Most folks in the United States don't read for pleasure very much, often opting for the action of 500-channel satellite TV, Sony PlayStation, or Internet porn over mere words on the page. But in the Bay Area, it's a different story. Not only does San Francisco boast one of the top literary scenes in the nation — authors like Maxine Hong Kingston, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) live and work around here — but also quite a few nonwriter residents actually buy books and (gasp!) read them. Every day you'll spot these exotic creatures in the city's cafes and saloons, at bus stops and on BART, outside libraries and independent bookstores, with glassy eyes darting across texts that spark firestorms in the language centers of the brain. Yet even in this hyperliterate town there are those who still think that words can't possibly be as much fun as, say, a Giants game or a fetish ball. Litquake 2004 aims to shake up the doubters, while thrilling believers with exactly what they desire.
For its fifth year, the Bay Area's homegrown lit fete intends an all-out orgy of word love. The nine-day festival of readings, panel discussions, and uncensored performances will feature more than 175 writers, from mystery novelists to slam poets, children's authors to political activists. In a press release, Litquake's wisecracking co-director Jack Boulware quips, “[This] is truly the big-ass literary celebration we've always planned. If we make it through without angina, we'll probably expand it even more next year.”
Boulware and his programming partner, Jane Ganahl, are nothing if not ambitious. “The overarching mission,” Ganahl suggests, “is to invigorate interest in books as much as possible, regardless of genre.” Thus there are nights devoted variously to women (including Hong Kingston and Ann Packer), noir authors like Eddie Muller, spoken-word provocateurs (the hugely popular “Loudmouths of Lit” showcase spotlights Kim Addonizio, April Sinclair, and Beth Lisick), kids' writers (including a do-it-yourself bookmaking workshop), and a “Page to Screen” Q&A between novelist Barry Gifford and Tamara Straus, editor of Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story lit mag.
The sprawling “Literary Pub Crawl” — a Friday night walkabout in the Mission, subtitled “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Pint” — exemplifies Litquake's goal of baiting all kinds of readers with what they like best while creating ample opportunities to experience something new. From erotica to religious writing, sci-fi to graphic storytelling, the range of voices represented at more than a dozen venues (including bars, bookshops, galleries, Good Vibrations, and Dave Eggers' 826 Valencia pirate store) is, uh, staggering. “If you can bring in somebody who's a fan of mysteries and have them turned on to travel writing,” Ganahl says, “all the better.” — Sam Prestianni