Litquake is San Francisco's annual literary festival. Originally starting out as Litstock for a single day on July 16, 1999, it ran for two years under the same name before going dark in 2001 after the event of 9/11 of that year. It re-emerged in 2002 with a new name, determined to make the most of the fact that according to USA Today, San Francisco has the highest per capita consumption of both alcohol and books. Consisting of readings, discussions, and themed events held at different Bay Area venues, the annual festival features predominantly Bay Area authors but opens a limited number of slots for those from the outside, and kicks off during either the first or second weekend of October, depending on the year. The Litquake Literary Project produces the event, while Intersection for the Arts and others provide fiscal sponsorship.
Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl are the co-founders and Artistic Directors, while Elise Proulx is the Executive Director.
The first year under the Litquake name, 2002, included over 60 authors and four venues. At the 2003 festival, 100 authors participated over four days. By 2004, the event had grown to 175 authors and nine days. The nine-day 2005 festival included 250 Bay Area participating authors and 6,975 attendees. The 2006 festival hit the 7833 attendee mark and included over 300 authors as well as Litquake's first ever movie, the cartoon Best Book Ever.
2011's festival saw a total attendance of 16,581, a 23% increase over 2010. In 2012, Litquake featured a total of 860 authors over the course of the 9 day festival.
In 2007, the venues were expanded for the first time to include locations outside of San Francisco. Opening night honored Armistead Maupin with the introduction of the Barbary Coast Award. The evening starred Amy Tan, who surprised the audience by first appearing in kitschy Chinese peasant garb, only to re-emerge in an ensemble of black leather and a whip, Andrew Sean Greer's eloquent memory/narrative of his first introduction to Tales of the City, Father Guido Sarducci's mysteriously hilarious treatise on the effects of an over abundance of lemons in an Italian village, K. M. Soehnlein's rediscovery of a fantasia on Jackie Kennedy written by Maupin in 1980, Susie Bright, cast members of Beach Blanket Babylon, Jon Ginoli, actress Laura Linney, Pamela Ling and Judd Winick, Michelle Tea, as well as the late Ethel Merman singing When the Lights Go Down in the City, by Journey. Other notable participating Bay Area writers over the course of the 8 day festival included Kim Addonizio, Kate Braverman, Colby Buzzell, Vikram Chandra, Dave Eggers, Daniel Handler, Wesley Stace, Derek Kirk Kim, Noah Levine, Mark Morford, Peggy Orenstein, Ann Patchett, Ishmael Reed, Lolly Winston, Jane Smiley, George Smoot, Gary Amdahl, Tamim Ansary, Tom Barbash, Frank Portman, and approximately 330 others.
A hallmark of Litquake is the broad range of authors, categories and readers represented. In 2007, that included Kidquake, Science and Religion, Jane Smiley in conversation with Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), an evening of original shorts written specifically on the theme of "The Lesser Evil," story telling at Porch Light - where authors are required to tell a story as opposed to reading one, panels on getting published, poetry, memoir, women authors, journalists, politics, science fiction, mystery, food and more
The 2008 Litquake festival, October 3–11, included 11,186 attendees, more than 350 writers, several sold-out events, and the well-attended Lit Crawl. The winner of the 2009 Barbary Coast Award was Tobias Wolff in an evening held at the newly opened Daniel Libeskind designed Contemporary Jewish Museum. Among those on stage paying tribute to Wolff were emcee Michael Krasny, Tom Barbash, Stephen Elliott, Adam Johnson, Tom Kealy, Graham Leggat, Ann Packer, Tom Perrotta, George Saunders and the Word for Word Performing Arts Company.
In 2009 Litquake opened on October 9 with Black, White and Read: Litquake's Book Ball to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Loosely based on Truman Capote's famous Black and White Ball of 1966, it's the first of a total of 98 scheduled event and was the first of three articles on the festival in The New York Times. On the following Monday October 12, the festival produced the event Journey to the End of the Bay: Punk Rockers Spill Their Guts in release of co-founder Jack Boulware's new book Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. Litquake also produced its very first zine symposium with the event Underground Exposed, in which many long time SF zinesters discussed their experiences in underground publishing. 500 authors were featured over the 9 days of the festival, and true to Litquake form they all appeared in variety of venues that included 24 bars, 16 bookstores, 9 galleries, 8 theaters, 7 coffee shops, a barbershop, a cathedral, a messenger bag store, and a bee keeping supply shop along with libraries, restaurants, museums, and more. This strategy not only encourages each event to take on a unique personality based on the venue, but reflects Litquake's belief that writers and readers are an essential part of the San Francisco economy by driving traffic through the doors of participating businesses and organizations. The 2009 winner of the Barbary Coast Award was author Amy Tan, who was both honored and "braised" (as opposed to full-on roasted) on Wednesday, October 14, 2009, at the Herbst Theater. Guests included Armistead Maupin, Andrew Sean Greer, Roger McGuinn (of The Byrds), and Bonesetter's Daughter and mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao among others. This too was written up in The New York Times who drew parallels between the writing scene in San Francisco to the thriving theater scene in Chicago, aka the "city of big shoulders." The paper of record for much of the nation also wrote up the final night's event, the Lit Crawl, a three and a half hour literary pub crawl through the Mission District
Without doubt, one of the highlights of the 2010 festival was the appearance by Tom Waits and Patti Smith among others, at the Barbary Coast Awards held in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Booksellers. At one point Waits sat at the piano and reminisced about City Lights, and sang a portion of the poem Coney Island of the Mind as he played a spontaneous accompaniment. In San Francisco to also perform at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Music Festival, Patti Smith took the stage with her longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye for a mesmeric version of "Wing." Over 450 authors were on deck for the 2010 festival, including Terry McMillan, Jonathan Lethem, Tobias Wolff and many more representing the diversity of both the reading and writing scene in the Bay Area.
