Litquake is San Francisco's annual literary festival. Originally starting out as Litstock for a single day in the spring of 1999, it ran for two years under the same name before going dark in 2001 after the dot com collapse threw organizer's intentions to stage a third into disarray. 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 event has now expanded to Silicon Valley, boasting three consecutive years of the successful event at the JCC in Palo Alto.
Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl are the co-founders and operate the festival as Executive Director and Artistic Director. Jen Sirganian is festival coordinator.
The first year under the Litquake name was 2002 and featured over 60 authors at four venues. The 2003 festival featured 100 authors who 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. 2014's attendance of 17, 215 brought the festival's total attendance since inception to 132,000.
In 2007 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.
Author appearances over the years
Amy Tan, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Jeffrey Eugenides, Dave Eggers and others
On Friday, October 9, 2009, Litquake opened 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 was the first of a total of 98 scheduled events and was the subject of 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. Some 500 authors were featured over the nine days of the festival, and in Litquake tradition, they 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. The New York Times drew parallels between the writing scene in San Francisco to the thriving theater scene in Chicago. 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
One of Litquake's most memorable moments occurred in 2010 when Tom Waits and Patti Smith appeared at the Barbary Coast Awards held in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Bookstore. At one point Waits sat at the piano and reminisced about City Lights, what it meant to him, and sang a portion of the poem "Coney Island of the Mind" as he played a spontaneous accompaniment. In San Francisco to 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 festival has continued to draw five-figure audiences. The 2011 festival was held October 7–15, seeing a total attendance of 16,581, a 23% increase over 2010. By 2014, total festival attendance had reached 132,000.
Authors who have appeared over the years:
- Daniel Alarcón
- Donnell Alexander – journalist and author part of the Afro Surrealism movement (Litquake debut)
- Tom Barbash
- Nicholson Baker
- Brian Christian – poet and author of The Most Human Human (Litquake debut)
- Chris Elliott took the stage with Litquake co-founder Jack Boulware.
- Dave Eggers
- Stephen Elliot
- James Ellroy – master of noir in-conversation with Janis Cooke Newman
- Steve Erickson
- Jeffrey Eugenides – author of the The Virgin Suicides, Middlesex and The Marriage Plot (Litquake debut)
- Christa Faust – mystery "Neo pulp" author (Litquake debut)
- Mary Gaitskill
- Julia Glass – author of Three Junes, 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
- Robert Haas
- Chelsea Handler
- Daniel Handler – author who also moonlights as Lemony Snicket when the mood suits
- Adam Johnson
- Piper Kerman
- Chuck Klosterman – nationally known essayist with a bent for pop culture and consulting editor for Grantland.com (Litquake debut)
- Michael Krasny
- Jillian Lauren – former stripper and escort who ultimately fled her life in the harem of the Prince of Brunei and wrote the memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
- Ray Manzarek
- Armistead Maupin
- 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 co-founder 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
- Anne Perry
- 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)
- Ishmael Reed
- Patti Smith
- Susan Straight
- Amy Tan
- Michelle Tea
- Vendela Vida
- Tobias Wolff
- Daniel Woodrell – author who elevated "rural noir" to the status of literature with his novel Winter’s Bone (Litquake Debut)
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.
The New York Times wrote about the crawl in "In San Francisco, Literature as Carnival" and again in 2013 in an article entitled "A Heady Cocktail of Books and Booze" about Lit Crawl in New York City's Lower East Side.
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. Lit Crawl London was added in 2014. Since 2015, Lit Crawl NYC is a project of Litquake and PEN America, a global community of more than 4,400 writers, translators, and literary professionals dedicated to protecting free expression and promoting literary culture.
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 through 2014:
- 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
- 2014: 826 Valencia with Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida
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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- Litquake website
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- Reyhan Harmanci, "Readers and Bookworms, Your Days Are Coming", New York Times, September 23, 2011
- Allison McCarthy, "Pop Culture Know-It-All & Litquake Performer Chuck Klosterman Talks Beards, Crystals and Writer's Block", 7x7 magazine, September 28, 2011
- "Litquake San Francisco: Your Ultimate Guide To Navigating Literary Takeover (Photos)", HuffPost San Francisco, June 10, 2011