A city known for earthquakes, San Francisco shook the ground in a different kind of way with 2019’s “Litquake” literary festival.
Beginning on October 10, the festival held events for ten days in different venues throughout the Bay Area that showcased a wide breadth of the literary scene. There were author readings, workshops, open mics, and performances of poetry set to music and dance.
This celebration culminated with an enormous literary “pub crawl.” Called the Lit Crawl, this highly anticipated event pulled over 500 authors and about 10,000 fans to San Francisco’s Mission District, where events were held in all sorts of unorthodox venues. People gathered in laundromats, chapels, and barbershops to share and experience written work.
“For phase one we are going to ‘Cleavage Writing: when home means other,’” said Cat, an attendee who was coming to Lit Crawl for the first time with a friend. Because of the sheer number of events, the night was split into four phases, but attendants had to pick and choose which places they wanted to go to. In some cases, attendees went to see a particular author or focused on specific subject matter. “We’re basically going to events where we think the authors are writing about interesting topics, or the authors are people of color,” said Cat. Cleavage Writing considered the positions of queer people, people of color, and immigrants in the United States, and what stories and realities are typically obstructed by the white gaze. A lot of the work showcased was a post-modern examination of the question: Where is “home” when you are part of a diaspora? When does energy become reality? How do you heal from trauma?
“We need a place where community is important … where voices can be presented and celebrated in a culture that wants to destroy those voices.”
Ken Lo, Lit Crawl attendee
One of the many events was a performance presented by KQED called “Latin Invasion: Queer Latin American Writers Respond to Hate from the White House,” in which five speakers read to an audience of hundreds. Writer and multimedia curator Natalia Vigil responded in the form of a love letter. She said, “We are not what they do to us, we are not what they did to us, we are what we do to each other … We do ‘we’ in our own way. We do resistance, we do survival, and we do love.” Vigil went on to describe what she loves within San Francisco, the city where she grew up. She mentioned the murals, the Galeria de la Raza, and the Women’s Building. She asked, “What power does a journey on the page have for change? I don’t know. But I’ve learned our hearts are expansive. They reach beyond Chicanx, to all those we love, and we include them in our fight. I’ve witnessed the way love becomes a listening, how love becomes a leading.” The crowd roared.
Literature can change society. It can propel people to spread important messages, and create a basis for community, three components that are very powerful together. Lit Crawl realizes this potential, connecting all kinds of authors to a live, receptive audience and claiming space.
“We need a place where community is important … [this is a place] where voices can be presented and celebrated in a culture that wants to destroy those voices,” said Ken Lo, a Lit Crawl attendee. The fact that Litquake continues to exist after 20 years, despite the city becoming increasingly corporate-oriented and unaffordable, is a testament to the stories and the community they create. “I think society needs art and there’s always a place for artists that is undervalued,” said Lo.
Lit Crawl lifts up the work of so many artists around the Bay Area. Many of the events create space to celebrate underrepresented voices in the literary world. As fiction and poetry writer Dominica Phetteplace said, “a lot of people from marginalized communities suffer the shame of silence, and so to be featured at Lit Crawl can be liberating because it’s a chance to have a voice.”
An entire district swarming with people sharing art and ideas in the city; it could not be more vivid and enlivening. One attendee came all the way from Denmark for Lit Crawl and said, “We heard this was the biggest literature festival in the world! And there are so many amazing events all over town tonight.”
Lit Crawl is so many things, but at its core, it is simply an energized night of muse, vulnerability, and creation.