just wants to listen, should attend. This creates a stronger connection within the UND community. Most importantly, it gives all students an opportunity, that they might not get every day in class, to voice their gifts of writing, singing, or storytelling.

At one point in the evening, soft strums filled the air as Sarah Miller, a Computer Science student at UND, performed a song on her ukulele. She decided to ditch the mic and instead allowed the strength of her voice to carry her lyrics of love and heartbreak to the ears of the audience. Despite being a Computer Science major, Miller has a strong gift in creative writing and music, especially when she needs to express something. “I write when I have things to say,” Miller said.

The night was filled with a mix of giggles and tears. Comedic pieces regarding sibling hatred were shared, everyone laughing in the room as if they were the ones who tried to suffocate their sibling under a pillow. A sudden sadness crept into everyone’s hearts every time poetry speaking of identity, heartbreak, and sorrow was shared. Some of the speakers spoke with clarity and strength, while others shook with nervousness, not for the sake of performing, but because they were about to reveal some of their most inner thoughts that usually were only expressed on paper.

John Page stuck around for a while after Open Mic Night, chatting with those who found the courage to speak up and those who simply came to listen and relate. 

“It’s utterly invaluable to provide that kind of safe space for people to let creativity be out there, to let people put themselves out there in a way that they don’t feel threatened. When you foster creativity, it just makes the community better. You get more ideas, you get better ideas, and it helps the environment feel a lot more homely, a lot more warm and inviting,” Page said.

Open Mic Night here at UND is a night of opportunity; opportunity to express, listen, and bond. It is a night that a group of people can connect with one another over a desire to be real and vulnerable. It is a night that strangers come together and become a supportive community. It is a night that students can be heard. 

Although there will be no more Open Mic Nights this semester, be on the lookout for more to come in the spring semester!