upper waypoint

A Performance Artist and Poet Presents ‘My San Francisco’

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Black woman leans against yellow post and looks up
Gabrielle Civil presents 'My San Francisco,' a newly commissioned performance, at The Lab on June 22. (Catron Booker)

For the past six months, Los Angeles performance artist Gabrielle Civil has been digging through 50 years worth of archives in Small Press Traffic’s Mission District offices.

“It’s been so juicy and fun,” she says. “You can see a lot of different relationships just through ephemeral material.”

As a nonprofit dedicated to boundary-pushing poets, Small Press Traffic (SPT) has found a fitting partner in Civil, who has premiered over 50 performance artworks and written several performance memoirs, blurring the lines between static writing, live events and archives of Black women’s creative expression. On Saturday, June 22, Civil will perform My San Francisco at The Lab, the final event in her five-part series Where Would I Be Without You?

Commissioned by SPT in celebration of their 50th anniversary, the series has explored the power of friendship and literary connections. The four previous events, which included an album listening party, collective poetry writing while watching movies over Zoom and readings by pairs of poet friends, often used artworks from Bay Area history as starting points. One of those was the 1993 John Singleton film Poetic Justice (starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur). Another was the 1976 Pat Parker & Judy Grahn album that gave the series its name.

Black woman stands with right hand on chest in front of mic in gallery space
Gabrielle Civil reading during the May 31 event ‘A Friendly Reading & Social’ at Et al. (Courtesy Small Press Traffic)

What kind of relationship does a Detroit-born, Los Angeles-based artist have to San Francisco that would occasion the use of such a possessive title? For Civil, it began with an appreciation of the region’s poetic output and the poets who spread out from this place.


“I was especially informed and inspired by the woman of color poetry-performance scene,” she says. “That would be Ntozake Shange and for colored girls. Even though I think people think of it — and they should think of it — as the first Black woman’s show on Broadway, it started in the Bay.”

Spending time in the SPT archives, Civil says, has allowed her to recognize how much the Bay Area has informed her imagination as a poet, and how much location has shaped her own coming of age.

For Civil, Where Would I Be Without You? has been an opportunity to marvel at the criss-crossing networks represented in SPT’s holdings, then turn around and create even more connections within the present-day literary circles.

“What I try to do is set an experience for people to open up in their imaginations,” she says, “and have opportunities to consider themselves, and the people around them, and this whole weird thing of poetry that we’re trying to make together in some new ways.”

Two people look at each other as they speak into mics
Gabrielle Civil in conversation with Judy Grahn at the ‘Where Would I Be Without You’ listening party at The Lab. (Courtesy of Small Press Traffic)

One need not have attended any of the previous events to enjoy My San Francisco. Civil says, “You don’t even have to be knowledgeable about poetry, or like poetry.” (But if you are an aficionado, you might geek out on some of the things she brings in.)

Saturday’s performance will be a combination of storytelling, sound, humor and conversation, with photo documentation from Civil’s forays into the archive. “The one thing that they should know about me is that I’m interactive,” she says to prospective attendees, “but I am also very respectful.”

Lasting traces of her time in the archives will exist in the form of documentation of all five events, but Civil emphasizes that this will be a one-night-only performance.

“If people are curious or are interested, I’d encourage them to come, because it’s not going to be happening every week,” she says. “We’re just going to come together and give it a shot.”

Gabrielle Civil performs ‘My San Francisco’ at The Lab (‍2948 16th St., San Francisco) on June 22, 2024 at 7 p.m. The event is free to attend; reserve tickets here.

lower waypoint
next waypoint