Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl came up with the idea for Litquake in 1999 over pints at Tenderloin bar Edinburgh Castle. “If you sit in a Scottish pub long enough, you end up thinking, ‘We should do something,'” Boulware said of the 23-year-old festival.
According to Boulware, San Francisco’s literary scene at the time was small and overshadowed by dot-com boon. “You would meet someone, and they would say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m a writer for pampers.com.'”
The long-running festival of poetry and prose returns to town October 6-22 with a series of free and paid events for those with a penchant for books. While last year’s festival was 50% virtual, this year’s schedule includes only a handful of online events.
The diverse lineup includes everything from Margaret Wilkerson Sexton on her 1950s jazz novel Fillmore to finalists in BART’s first-ever songwriting contest; from events for primary school students to a presentation of projects for seniors; an exploration of who killed Jane Stanford to the ideas of women in the Black Panther Party.
The more than two-week literary smorgasbord culminates with Lit Crawl on the evening of October 22, where a host of writers will embark on a massive pub crawl, stopping at bars, barbershops and bookshops across the district of Assignment.
Best-selling local authors Daniel Handler of Lemony Snicket fame and Pulitzer Prize-winning Andrew Sean Greer will resume their sold-out show “Paragraphs on Ice,” in which they share their favorite literary paragraphs on an old-school overhead projector 1970s, broken down what they like snippets in front of a live audience. The Porchlight storytelling series celebrates its 20th anniversary on October 7 with stories about getting out of town.
The poetry at Grace Cathedral should be divine, and the October 19 Generation Women program has a stellar cast, including Bonnie Tsui, the local author behind why we swim– and comedian W. Kamau Bell’s mother, Janet Cheatham Bell.
The great Russian literary man Vladimir Sorokin, appreciated as the heir of Turgenev or Nabokov, will speak at the institute of mechanics to discuss his work and life with translator Max Lawton.
While Ingrid Rojas Contreras held events throughout the Bay Area to promote her new memoir The man who could move the cloudsher appearance in Litquake with Colombian writer Julián Lopera promises to be unique: the book discussion is followed by a cumbia dance party with DJ Telepathic Juan.
These are just a few of the many strengths of the Bay Area’s deep shoal of literary talent. Local sci-fi writer and Writers With Drinks host Charlie Jane Anders will be on several panels; Founder of Salon.com and season of the witch author David Talbot will appear with Craig McNamara, son of former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara; and San Francisco Chronicle columnist and best-selling author Vanessa Hua will speak with local activist and journalist Robert Lovato.
Litquake was clearly filling a need in the literary community and went organically – and quickly – from a handful of events to a “monster” year when it welcomed 950 authors in 10 days, with 140 events in four hours for the Bed Crawl. “It was almost unmanageable at one point,” Boulware said, “but people were so excited to run down the street and see a reading at a furniture store, a laundromat, or the police station.”
The Lit Crawl component was added in 2004 and has since become a highlight of the festival. Lit Crawl’s vibe, with its participatory nature, quirky locations and ever-changing vibrancy, captures something of the spirit of San Francisco itself, according to Boulware.
“That’s why people move here, because you can renew your life and start over and call yourself another name,” Boulware said. “You have the right to experiment and try new things. If they don’t work, great. You can always try something else.