By GILLIAN HAMEL
The San Francisco Bay Area has really emerged as a dominating force in contemporary literature with authors like Ishmael Reed, Robert Hass, Diane di Prima, Kay Ryan, Chris Adrian, Karen Joy Fowler, and Dave Eggers and his modest cultural empire (826 Valencia, McSweeney’s, not to mention all of those books he wrote). So, it’s no wonder San Francisco has also become famous for one of the most diverse literary events in the country: Litquake.
From October 7 to October 15, San Francisco will be overrun with readings, panels, contests and pretty much any writing-related activity you can think of. These events will swarm bookstores, galleries, art centers, bars and cafes, and four conference spaces which are specially reserved for Litquake each year (they’re listed on the main page of the website, or by event). There’s a topic for just about everybody: science fiction, nature writing, spoken word, poetics, cultural essays, memoirs, and more. Featured authors include Adam Mansbach (of Go The F**k to Sleep fame), Lyrics Born, Thomas Goetz (editor of Wired magazine), James Ellroy, Melanie Rae Thon, Julia Glass, Chuck Klosterman, Deepak Chopra, Mary Roach, Jeffrey Eugenides, and scores of other local and international talents. There are also two youth-oriented festivals within the festival: Teenquake and Kidquake. Both give students in San Francisco schools the opportunity to meet and hear local authors and then try out their own writing chops in hands-on workshops. Teenquake culminates in a Teen Writing Awards ceremony on October 14th to celebrate the best and brightest on figment.com, an online writing community for teenagers.
For the 21-and over crowd, one of the highlights of this year’s Litquake is a special appearance by author and comedian Chelsea Handler at Z Space on October 13th. She and Litquake co-founder Jane Ganahl will discuss topics as various and funny as being a writer, being a comedian, handling your professional and private lives in both these areas, attracting groupies and drinking. At the same time that evening is a special Litquake edition of one of San Francisco’s signature oddball events, Literary Death Match, which takes place at Beatbox in SOMA. Four authors go toe-to-toe with their most exciting works and are judged by a panel of local celebrity guest judges. The results are always unpredictable and hilarious. Since this event is 21 and over, it is sure to devolve into an evening of boozy revelry. A similar event, which gets my personal endorsement since I’m an alumna of one of the Bay Area’s many renowned Creative Writing MFA programs, is the MFA Body Slam on October 10th, a trivia game show and showcase of the Bay Area’s up-and-coming writers rolled into one.
Of course, the most legendary and anticipated event of the festival, which gets its own website and really deserves its own writeup, is Litquake’s own brand of closing ceremonies: Lit Crawl. This celebration of words and drinks has garnered such a reputation that it now takes place in three cities. Having already staggered through New York on September 10th, it’ll weave its way through Austin on October 22nd–but, again, the heart of the action is in San Francisco on October 15th. The website boasts 450 readers at 79 locations in 2011, and it seems to grow every year. Equal parts reading marathon, pub crawl and literary scavenger hunt, the event transforms San Francisco’s Mission District, an already thriving cultural nexus, into a carnival-like explosion of people united by their love of literature, art and community–as well as complimentary wine.
Readings that take place in bars are obviously 21 and over, but younger literary enthusiasts can join the hundreds crammed into bookstores, art galleries, cafes, clothing boutiques, a stock footage warehouse, a cheese shop, hair salons, a beekeeping store, and the Mission Police Station (yes, even a beekeeping store and a police station)–anywhere with halfway decent acoustics and enough space for people to listen. The Lit Crawl website breaks down the festivities by hourly “phases.”
Look out for the following readings:
Phase 1: Apocalypse Now What?, Instant City: A Literary Exploration of San Francisco, Spotlight on Blue Light Press and the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon
Phase 2: 826 Valencia Student Reading, Conversations at the Wartime Café, Poetry Flash Presents…
Phase 3: City Lights and Wave Books Present…, McSweeney’s & The Believer Present…, From Buddha to Batman: HarperOne presents Gotham Chopra and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheros. The first 20 attendees of this particular event that show up in superhero costume receive free drinks!
If you like anything to do with words and pages and sometimes pictures, it’s bound to be represented at Lit Crawl, and more often than not you can enjoy it with a drink or several in hand. A full schedule of events, as well as a Lit Crawl map, are available on the website.
Are you a Lit Crawl veteran, or an excited novice? Let us know your thoughts on Litquake and the Bay Area lit scene. Let us know what you think! Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to give us a shout. You can also stay on top of exciting events from around the world by downloading the eventseeker app for iPhone, Android or Windows.