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Literature Spills Out of Bars and Onto the Street

Writing  ✺  Journalism

Covering Lit Slam, a poetry slam offshoot of San Francisco's nine-day literature festival.

Originally published in Mission Local on October 20, 2014.

Saturday’s 10th Lit Crawl, the tail end of the citywide, nine-day Litquake festival, once again proved that there’s nothing underground about the San Francisco writing scene.

With over a hundred participating venues in the Mission on Saturday, anyone in search of a good time could wander into a familiar bar and find themselves engulfed is something completely new. All ages and skill levels were welcome. There was no word limit, no time limit, and absolutely no censorship.

“I was bored. I just left my house to meet girls tonight,” said Andrew Wiese, a student at City College who came to Double Dutch on Guerrero to dance and stayed for the Lit Slam instead. “I don’t write or anything. I’m a programmer. But, you know, I’m having a really good time, and these guys are really cool.”

Sometimes cool meant no words at all. Mission: Comics & Art, for example, invited local comic artists to read from their published works, some of which were composed entirely of pictures and quirky sound effects.

Some events, like the Erotic Reading Circle Anthology at Good Vibrations, focused all their energy on reading their audience the best, raunchiest erotica they could get their hands on. Others, like “Seas & Islands” held in Adobe Books, were longform romps through the minds and hearts of first-time authors where concerns for the state of government around the world figured large in powerful prose.

Several impromptu readings took place here that weren’t on the menu; Charles Vickers, Adobe’s “resident astrologer,” uses the movement of stars and planets to interpret entire lifetimes from the comfort of the shop’s backroom gallery.

Still other literary forms under debate for more than a decade found a home at “The San Francisco Bay Guardian Presents: Celebrity Twitterature.” Those who mock the integrity of Twitter’s 140 characters or less as a legitimate writing platform have never experienced what themes be expressed with so few characters. Those included two drag queens’ dramatic interpretations of celebrity first-world problems, a tweet-length story about having to park one’s own car and another about finding not a single purple Skittle upon opening the bag.

The space in front of the Mission Playground became ground zero for poetry and the parklet in front of a Valencia Victorian owned by Amandeep Jawa, who has also performed as a disco ball, became a stage for dramatic readings.

The normally ample Beauty Bar, where Twitterature was held, could barely accommodate the crowd. Through the entire one-hour session, at least a dozen people stood craning their necks outside the door, unable to push their way in. Double Dutch is accustomed to packing in throngs of dancing bodies. The crush of poets and performers in place of party people ushered in a noticeably different calmer vibe.

If you missed Lit Crawl or Litquake, don’t worry; there’s more where that came from.

Lit Slam is a poetry competition that offers its winners “immortality,” says its facilitator Tatyana Brown. Every third Monday, one winning poet and their work is chosen to be included in the ongoing Lit Slam anthology, Tangent. Their next slam takes place Monday at 7 p.m. at the Shelton Theater. The Honey Hive in Outer Sunset hosts poetry workshops every Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., and the Grotto in SoMa provides classes and workshops helping fiction and nonfiction writers achieve their publishing dreams.


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