A crawl for literature in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — You’ve heard of a pub crawl. Well, in San Francisco, they do a “lit crawl.” The idea is to drag your tipsy self—drunk on either beer, or good metaphors, or both—from bar to bar, or café to café, listening to serious words from serious writers.

Over the weekend I attended Lit Crawl in San Francisco, an event held in conjunction with the big, citywide Litquake literary festival. All the events in Lit Crawl were held in on near the city’s Mission District. Eighty-four events over six hours, some in bars, a few out in the street. On Saturday night I saw 200 people in a San Francisco alley—Clarion Alley, to be precise—listening to a “smackdown” between writers penning spontaneous haikus about the city’s smelly public transit system, Muni.

There was alcohol served at many Litquake events too, including my own panel called “The Art of the Novel.” I resisted the temptation to take a swig of the wine or tequila on offer, but many members of the Litquake audience weren’t so reserved. “We had a guy at the Woody Guthrie discussion get drunk and start yelling,” Litquake’s marketing director, Elise Proulx, told me. “We had to chase him out with a baseball bat.”

Food and drink was a theme at many Litquake events. At “Novel Endings: Spicy Drinks and Artisanal Desserts,” cookbook authors discussed the merits of pairing ice cream with “Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port,” and other delicious and dangerous combinations.


Litquake, Proulx told me, was started by nonfiction writers Jack Boulware and Jane Ganahl. “They were spending a lot of time alone, writing, and they decided that writers needed to spend more time experiencing each other’s work, in a community.”

There was indeed something very liberating, in this writer’s opinion, about being out among the boisterous masses. I read at a bar called the Blue Macaw, along with the writer Dagoberto Gilb. We had to raise our voices, fighting the clink of glasses, the yells of bartenders and bar patrons. But I think most people were listening and heard us just fine.