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Get Lit: 8 Bay Area Events to Help You Discover Your Next Summer Read

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Be sure to check out our full 2023 Summer Arts Guide to live music, movies, art, theater, festivals and more in the Bay Area.

Summer heat always brings me back to being a young student, eager to reconnect with joy during breaks from school. It’s the perfect time to get back into reading for pleasure — to dust off the books you’ve shoved into the corners of your desk or visit the local bookstore or library for something new. There are also plenty of chances to get out and explore the Bay Area’s literary scene, with a wave of author talks, book fairs and zine fests offering spaces for bookworms to gather and discover new reads.

a diverse group of seven young women pose and smile while sitting on a stoop
2023 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate finalists Serafina Mackintosh, Maya Raveneu-Bey, Aniylah (Niy) Dixon, Michelle Vong, Ella Gordon, Isabel Park and Nairobi Barnes. (Sharon Mckellar)

Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate Reading

Oakstop, Oakland
June 2

In high school, I joined a small literary group to find camaraderie with other bookworms. We met weekly, Dead Poets Society-style, in a secluded part of campus, sharing excerpts from our favorite reads (a good amount was fan fiction) and our own writing projects. I think back on this time as a tender era of exploration, when I was first understanding writing as a way to process my deepest curiosities. It’s always heartening, then, for me to see younger generations come into their own through this form of expression.

The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program was created to help promising young writers do just that, connecting youth ages 13 to 18 with opportunities and community to foster their passions for poetry and literature. On June 2, Oakland Public Library hosts a reading and announcement of this year’s 12th Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and Vice Youth Poet Laureate, selected from a group of seven finalists that includes Aniylah (Niy) Dixon, Ella Gordon, Isabel Park, Maya Raveneau-Bey, Michelle Vong, Nairobi Barnes and Serafina Mackintosh.

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Each of these writers has already developed a distinct voice and unique delivery. Watching a recent online series of their readings, I was struck by their composure as they recited poems drawing inspiration from Oakland, while holding space for grief and pain, rebellion against sexism and the power and anxieties of Black womanhood.

a young Asian American person in a black and white headshot and a Black man with a beard and glasses in a headshot
L to R: Writers Brandon Taylor and Ocean Vuong. (Tom Hines; H. Xu)

City Arts & Lectures: Brandon Taylor and Ocean Vuong

Sydney Goldstein Theater, San Francisco
June 2 (Brandon Taylor) and June 9 (Ocean Vuong)

Around two years ago, I began reading more queer literature from contemporary writers of color, scouring the internet for short stories and poems, and saving as much as I could. The world was in the midst of lockdown chaos, and questions of identity felt more pressing than ever before.

This is how I discovered the works of Brandon Taylor and Ocean Vuong. I devoured Taylor’s essays on his conflictedness in reading and writing queer narratives and on being gay in the South; and spent hours underlining quotes from Vuong’s debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Taylor’s writing encouraged me to think more critically about craft, while Vuong’s prose presented new and unconventional ways to use language in vulnerable stories.

At Taylor’s and Vuong’s City Arts & Lectures talks, each writer will discuss their most recent works — Taylor’s upcoming book The Late Americans, and Vuong’s latest poetry collection, Time is a Mother.

a young Black man in a denim button up shirt smiles while holding a children's book in a bookstore
Peter Limata, seen here at Marcus Books, is an Oakland educator who’s become nationally known for his live book readings. He’ll host this year’s book festival at Children’s Fairyland. (Molly DeCoudreaux Photography)

The Children’s Fairyland Book Festival

Children’s Fairyland, Oakland
June 3

At this family-friendly event, local youth are invited to celebrate literature and reading with a lineup of author talks, book-making activities, a puppet show, meet-and-greets and more. The speaker lineup features illustrators and authors including Angela Dalton, Christian Robinson, Gennifer Choldenko, JaNay Brown-Wood, Mac Barnett, Nidhi Chanani, Shawn Harris and members of Fairyland’s Youth Writers Workshop. The festival will be hosted by Oakland educator Mr. Limata, who is known for his live children’s book readings.

a diptych of an author, a woman with brown hair and glasses and a book cover for a graphic novel called 'impossible people'
Author Julia Wertz and the cover of her latest book, ‘Impossible People.’ (Author photo by Oliver Trixl; book cover courtesy of the artist)

Cartoonist Julia Wertz’s ‘Impossible People’

Pegasus Books, Berkeley, June 8
Bookmine, Napa, June 15
Silver Sprocket, San Francisco, Aug. 11 (with Janelle Hessig!)

