Cindy Dach is the co-founder of Changing Hands Bookstores in Tempe and Phoenix, two of the Valley's greatest treasures for readers. She's literally made words her life, so it's no surprise she can tell a good story. Though Dach stays busy trying to keep Amazon at bay and participating in the local arts scene, if you're lucky, you can catch one of her personal storytelling performances at a local Bar Flies event (for now, flying in the virtual world). On stage, Dach doesn't try to act out her stories — it's her words and humor that pull you in. She's got the ability to make you see scenes from her own life and the people and things in it: her grandmother's diamond ring, her father as he dies of cancer. You know that full feeling you get after finishing a good short story that taught you something new and profound about the world? That's how we feel listening to Dach.

For nearly four years, this quarterly collection of stories from the Black community has enlightened and entertained local audiences. Performers in the series, which recently shifted to online streaming, are coached by spoken word pro Rachel Egboro, who founded the event and curates each installment. A recent Whole Story included monologues from a man who'd been training for boot camp his whole life; a woman who grappled with raising a daughter in today's politically charged world; and a man who turned his HIV-positive diagnosis into a life's mission. Egboro, recently named one of Phoenix Business Journal's "40 Under 40," has thus far brought us 46 storytellers who've told 61 stories from the Black perspective. We're looking forward to hearing many more.

Local comic book artists don't get much bigger than Todd McFarlane. But if bestowing this award on the comics legend, um, spawns some major nerd rage for forsaking local indie creators, we assure you he qualifies. No question. McFarlane's a longtime Valley resident who still illustrates comics on the regular. When not running his multimillion-dollar toy empire or Image Comics (the publishing house he co-founded in 1992 with fellow ex-Marvel artists), he's inking and penciling the latest issues of Spawn, his brainchild and iconic creation. And the cursed antihero looks just as fearsome as ever, rendered in the same intricate and highly detailed style that McFarlane used to reinvent Spider-Man in the late '80s. Now if only he could find enough time in his busy schedule to navigate his cinematic Spawn reboot out of development hell.

"Seasons will not be still, / Filled with the migrations of birds / Making their blank script on the open sky, / those hasty notes of centuries-old goodbye." So soars the poem "The Morning News," found in Not Go Away Is My Name, the latest book by Nogales-born poet and ASU English professor Alberto Rios. For decades, Rios has been one of Arizona's best homegrown voices. His range effortlessly spans from poetry to nonfiction. Capirotada, his memoir of growing up in a town divided by the border, is essential Arizona reading. But his work, too, has broad national appeal. Earlier this year, a New York Times Magazine reviewer deemed Not Go Away Is My Name "a major book for our time." We couldn't agree more.

Natalie Diaz defies the stereotype of poets as isolated souls. As the founding director for the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at ASU, she forges community through conversation and collaboration. Diaz identifies as Mohave, Akimel O'odham, and Latinx, as well as queer. She has a wide range of talents, from linguistics to basketball, which also inform her work. The breadth and depth of both her journeys infuse her work with insights and emotions that call into question assumptions about identity, place, and relationship. Through her powerful, poetic voice, Diaz calls others to create new landscapes and futures together.

Men shouldn't be afraid to attend a performance of The Bro Show. The comedy sketch show, produced and performed by local comedians Courtney Wahlstrom and Dana Whissen, takes hilarious and much-needed jabs at male stereotypes (like that guy on your corporate softball team who picked 69 for his jersey number). The duo perform as C-Dog and Angus, respectively, two bruhs who met at an open mic night, and guest comedians join them onstage playing a variety of characters. But the skewering of toxic masculinity, chauvinism, and sexual double standards is for the sake of the joke as opposed to making a political statement, so fellas, leave your fear (and ego) at the door and enjoy this high-quality roasting of your gender.

Stand Up Live

Sometimes, we think about all the times we watched a comedy show in a packed room, elbow to elbow, mouths hanging open in laughter — and we shiver. It'll likely be awhile before those up-close-and-personal days return, but that doesn't mean the end of laughing with strangers in a two-drink minimum room. Stand Up Live is our go-to for live comedy; some of the best comics of the modern era, like Bill Burr and Ali Wong, have graced its downtown Phoenix stage. There's not a bad seat in the house, and there's a full food and drink menu (we like the soft pretzels with white cheddar beer cheese dip) to satisfy your stomach as well as your funny bone.

Burton Barr Central Library

Inside the Burton Barr Central Library, you can marvel at architectural elements designed by Will Bruder, stare at art installed throughout the five floors, and get creative inside the maker space. The enormous library, which is the flagship location of the Phoenix Public Library system, also houses a teen area, college planning center, entrepreneur space, children's area, gift shop, and a room filled with Arizona history resources. Central Gallery hosts rotating exhibitions of works by local artists, and the library presents a robust lineup of community programming. The rare book room is filled with treasures you didn't know existed in Phoenix, like cuneiform tablets and a page from a Gutenberg Bible. Best of all, the library is located within walking distance of the galleries and other cultural amenities located along Roosevelt Row, making it a hub for learning that spans far beyond bookshelves.

At Wasted Ink Zine Distro, founder Charissa Lucille has created a welcoming space where you can explore hundreds of zines by authors and illustrators based in Arizona and beyond. The charming DIY hub is filled with literature and art that reflects the creative pulse of Phoenix. Wasted Ink hosts dozens of community events, presents workshops for new and experienced zine creatives, and has an online store offering more than 100 titles. Walking into Wasted Zine is like setting foot on a path that branches off in myriad directions. Sometimes, it takes you places you never expected to go, with companions you wouldn't have encountered in other spaces, fueling the curiosity and connections that make for a vibrant literary scene and city.

Located in an old warehouse that was fixed up last year and outfitted with shabby-chic and modern furnishings, the McKinley Club is a little piece of Brooklyn in downtown Phoenix. The break room of this co-working space has taps with cold-brew coffee, wine, and beer. The big windows look out on Grand Avenue's gritty mix of industry and (now-struggling) art galleries, specialty stores, and restaurants. True, the virus has changed things. The club requires masks and gloves in common areas. The cozy private offices, well, you may need to get on a waiting list. Private desks in shared spaces, and fully shared workspaces are more readily available here (as they are at other co-working spaces around town). But give this place a look when it's time to get out of the damned house and focus on work. It sure beats the hell out of a gray cubicle.

Best Of Phoenix®

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