The 2011 festival was held October 7–15, 2011 and saw a total attendance of 16,581, a 23% increase over 2010. Among the highlights: Ishmael Reed receiving the Barbary Coast Award, Chelsea Handler in conversation, Jeffrey Eugenides, crime writers from Scandinavia for an evening of Nordic noir, including Liza Marklund, Jørn Lier Horst and Tom Egeland, as well as a group of authors representing Young Ireland: Chris Binchy, Belinda McKeon, John Butler, Claire Kilroy and Lucy Caldwell. Programming included 'an afternoon of Words on the Waves' on the houseboats of Sausalito. Over 830 appeared at this year's festival, 398 in 85 events during the main festival, and an additional 450 at the closing night Lit Crawl through the Mission District in 76 venues over the course of 3.5 hours. Other authors of note in 2011 included:
- Donnell Alexander – Journalist and author part of the Afro Surrealism movement (Litquake debut)
- Chris Adrian – Author of The Great Night and pediatric oncologist
- Brian Christian – Poet and author of The Most Human Human (Litquake debut)
- James Ellroy – Master of noir in-conversation with Janis Cooke Newman
- Jefferey Eugenides – Author of the The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex and the upcoming The Marriage Plot (Litquake debut)
- Christa Faust – Mystery “Neo pulp” author (Litquake debut)
- Julia Glass – Author of Three Junes and The World Whole World Over; and I see You Everywhere (Litquake debut)
- Guillermo Gómez-Peña – Author and performance artist
- Sara Gran – Crime and thriller author (Litquake debut)
- Andrew Sean Greer – Author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli and The Story of a Marriage
- Daniel Handler – Author who also moonlights as Lemony Snicket when the mood suits
- Chuck Klosterman – Nationally known essayist with a bent for pop culture and consulting editor for Grantland.com (Litquake debut)
- Jillian Lauren – Former stripper and escort who ultimately fled her life in the harem of the Prince of Brunai and wrote the memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
- Adam Mansbach – Fiction writer responsible for Go the F**k To Sleep among other more literary works
- Cyra McFadden – Beloved Bay Area author, columnist and satirist who first came to prominence in the late 1970s with The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County (Litquake debut)
- Marc Maron – Comedian and Broadcaster live on stage
- Tom McGuane – Novelist, screenwriter and essayist in conversation with Litquake cofounder Jack Boulware (Litquake debut)
- Christopher Moore – Author and satirist
- Alejandro Murguia – Poet, short story writer and teacher at SF State and two time American Book Award winner
- Mary Roach – Author deservedly known for her one-word titles such as Stiff, Spook and Bonk
- Karen Russell – New Yorker “ 20 Under 40” alum and author of the collection Swamplandia (Litquake debut)
- Melanie Rae Thon – Noted American author’s work will be part of Stories on Stage (Litquake debut)
- Dan Woodrell – Author who elevated “rural noir” to the status of literature with his novel Winter’s Bone (Litquake Debut)
The 2012 Festival ran from October 5–13, with a total of 840 authors participating. The programming of that year included a number of authors in conversation, with pairs that featured Dave Eggers & Daniel Clowes; Daniel Handler & Andrew Sean Greer; Susan Straight & Michele Tea. In addition well known comedy icon Chris Elliott took the stage with Litquake co-founder Jack Boulware.
Also on the schedule: Michael Ian Black, a Woody Guthrie tribute, JR Moehringer, Stories on Stage, an evening of Original Shorts, Cowboy Noir, poetry, the Literary Death Match, and Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son, and a literary pub quiz produced by Goodreads.
In 2004, Litquake launched its first ever “Lit Crawl,” a literary pub-crawl through the Mission District of San Francisco. Readings and performances were rolled out in three sequential phases over the course of the crawl, resulting in a final phase where each venue was found to be standing room only. Because of this, the following year it was decided that the crawl was well suited to close the festival, a place in the schedule it has maintained ever since. By 2012 the Lit Crawl had expanded to over 80 venues, including bars, cafes, bookstores, theaters, galleries, clothing boutiques, furniture showrooms, parking lots, a laundromat and a bee-keeping store.
In 2009, The New York Times wrote about the crawl in its article called "In San Francisco, Literature as Carnival."
Other crawls have been added over the years: Lit Crawl NYC debuted in 2008; Lit Crawl Austin in 2011; Lit Crawl Brooklyn and Lit Crawl Seattle in 2012. Lit Crawl Iowa City debuted at the Mission Creek Festival in Spring of 2013; Lit Crawl Los Angeles is scheduled for the Fall of 2013. Plans call for the addition of a Lit Crawl London in either 2013 or 2014.
Barbary Coast Award
Initiated in 2007, Litquake’s Barbary Coast Award is given for literary achievement and in recognition of those who value the independent—and sometimes unruly—spirit of the Bay Area and keep it alive in their work. Its name is meant to evoke San Francisco’s storied pirate and nonconformist beginnings as well as a nod to Armistead Maupin’s quixotic characters who made their home on Barbary Lane. Recipients so far:
- 2007: Armistead Maupin
- 2008: Tobias Wolff
- 2009: Amy Tan
- 2010: Lawrence Ferlinghetti/City Lights Books
- 2011: Ishmael Reed
- 2012: Poetry Flash
- 2013: Ron Turner & Last Gasp Comics
On June 29, 2013, Litquake had its first digi.lit conference at the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco. Digi.lit was a digital publishing conference designed to explain and demystify the new digital publishing landscape. Litquake brought in authors, publishers, editors, marketers, agents, and booksellers, and conference attendees were able to meet the innovators who continue to push the boundaries of digital books.
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