Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was Stephen Elliott himself, a self-effacing, behind-the-scenes mover and shaker. His "Progressive Reading Series," which he plans to host on the second Monday of every month through October (the next one, on Feb. 13, will include Tobias Wolff, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Jonathan Ames), is remarkably well planned. Elliott picks candidates based in part on whether they're in a race that might be won; he aims not to make useless noise, but to "take back the House." He chooses writers with an eye toward diversity -- male and female, producing fiction and nonfiction, the unpublished and the big names -- but mostly he wants authors who know how to put on a good show. His goal is to raise about $70,000 all told (he's also donating a portion of the profits from the most recent book he edited, Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction, which was handed out to those who donated $30 at the Make-Out).
When I asked him later whether he'd ever consider running for office, he seemed amused. "Who's going to vote for someone who's done the things I've done?" After all, his autobiographical novel, Happy Baby, was described by the New York TimesBook Reviewas "surely the most intelligent and beautiful book ever written about juvenile detention centers, sadomasochism, and drugs." Then again, I pointed out, this isSan Francisco. "Sure, I'd run for office," he laughed. "I'd love to." Hell, I'd vote for him.