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Welcome to The Bay Area’s New Writing Golden Age

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Writers and the Bay.

Baruch Porras-Hernandez, young 826 Valencia writers, Tongo Eisen-Martin, and Karla Brundage all prove the Bay’s writers are shining. (Various, Gordon Mak)

Photo of the literary community.

The grand opening of nonprofit 826 Valencia’s Mission Bay outpost, the enchanted forest. (826 Valencia)

The shadow of the Beat generation is long, and, just like when Karl the Fog descends, some think they may never see the light again. Yes, there was the hotspot of literary activity in the early aughts. But many feel the writing scene is dead, and that’s not so bad since it was all smug white guys anyways. But I’m happy to report there is a thriving writing scene in the Bay, one that is more inclusive than the region has ever seen. Poet and biking fiend Antony Fangary puts it best: It’s a golden era for poetry and writing of all kinds.

This legendary scene stretches back forever and ever, and I myself have only scratched the surface. With Beast Crawl in July on the horizon — just the latest of ongoing literary fests in the area — it might be more important than ever to have a lay of the literary land. For the disbelievers, and for everyone else, a map to this radiant literary world could be useful. There are myriad ways to engage in these writing worlds, and it’s easy to get lost. 

The organizations

At an Afghani restaurant on Fulton Street, I realize these dolmas are, without question, the biggest stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had the fortune to feast upon. It’s obvious: Someone needed to write up the owners of now-shuttered Jannah, aforementioned dank restaurant. In most contexts, it’s annoying to remark on this urgency. While having dinner with the ever-talented and joyful Giovanna Lomanto, this is just table talk.

She is a poet and educator who grew up in Sacramento and focuses on displacement and diaspora in her writing. She also noticed the incredible size of these dolmas. They will no doubt show up in something she or I will write. This is the joy of our portion of the writing world, a shared sense of translating the Bay Area.

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She cut her teeth at Chapter 510, a much-loved writing organization based in Oakland. They focus on teaching under-resourced students about the joys of writing. I used to work at 826 Valencia, a much-loved writing organization based in San Francisco. They focus on teaching under-resourced students, too. That’s one of the wonderful things about folks who love to write in the region: So many engage with the craft in hopes of uplifting their neighbors.

Both organizations are mighty contenders for top nonprofit promoting education and empowerment to young people. What the city has to offer in terms of writing instruction is unique, significant, and, of course, tied to the ever-intriguing world of “writing & writers.” 

Loads of people from universities, organizations, and walking off Valencia Street itself came through our pirate-themed doors looking to get involved. Unlike Lomanto, very few were writers that could teach the kids how to wrap a memory around vocabulary that casts jaws floor-bound. That said, we were insistent that a cheerleader approach to student success and creativity was all they needed. I still agree with this notion. 

The shows

We’re in another Zoom room waiting for people to stream in, A Tribe Called Quest playing like elevator muzak. This is how we did poetry readings throughout the worst of the pandemic. Kevin Dublin, poet extraordinaire and Universal Basic Income-proponent, is my co-host. It’s May 2021 and it’s the last Something Ordinary show, a series co-founded by wordsmith Sydney Vogl.

It was a show for a show’s sake, giving everybody a place to share their words while cooped up. Nobody wanted to feel so alone, and having an escape was lovely. We brought in dozens of talented writers including poet laureate Tongo Eisen-Martin and professor at the University of San Francisco Preeti Vangani. As the pandemic went on, though, people wanted a political focus to the shows. Kevin and I launched The Living Room in fall 2021, and The Kitchen Table with my partner and uber-talented poet Lucie Pereira joining us in fall 2022.

The Living Room highlights community partners including local politicians and nonprofits. (Living Room)

A guy.

Tongo Eisen-Martin bringing his poetry to the Tenderloin’s Glide Memorial Church. (Tongo Eisen-Martin)

The Bay Area live reading community has a huge ability to navigate this with not only ease but innovation. It’s here that so many groups and spaces have been born that inspired worldwide movements. In my short time here, I’ve seen that same ingenuity and care. None of that would have happened if not for my then-colleague and still-inspiration Karla Brundage for taking me along. That people like Karla were willing to tote me along to these fantastic, intimate spots kept blowing my solitary PNW mind. 

Those little zones of intimacy have held on throughout the pandemic, and, if anything, seem to be coming back with a furor. Happy Endings is a monthly show with judges, prizes, and even pay for artist’s contributions. The Racket runs its digital publication, playlists, and live readings throughout the city. Quiet Lightning remains a majorly-inclusive show and publication for heaps of writers. And Literary Speakeasy just celebrated its 8th year of shows at Market Street’s Martuni’s, the pandemic a mere blip on its tremendous radar.

The spaces

Josiah Luis Alderete doesn’t want his home, the Bay Area, to lose this powerful community of artists. The author of “Old Pochos y Baby Axolotls” worked at City Lights Bookstore, the country’s first paperback publisher from Beat legend Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The store’s an institution that will outlive Alderete and myself by miles, though now Alderete helps run Medicine for Nightmares on 24th Street. It represents the last tier of the writing worlds that I’ve been grateful to knock around: The brick-and-mortar distribution centers of writer’s creations. Fabulosa Books, Adobe Books, The Anarchists’ Bookstore, Green Apple — there are a zillion righteous places to share writing that are not shows, which can be hard to hit on a regular basis. Alderete himself runs a show, Speaking Axolotl, which he’s picked up again at his new shop.

Speaking of the Mission, let’s discuss Litcrawl. To go full circle with 826 Valencia, it is one of plenty of venues to host annual readings that rotate on theme and readers every October when Litcrawl takes over the Mission. In 2018, my first Litcrawl, we gave out cookies and milk as Los Angeles-based poet Vickie Vértiz read some of her words in support of the young authors. There sure were not festivals like this in my one horse town growing up, and there was a wide smile painted on my face all night long.

Everyone in the room loved writing, sure, but they loved the idea that our next generation of San Francisco and Bay Area writers might be a bit more representative of The City even more. Any amount of time I have spent in “the writing world” (which is full of problematic holes in itself) is because of people who are trying to have these conversations, over dolmas and in Zoom rooms and in bookstores, too. If you’re looking to get involved in the much-hyped world of writing, look to get involved with this conversation, who writes and why, first and foremost. 

Literary event.

A young writer involved in 826 Valencia’s young author writing project presenting his writing at the Beat Museum in North Beach. (Paolo Bicchieri)

A door.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s iconic sign on the basement floor of City Lights. (Paolo Bicchieri)

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Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri

Paolo Bicchieri (he/they) is a writer living on the coast. He's a reporter for Eater SF and the author of three books of fiction and one book of poetry.