As both a nosy person and comics lover, my favorite subcategory of the artform has always been diary comics and graphic memoirs. They don’t have to be notable public figures, nor do their recollections need to be magnificent or fanciful for me to be invested — I’m just entranced by people being people, navigating their doubts and fears as they search for their own versions of peace.

When I first read Sonoma County cartoonist Julia Wertz’s comics, I immediately fell in love with her storytelling. Wertz has an illustrative style that is cute, simple and detailed; a witty and reflective approach to dialogue and narrative; and an openness that is intimate and relatable. In her latest book, Impossible People, she details her five-year sobriety journey in all its chaos. Digging into stories of group therapy sessions, relapses, relationship troubles, an eviction and other trials, she tells the story of how she succeeded, failed and picked herself back up throughout her recovery process. Reflective and honest, Wertz’s take on recovery is filled with ups, downs and unexpected turns. Through each winding revelation, she comes to see herself in a new light — one that forces her to care more deeply for herself.

a young Asian woman poses behind a table full of zines and stickers and tshirts at a book fair
Local illustrator HAETAE will be tabling at the San Jose Art, Zine & Book Fair. (Courtesy of the artit)

San Jose Art, Zine & Book Fair

Japantown, San Jose
June 10–11

A newer addition to the local DIY arts scene, this two-day event is organized by art gallery Empire Seven Studios and community arts organization SJ Makers. The event will feature local indie creators tabling with their art, a pop-up market and artist panelists, including Sean Barton, creator of Indecent Exposure, a 300-page graffiti zine published in San Jose.

While the event is relatively new, its presence proves that the South Bay — a region often overlooked in Bay Area arts events — is a thriving hotspot for underground zine culture.

a young Black woman wearing a coat and red lipstick laughs in a portrait
Author and NPR podcast host Aisha Harris. (Sheilby Macena)

Aisha Harris’ ‘Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me’

Mrs. Dalloway’s, Berkeley
June 14

I’ve often tuned into NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour during long walks, finding solace in the lively conversations of its hosts, a warm, funny and knowledgeable group of arts journalists. In bite-sized episodes, the hosts and guests banter and discuss the intricacies of popular shows, films and pop culture events, while dissecting their significance.

Host and culture critic Aisha Harris is touring this summer with her debut essay collection, Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me. In it, she takes readers through her adolescence, and the pop-culture figures, moments and concepts that impacted her growing up. On Instagram, Harris offers snippets of some of her chapters and the “mood boards” behind them, with one focusing on her relationship with being the “cool girl,” writing that this journey is “the story of a girl who sought power through exception and various posturings of masculinity.”

The book is a more intimate look into Harris’ life: a treat for those, like myself, who have grown to savor her wisdom and humor on Pop Culture Happy Hour.

people gather at a book fair, scene in an aerial shot
Attendees and artists gather at SF Art Book Fair 2022. (Jenna Garrett)

The San Francisco Art Book Fair

Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco
July 14-16 (Preview July 13)

Zine fests and book fairs are staples amongst local artists and enthusiasts in the Bay Area: each one a new treasure trove of colorful, eclectic items to add to one’s ever-growing personal collection. The San Francisco Art Book Fair is one of these essential events, and offers a large range of independent artists, publishers and designers who will sell prints, zines, books, apparel and other wares over the course of four days.

The fair, currently in its sixth year, also includes artist talks, book presentations, performances, lectures and other special events. In previous years, they’ve hosted a documentary screening on Bay Area zine culture, collaborative drawing sessions and an exhibition showcasing unseen work from cultural icons John Waters and Andy Warhol. Best of all, it retains the spirit of the humble book fair, where accessibility and inclusivity are key. In this place, there is truly something for everyone.

a collage of an Asian-American woman with two book covers, with titles 'In the Beautiful Country' and 'Land of Broken Promises'
Author Jane Kuo with her two novels, ‘In the Beautiful Country,’ and ‘Land of Broken Promises.’ (Jane Kuo photo by Jon Paris; collage courtesy Palo Alto City Library)

Jane Kuo’s ‘Land of Broken Promises’

Rinconada Library, Palo Alto
July 15

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Novelist Jane Kuo’s latest book follows Anna, a young Taiwanese immigrant who struggles to adjust to 1980s Los Angeles. Drawn from Kuo’s own life, the book is a tribute to the author’s experience immigrating to the U.S. and her subsequent explorations of identity, language, family and the concept of the American Dream. The novel is a sequel to Kuo’s first book, In the Beautiful Country, and similarly explores the lesser-told coming-of-age narrative of a young Taiwanese immigrant. Here, Kuo will appear for a craft talk and book signing.

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