For the love of capitalism, not another event that costs next to nothing and provides complimentary beer, food, and entertainment!
Janis Cooke Newman, the lead organizer of Lit Camp -- an annual writing retreat co-sponsored by Litquake and The Grotto that just finished up year two -- has teamed up with Sports Basement and McSweeney's to start a reading series with the goal of establishing a scholarship fund.
The idea is pretty great: curators of The Basement Series will select two featured writers, who in turn will choose, from an open submission process, five other authors who will share their bill. All proceeds will be split down the middle, with half going to Lit Camp and half to Scholar Match.
The first show is this Friday, June 6, with featured authors Joshua Mohr (Some Things That Meant the World to Me, Termite Parade, Damascus) and Courtney Moreno (In Case of Emergency, forthcoming from McSweeney's in September). They've selected Rebecca Checkouras, Melissa Dodd, Lisa Ferguson, Mercilee Jenkins, and Kurt Martin, all of whom will read on the theme Emergency.
Lit Camp is held every summer at Calistoga's Mayacamas Ranch -- they take over the whole ranch, and there's only room for 40 attendees (not counting about a dozen and a half staff, which includes acclaimed writers, publishers, and agents). The only people who get paid are the five workshop leaders; this past year, that list included: Ben George, Sr. Editor at Litttle, Brown and Co., Andrew Sean Greer (The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, The Confessions of Max Tivoli), Emily Rapp (The Still Point of the Turning World), Susan Straight (Between Heaven and Here), and Amy Williams, literary agent for McCormick & Williams.
"Last year, two people we picked could not come because they didn't have enough money, and this year four people we picked couldn't come because they didn't have enough money," said Cooke Newman about Lit Camp, at a cafe near The Grotto. "And people are always emailing me, saying 'I'd like to submit but do you have scholarships?'"
Cooke Newman shoulders the risk, putting the deposit on her personal credit card. "I budget hoping I'm going to get 200 submissions. And if we don't, I might personally have to be out money to run Lit Camp. But fortunately we got 250 this year. So it's always a financial risk every year; it's always a leap of faith every time I put down that deposit."
The cost to submit is $25 (submissions open Oct. 1 and run through the end of the year), and admission ranges from $525 (with offsite accommodations) to $1295 for a single occupancy with private bath.
So why Mayacamas?
"We did a lot of research looking around, and there's no place that seems nice enough. And if it wasn't as nice, fewer people might apply and I might have to pay the panelists to come," Cooke Newman said. The panelists come for free, she says, because Mayacamas is so nice. "Most places that aren't as nice charge twice as much as Mayacamas. That's the thing. So it seems like a perfect thing. We did some research, we looked at various venues... I think we have found the sweet spot."
The Basement Series: Emergency is Friday at Sports Basement Bryant (1590 Bryant), 7 p.m. $5-$10 suggested.