“Readings are mostly held in bars and bookstores,” said Sara Finnerty from the mouth of the original Batcave.
Officially known as the Bronson Caves, the man-made tunnel in Griffith Park was featured in the 1960’s TV series “Batman” and dozens of other productions, including “Star Trek,” the 1956 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Short Cuts.” But on Sunday, the Batcave became the setting for an altogether different kind of entertainment. It got literary.
The vibe was relaxed before dusk on Sunday as a few dozen people followed handwritten signs along a dusty Griffith Park trail to the Caves for an evening of readings. Once there, it was a little like discovering Narnia through the wardrobe — only this dark portal led to a hidden corner of literary L.A.
Anne-Marie Kinney, Finnerty’s partner in the Griffith Park Storytelling Series, which for six years has hosted free, public literary events across Griffith Park, held her dog on a leash as she agreed. “We wanted something a little more loosey-goosey,” she said. Recent reading locations include Griffith Park’s Travel Town and the old zoo. This was the series’ first time at the Batcave in three years.
In addition to the usual book fans, the cave-slash-reading-venue held panting dogs, playing children and a few curious hikers who happened to stumble upon the event. The organizers provided folding chairs for the audience; Griffith Park’s golden hills provided the stunning backdrop for the makeshift stage. Backlit by sunshine, the arch of the cave served as a kind of spotlight for readers, and in the distance behind them, hikers scrambled uphill, taking selfies, as crows circled overhead.
The reading was co-produced by 90x90LA, a series of 90 literary and culture events presented over 90 days by Writ Large Press and its collaborators. As of Sunday evening, 90x90LA had just eight installments of its experiment left.
“You get so used to being around the same people, working together,” said 90x90LA’s organizer, Chiwan Choi. Programming had drawn regulars and new faces to the literary community. “I met so many people,” Choi said. “Local, neighborhood activists and artists.”
Choi had not been slated for the Bronson Caves lineup, but after a reader bowed out at the last minute he stepped in. The Griffith Park Reading Series also had to roll with the punches: When Finnerty and Kinney arrived on Sunday afternoon to set up, they had to wait for someone filming inside the cave to wrap.
Choi, who read from his latest book of poetry, “The Yellow House,” was joined by four other readers. Allison Conner, a publicity assistant for Jack Jones Literary Arts, kicked the evening off with flash fiction, followed by Siel Ju, who read from her novel-in-stories, “Cake Time,” which won the 2015 Red Hen Press Fiction Manuscript Award. Daniel Jose Ruiz shared an excerpt from his debut novel, “Coconut Versus,” and Oscar Sagastume told a story — wearing a Batman T-shirt, no less.
As the evening progressed, the hill behind the readers fell further and further under shadow, and crickets began to chirp, stage left. One bonus to reading in a cave: natural acoustics. Inside, forceful passages echoed, and even during quite moments I could hear every word read.
For hiker Kaley Ngo, the reading was a magical surprise. “I wanted to hike the Bronson Caves,” she said. “I peeked through one of the smaller caves and saw that there was a storytelling event. I got to hear microcosms of life experiences.” Ngo was delighted and asked the organizers how she could find them again.