I approached KoKo Cocktails, a small bar on the edge of the Tenderloin, to attend an event I had only found out about earlier that day on Facebook. Stephen Elliott and Tony DuShane were going to be reading in the TL? For free? It was a Saturday night in December of 2009 and I had only been living in the city for six months, but I had already become something of a junkie for attending and filming readings and this seemed like a pretty good ticket. It was the third installation of the Tenderloin Reading Series , founded and organized by one Jonathan I. Hirsch.
As I opened the door to the bar, a dapper man about my age with close-cut blonde hair, glasses, and a sharp vest-tie combo was stepping outside. Our eyes caught at the same moment and we both paused. Hm, I wear a sharp vest-tie combo, too. And in the Tenderloin! What kind of reading series is this, I wondered. I introduced myself and spoke with Jonathan long enough to realize he was not only passionate about what he was doing, but serious enough to get it done. I made a note to remember this man and took a seat at the bar.
The readings were excellent, intimate in the darklit but somehow swanky confines of KoKo's. Quarterly, the TLRS features fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction on or about the gritty Tenderloin district, which has long been home to the homeless, the poor and broken, desperate and resigned denizens of our city. But the Tenderloin is also one of the fastest changing demographics in the city, and home to many dreams still vibrant; artists live there cheaply, and those down on their luck move in, refusing to give up on their love for San Francisco. The Tenderloin is thus a vortex of energy, and the Tenderloin Reading Series represents the wide range of experiences to be had there.
Recently, Hirsch has created a corollary series called Tenderlogues, which aims to collect narratives from TL inhabitants that express unforgettable and often life-changing moments they've experienced in the neighborhood. Said Hirsch, "The Tenderlogue concept arose out of many discussions and considerations I've had about how to expand TLRS in a manner that was fitting to its original purpose: to get people talking, thinking, and sharing stories about the neighborhood. Over the past two years it occurred to me numerous times just how remarkable and unique this neighborhood is, and how those who have had the occasion to experience it (for better or worse) kept these stories with them for the rest of their lives. By compiling many of these narratives, the Tenderlogue project could help to define the neighborhood and the experience of being here, not just for its residents, but also for future times."
In addition to the narratives, each Tenderlogue will feature author photos by Julie Michelle, whose project I Live Here:SF (featured in SOMArts this past November) is a natural fit for collaboration. Since March of 2009, Michelle has invited anyone who lives in the city to share his or her story and neighborhood with her; she does a photo shoot and appends image to narrative, creating not only a context for each subject but also a time capsule of the city's neighborhoods. All together, I Live Here:SF is a dynamic portrait of the people who live here and the many reasons why it means so much to them.
"The city is a completely live animal to me, a kaleidoscope of faces and stories," Michelle says. "I love how people take pride in where they live and want to share their knowledge and their daily life with others."
As I Live Here:SF has demonstrated, what sometimes brings people together is a love of place. Those who live in the Tenderloin have a somewhat unorthodox passion for San Francisco that merits closer attention, for to live in the very bowels of the city and sustain enthusiasm requires a breed of love that comes from a necessarily deeper place than that found in the dreamy notions that accompany the city by the bay; there's no bay in the Tenderloin.
How did the two meet? Jonathan told Julie his incredible story for I Live Here:SF. Now they work together to share the Tenderloin's stories.
The Tenderlogue project has the potential to be a benchmark for both Jonathan and Julie, as Jonathan hopes to include "a larger percentage of people from outside the literary community," and Julie will compile perhaps her most extensive profile of any neighborhood to date.
The first Tenderlogue was contributed by Tony DuShane, who will be one of the featured readers at the two-year anniversary of the Tenderloin Reading Series this Saturday night. The celebration promises to be stellar, with performance poets Charlie Getter and Meg Day on the same ticket as memoirist Alan Kaufman and resident Tenderloin poet laureates Ed Bowers and Joel Landfield joining DuShane, a novelist.
Also, if you're in the Excelsior, Michelle has just installed an exhibit of portraits from I Live Here:SF at Mama Art Cafe (4754 Mission St). The reception is March 31 from 7-10pm.
The next edition of the Tenderloin Reading Series is Saturday, March 19, 2011, 7:30pm at KoKo's Cocktails, 1060 Geary Street in San Francisco. For more information visit tenderloinreadingseries.com. The event is FREE!