As far as I'm concerned, every city needs something like Litquake.
The weeklong San Francisco celebration of all things writer-related is a truly great idea and, as a writer, a communal experience. Every day, from October 2nd-9th, there's a reading somewhere. I didn't attend the festivities last weekend because the opening on Saturday was just a dance party at the Minna Gallery. Not even a single reading. And the reading that Sunday was sold out, and $30 on top of that. Can't remember which rock star writer it was. Now, the idea of a reading selling out its tickets is beyond cool, but I wouldn't pay $30 for one unless its God coming down to talk about how many rough drafts he wrote of the Old Testament. Litquake had a few "For yuppies only" events, and as such I didn't go near them.
On Saturday the 9th, I went with a few friends to Litcrawl, the Litquake finale where pretty much every establishment on Valencia Street hosts a reading. Valencia is the street that runs parallel to Mission in San Fran, and nowhere are two closer streets more different. Mission is crackheads, dealers, Mexican families and the shops they own. Valencia is the hipster capital of the west. I used to think "hipster" was one of those amorphous words people use for someone they don't like. Like how the neocons use "lib'rul." That was until I saw Valencia. The hipsters walk it in packs, knowing they run they place. They all sure as hell look the same. The expensive stores price accordingly for their audience. Say what you will, hipsterdom is a real thing. Some of them you see on Valencia are even pregnant, ensuring the continued proliferation of their aesthetic-based youth culture.
Litcrawl caters to the white bar cowd, and is gloriously commercial. No amount of cynicism can make me poo-poo walking into a random coffee shop on a Saturday night and seeing a crowd of people hushed for a READING. The organizers scheduled the event like a convention, with all sorts of things I wanted to see going on at the same time. We had to choose which to attend. I like this; having way too many things you want to see is better than too few. My group of hip young people started at the Elbo Room, where we saw the "Anger Management" reading. The readings were, in order: a poem about how much the poet hates pussified males, a piece of flash fiction, a parody about guys who e-publish, and something else I can't remember. The headliner was "Charming" Charlie Getters, a staple at the 16th & Mission open mic who I love as much as you can love an older man you don't know personally. He's got charisma to spare, tons of energy and his poems are actually about something. His performance at Elbo Room was not as good as the one I saw last year, where he delivered a poem while getting attacked by playful children. But it was good.
I liked that, whenever the bar crowd got too loud, there were about twenty shushes. I have never wanted to read in bars, specifically because of the loud assholes. So its great to see the audience policing that.
Being a small press writer, I went a small press reading. Saw the last ten minutes of it, then went to a flash fiction writing. The venue seemed to be some kind of printshop, judging by the old newspapers they had decorating the table, but who knows. Could be a bicycle shop or something. It was called Verrachucoa, I believe. We went to the downstairs basement, which had some creepy black paper mache puppets held up by strings. I thought one of them was a scary performance art actor, until I realized the reason it was shaking was because a figeting audience member kept moving its strings. We settled in for the "Flash fiction" reading, focused on debut writers. The readings were, in order: something I forget, a rhyming nonsense poem, a guy with a goatee recounting the day his parents conceived him (from his perspective [mad funny] ), a father-son bonding story with a twist ending, a lady talking about a book she did on female musicians, one of those female musicians talking about the 90s LA rock scene, then she played a song. All in all, a great reading.
Afterwards, my companions wouldn't shut up about some afterparty we didn't end up attending. They got drunk and ate burritos. Valencia got way crowded with bar-crawlers and, with the readings done, I realized I well and truly hate this shit and wanted to go home. I'm just too old for the bar scene, if not the drunk scene. We went back to the East Bay, after much lollygagging.
Going to something like Litcrawl, seeing events made by and for writers, is inspiring. Definitely makes me want to get off my lazy ass. I got the same feeling from Artomatic, the year I went. All the commercialism can't distract from the fact I'm in a space filled with artists. Again, Litquake is the coolest idea in the world. They need to do it in other cities. They shouldn't even put their own spin on it. Just copy the thing wholesale with local writers and have a great time.