Litquake. Oh, Litquake! One of my favorite weeks of the whole entire year and becoming more favorite each time. Who cares what fun-haters like Ted Rall say about literary festivals? I for one, would pay good money to hang out with crowd-surfing letterpress compositors. I doubt that will actually happen at Litquake -- the festival that has become the focus of a year's planning and excitement for local litterati, but you never know. Considering the sort of behavior we've seen from local authors recently, nothing would surprise me.
From its very origins, Litquake has been anything but sedate or safe. Founded by a gang of outlaws including San Francisco Bizarro author Jack Boulware and Chron columnist Jane Ganahl, Litquake began over drinks at the Tenderloin's Edinburgh Castle, and the Castle remains the event's spiritual home. In its earliest incarnation "Litstock," the event was a single day of marathon readings on a chilly outdoor stage. Renamed and expanded, the centerpiece of the festival is now TWO days of marathon readings (indoors this time) at the Koret Auditorium of the Main Library. But these days Litquake comprises a whole week of author luncheons, signings, and special installments of many of our fine city's favorite ongoing reading series.
Capping the week is the infamous Lit Crawl, a night of utter insanity in the Mission District. Dozens of readings will take place in three one-hour "phases," at a wide variety of bars, restaurants, and storefronts. Between phases, participants must run as fast as possible to the next venue, hoping to get there in time enough to beat the crowd and actually get inside and hear something. In years past, there were maybe 4 simultaneous events per "phase." This year, there's something close to 9,000, and no matter which reading you attend, you'll be kicking yourself that you couldn't go to all the rest. It just goes to show that we have an embarrassment of literary riches here in the Bay Area, and I, for one, hope that Litquake continues to grow and prosper.
Like the Fringefest, or any of our city's great film festivals, the first hurdle is accepting that you WILL NOT be attending each and every event. You probably have a job to go to, and you probably can't clone yourself. So here's a smattering of my Litpicks for this year.
What I'd Go To If I Had The Money
For the first time, Litquake is going to be presenting its Barbary Coast Award for lifetime achievement to Armistead Maupin, the man who inspired untold Mary Ann Singletons to leave Cleveland and make their mood rings blue with his serialized and disco-drenched Tales of the City saga. Appearing with Maupin that night will be Andrew Sean Greer, Michelle Tea, Father Guido Sarducci, the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon, and actress Laura Linney, who played Mary Ann in the "Tales" miniseries, among others. This is such the ultimate San Francisco event, I wouldn't be surprised if the heavenly sprirts of Harvey Milk, Herb Caen, and Emperor Norton all descended in a winged cable car to sprinkle the crowd with Rice-A-Roni. It might happen. If you can, drop that extra c-note for access to the afterparty. The fun happens at 8pm on Saturday, October 6, 2007 at the Herbst Theatre. Buy your tickets ahead of time here.
What I Will Probably Try to Get To If Possible
Forget the star-studded evening galas. The heart and soul of Litquake is what happens at the Main Library's Koret Auditorium on Saturday and Sunday, the 7th and 8th of October. "Off The Richter Scale" features ongoing one-hour readings of authors grouped by theme, all afternoon, both days. From 11am to noon on Saturday is "Hot Off The Presses: Fresh First Books", which includes readings by Austin Grossman and Kiara Brinkman. From 1 to 2pm there's "Poet-palooza" with the city's current Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman and other amazing word alchemists including Diana DiPrima and Camille Dungy. On Sunday from 1:30 to 2:30pm, "LifeLines: Writing From Life Experience" features memoirists and monologuists like Josh Kornbluth and Julia Scheeres. From 3:30 to 4:30pm, you've got "Sunday Storytime" with Ann Cummins and Alejandro Murguia. It all happens at the Main, 100 Larkin Street, and it's all FREE. Full info is here.
Events I Will Be Absolutely Positively Attending
Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte's monthly Porchlight series has been giving extroverts the chance to gab, sans notes, at a rapt crowd for over five years now. A night of extemporaneous talking on a given theme, On Monday the 8th, an all-star lineup of authors (Dave "Staggering Genius" Eggers! Frank "King Dork" Portman! Cameron "Bad Girl"Tuttle!) will discuss "Day Job Hell" starting at 7:30pm at the Swedish American Hall, 2174 Market. 15 bucks, tickets here. And really, it would not be a true Litquake experience if you didn't trudge on over to the Edinburgh Castle at least once, to consume hard liquor while listening to intimidating-looking men read about drugs, sex, and ass-kicking. "Poptones" on Thursday the 11th fills that particular void, with Mickey Disend (author of Stomping The Goyim), Bucky Sinister (author of All Blacked Out and Nowhere to Go), and Peter Plate (author of a great many hardboiled fictions including One Foot Off The Gutter) being, in no particular order, the top three most intimidating-looking. Edinburgh Castle, 950 Geary, 8pm, and FREE.
Three Hours. Thirty-Five Venues. 200 authors. The One and Only...LIT CRAWL
When I saw the final schedule for this year's Lit Crawl, I think my head exploded. It's approaching an untenably ridiculous number of simultaneous events. If all your friends are writers (like mine are) you will inevitably hurt someone's feelings the night of October 13. Here's my top two picks for each of the three phases.
- Phase I, 6-7pm: "Almost Everybody: Best Of The Here Comes Everybody Reading Series" at Adobe Books, 3166 16th Street. Talented up-and-comers like Chaim Bertman, Anne-E Wood, and a certain KQED blogger who shall remain nameless will be strutting their stuff. But I promise my feelings won't be hurt if you go up the street instead to Double Dutch at 3192 16th Street to hear "Real Life: Memoir Writers Tell It Like It Is." Alan Kaufman, Bridget Kinsella, and talented new writer Clane Hayward will be among the readers. I'd be there if I could.
- Phase II, 7-7:45pm: The Elbo Room at 647 Valencia plays host to a Small Press Fest featuring readers from Instant City and Manic D Press, to just name a few. Down the street at the Believer offices, behind Little Otsu at 849 Valencia, political commentator/novelist/erotica writer/legendary beer-tosser Stephen Elliott will be performing a new monologue called "The Score," complete with slides and other visual aids.
- Phase III, 8-8:45pm: At the Marsh Café:, 1070 Valencia, Small Press Distribution will be setting up their Poetry Trading Post. (If past trading posts are any indication, you might walk away with free books!) At the Mission Laundromat, writers from "Tea Party" and "On The Page" magazines will be performing, and it's worth attending even just because fighting your way into a crowded laundromat full of tipsy well-read Mission dwellers is pretty much the apotheosis of the Lit Crawl experience.
Oh, and all Lit Crawl events are FREE, but check each venue for age restrictions.
I'm already exhausted, and it hasn't even begun. Stay tuned for wrap-ups next week, and I'll see you around the 'Quake. Whew.
Litquake 2007 runs from October 6-13, 2007 in various venues throughout San Francisco. For more information visit litquake.org.