A crowd gathers in a Mission District laundry mat for Loads of Prose, a Lit… (Shelley Eades )
Reporting from San Francisco — You can't throw a New Yorker magazine in San Francisco without hitting a writer. This fog-bound city might be more famous for steep hills and sourdough, but step inside one of its many independent bookstores and coffeehouses and you'll find more novelists, nonfiction writers, poets and bloggers than in even the most literary Brooklyn neighborhood.
It's this abundance of local talent that inspired the first Litquake festival in 1999. That and beer. After a long afternoon at the Edinburgh Castle, a S.F. watering hole that had hosted a number of successful author readings, future Litquake co-founders Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware concluded that putting on a literary festival in San Francisco couldn't be that hard, could it?
Turns out, it wasn't hard at all. The two persuaded 20 local writers to participate, booked the band shell in Golden Gate Park for an afternoon and got their one sponsor, the San Francisco Examiner, to cough up $300 for a sound system. To their amazement, 300 people showed up.
It was so easy, they decided to do it again. And again.
This year, Litquake's 12th, the event will stretch over nine days and feature 848 authors reading in venues as diverse as Sausalito houseboats, Mission District dive bars, a police station, an alley and a cheese shop, as well as the usual bookstores and theaters. Best of all, most of these events are free or close to it. Which means that if you are a lover of the written word, Oct. 7-15 is the best time to be in San Francisco. One caveat: With 165 events spread over nine days, there's bound to be more than one at the same time you'll want to attend. To navigate Litquake's day-by-day offerings, you're going to need local advice. (Fair warning: What follows is an abridged and subjective sampling. For the unabridged version, go to http://www.litquake.org/festival.)
Friday, Oct. 7: Litquake kicks off with an opening-night cocktail party that is your best bet for mingling with local authors of the famous and soon-to-be famous variety. This year it's being held at the Verdi Club, a social-club-turned-hipster-event-hall. Come see how nicely San Francisco's authors clean up.
Saturday, Oct. 8: Every hour, starting at noon and lasting until 4 p.m., different writers read about an assortment of topics. Science fiction in a real world. Writing in California prisons. Or maybe, it's a group of publishers discussing whether self-publishing is the new black. All free. All in a comfortable venue on Market Street. Saturday night, I'm leaning toward Tom McGuane in conversation with Litquake co-founder Boulware. How many times do you get the opportunity to hear a writer who is the author of nine novels and a member of the National Cutting Horse Assn. Hall of Fame?
Sunday, Oct. 9: At 4 p.m. you have two good options. If your tastes run to fairies, maypoles and open-air picnics, head to "The Great Night" in Buena Vista Park with authors Chris Adrian, Andrew Sean Greer and Daniel ("Lemony Snicket") Handler. If you prefer seedier gatherings, then turn up at "That's My F-- cking Stool — Writers at the Bar," at Vesuvio in North Beach, with local bad boy (and girl) authors, including David Henry Sterry whose bio lists jobs as a Chippendales emcee and Disney screenwriter. Later in the evening, two more good options. Will you head to the Jewish Community Center to hear Adam Mansbach talk about the bedtime book with every parent's favorite title, "Go the F-- k to Sleep"? Or settle in at the Herbst Theatre for a conversation with James Ellroy, author of "L.A. Confidential" and self-described "Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction"?
Monday, Oct. 10: "Whales, Comedy and the Impressionists: A Collision." With a title like that, do I have to say more? How about that this 6 p.m. event features comic novelist Christopher Moore and National Geographic photographer Flip Nicklin? Count on glimpses of Nicklin's amazing photos and Moore's latest novel. The Litquake edition of the Porchlight Storytelling series always sells out, and for good reason. There's something great about having somebody tell you a story. This year's theme is "Are We Good? An Evening of Stories About Apology, Redemption and Outright Begging for Forgiveness."
Tuesday, Oct. 11: My pick for tonight is easy, "Young Ireland: Emissaries From a New Literary Renaissance" at 8 p.m., which includes readings and a panel discussion from five up-and-coming Irish authors. The venue is the Swedish American Hall, where there's a well-stocked bar, because they're Irish writers after all.