After being confined to computer screens last year, the annual Litquake Literary Festival returned to the streets of the Golden City on October 7.
Litquake’s first festival started as a one-day event at Golden Gate Park in 1999 that snowballed into the series of lectures, readings, and panels that now run for two weeks in October. Due to the pandemic, the festival was held online last year, stripping it of the interdependence that made Litquake so popular with fans and writers.
Although half of its events remained online, the feeling of its return was fully felt by the attendees.
“I am incredibly happy that we are returning to the in-person events … no matter how hard we have tried to overcome the isolation and everyday banality of the pandemic with online readings,” said Litquake’s COO and formerly of SF State. Hunter Thomas, said. âNow there is a palpable feeling of joy and relief every time we host a live event. “
Thomas, who was hired just before the pandemic, worked entirely online for most of his first year.
âYou can see people smile, see old friends and literary heroes, see the crowd supporting the writers on the rare occasion they stumble or become embarrassed. I can see all the work that we have been charging in real time, âsaid Thomas.
The transition was not without difficulty for the Liquake team, according to co-founder Jack Boulware.
On several occasions, Boulware said that computer screens froze during events and that events had to be delayed and that very few members of the Litquake team were familiar with the conferencing platforms.
After much trial and error, they managed to iron out the technical issues with this year’s event.
This year, as COVID-19 restrictions diminished, the authors were back on stage and eager to share their work beyond the pages of their books.
âIt’s great to see so many writers consider that we can potentially live such an isolated life,â said Miah Jeffra, author and SF State alumnus.
Boulware, who was a reporter for SF Weekly at the time of Litquake’s birth, took it upon himself, along with founder Jane Ganahl, another reporter then at SF Examiner, to respond to the need they saw for a broad literary event.
“There was a very loose group of people doing readings once a month at this Scottish bar in the Tenderloin and we all gathered around this barâ¦ at one point, that’s where the festivals were born.” , Boulware said.
After seeing continued reluctance from their audiences and demand for online events from some writers, according to Boulware, half of its 80+ events remained online.
Boulware added that more than three-quarters of the 300 lineup writers are Bay Area residents at this year’s festival. A local himself, Jeffra said that because the Bay Area is such a literary center, he saw no need to look elsewhere for talented writers.
Jeffra also co-founded Foglifter Press, a queer and trans literary collaboration, with fellow SF State alumnus Chad Cooke.
Some of the venues have imposed capacity limitations, which has led, according to Boulware, to hosting at least three of the festival’s day-long outdoor events with live music between readings. In doing so, the festival will commemorate its debut 22 years ago with an outdoor stage.
Although Litquake has hosted smaller outdoor events in the past, they haven’t grown to the size and scale of this year’s, Boulware said. He said he was very happy to give individuals a day to enjoy free poetry in the comfort of a park’s open space with music to accompany the indulgence.
Longtime Litquake follower Matt Morris was happy to hear events were back in person when he researched the festival online.
âI feel like there is a real common thread and a kind of writing culture here in San Francisco that is kind of in the shadows,â Morris said. âLitquake is kind of a time when writers come out to be celebrated and to celebrate each other. “
He joined over 80 spectators last Friday for the “Porchlight Storytelling: Out of the Fog?” event organized at the Verdi Club on Mariposa St.
Yet the event was more than just a Friday night activity for Morris and her partner, Rebecca Rossi. It was the opportunity to see and feel what made them come back.
âI like vulnerability and relativity,â Rossi said. “People tell a story and whatever it is you can always tell it to keep it real.”
Amid the dim light of the ballroom chandeliers, the audience listened intently to Jeffra take the stage at the Verdi Club that evening and talk about her treacherous journey to enlightenment.
âLive events will always make me happier because writers are in the realm of empathy and human relationships and for that we need our body as present as our mind,â Jefrra said.
Although he was nervous before the event, he was ready for a night of storytelling because for him the ability to tell a story well, like that of his own life, was at the heart of what it meant to be a writer. .
By the end of the evening, the ballroom filled with cheers and hand claps to accompany the smiley faces of the listeners.