The First Weekend of Litquake: San Francisco’s Annual Literary Festival

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Over the weekend, San Francisco’s annual literary festival — Litquake — began its procession through the Bay Area with events both low-key and extravagant. Started as a single-day event in 1999, Litquake will host 850 authors — including emissaries from Ireland and Norway — over the course of 9 days. This twelfth festival is Litquake’s first since becoming a non-profit, and having spent the past year programming year-round (a first), the committee and its staff of volunteers has expanded into a small army. The term literary festival is somewhat open-ended already, but “San Francisco’s annual literary festival” should probably be replaced with “The Bay Area’s permanent literary epicenter.”

1. Nicole McFeely, Assistant Editor of Litseen.com, sits beside new friend Lucy Caldwell, author and playwright from Ireland, before the festivities. 2. 20 Under 40 author Chris Adrian dressed up for his reading of The Great Night, with co-owner of The Booksmith Christin Evans.

They’re still working on the new tag, I’m sure, but as the opening weekend made evident, the folks at Litquake have plenty of more important things to think about. In addition to the aforementioned emissaries, the committee has put together superb events like Cross-Border Diatribes, featuring readings and performance by two figureheads of Chicano literature: Alejandro Murguía and Guillermo Gómez-Peña. With different but intersecting opinions concerning the cultural divide between Mexico and the United States, to have these authors in the same room presenting their art was the kind of experience it takes a full-blown organization to conceive. You can watch their remarkable performances in-full here.

1. Co-owner of The Booksmith Christin Evans jokes around with author and Lemony Snicket alter-ego Daniel Handler. 2. Author Andrew Sean Greer plays the ukulele as members of The Booksmith’s Literary Clown Foolery troupe — both MFAs — danced the faerie.

Another highlight so far, for me, was The Great Night in the Park: a celebration of Chris Adrian’s The Great Night (an original novel inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream) at the summit of Buena Vista Park. This event was conceived by The Booksmith (who is also hosting Chuck Klosterman, Mary Roach, and Deepak Chopra as part of the festival), and co-sponsored by a host of official city agencies: Buena Vista Neighborhood Association, San Francisco Recration and Park Department, and the San Francisco Parks Alliance. In other words, the literary world here might not move mountains, but we can use them when we want to.

For The Great Night in the Park, Chris Adrian read a scene from his book, which was originally inspired by his daily walks through the park. Also, Andrew Sean Greer read — for the first time — an excerpt from his novel in-progress and (not only that!) played ukulele with Daniel Handler, who emceed the event. As if all of that were not enough, The Booksmith’s Literary Clown Troupe dressed up as faeries and added juggling and dancing to the mix. “It’s really very Renaissance Fair here today, let’s just admit this,” joked Greer between reading and singing Shakespeare over the uke.

There are five full days and nights of programming until the festival culminates in the notorious Lit Crawl, which will host readers in 80+ venues in the Mission District over a 3-hour span this Saturday. Mayhem, nothing short of.

For more on the SF/Bay Area, and for daily coverage of Litquake, check out Litseen.

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Evan Karp is the creator of Litseen.com and Quiet Lightning, a monthly, submission-based reading series-turned nonprofit that publishes each month’s show as a book. He writes a literary culture column for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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