It's hard to believe that Litquake, now the West Coast's largest literary festival, started life as a single day event when it first launched in 1999. Now the organization responsible for the nine-day festival, which hosts 600 authors and 10,000 attendees, has evolved into an almost inexplicable behemoth of literary events.
Last year, Litquake gained nonprofit status and started programming year round. Since then, the programming committee has congealed into a machine, producing events impressive for their quality, creativity, and -- most importantly -- their ability to incorporate other members of the literary community. This week's Cabaret Bastille, which will celebrate Bastille Day and the bohemian spirit of 1920s Paris, should be a perfect example of both the diverse culture Litquake has generated and the import such communities might have when they are brought together.
Traditionally, Litquake has depended on big names to bolster attendance, often featuring the same writers year after year. But by hooking up with other local groups and paying attention to what was previously beneath its radar, Litquake is sewing together the local lit community from the bottom up, forging a strong foundation and giving other voices a chance to become part of the conversation.
On a fundamental level, this shift in thought evokes the destruction of the Bastille, which, amongst other things, was significant for imprisoning those whose writing had displeased the government. For this reason, the Storming of the Bastille, which occurred on July 14, 1789, represented the end of the monarchy's absolutism and a new era of government and culture created by and for the people.
For an evening, Litquake looks to 1920s Paris, when important cultural thinkers spent their days in outdoor cafes and literature was literally in the air. "The exchange of ideas, mutual support and inspiration, and the closeness of our community connects us, in at least a small way, with the expat writers of yesteryear," says Alia Volz, who will channel Anaïs Nin at the event. Volz was only last year selected to read at Barely Published Authors -- an annual event geared toward the presentation of emerging writers.
A whole cast of similarly bright writers (Josh Mohr, Sarah Fran Wisby, Alan Black, Daphne Gottlieb, et al.) will evoke a generation that gave emerging thinkers influence to profound results. At the forefront of our own cultural revolution, we will visit altogether another period of time, as if to say, "Please introduce yourselves to us, 1920's Paris, and tell us about what you did... and how you did it. We're curious and want to hear all about you."
But also, we want to drink and dance and celebrate the possibilities in front of us. Culture isn't drafted in boardrooms by small groups of people, and Litquake has taken great care to create more than a strong roster of readers. French wine will be served with tricolor cocktails, vintage blue movies will be screened and flappers and dandies will dance exotic to the accordion stylings of Angus Martin, with accompaniment by Gabrielle Ekedal. There will be activities that range from exquisite corpse to make-your-own-Matisse, designed to bring out the artist in each of us and to bring us together, according to our particular whimsies.
As Cabaret Bastille suggests: the scene is set, the soapbox amplified and ready for action. What happens, as a new community steps forward, is anyone's guess. It could also be anyone's idea.