Bookworms unite at The City’s Litquake

Writers. Are they society’s unsung heroes or our most treasured muses? A little of both, perhaps, which is one reason why novelist-filmmaker Michael Tolkin is jazzed up to be part of this year’s massive Litquake in The City.

He calls writing “shaking hands with the divine.”

Poetic? Sure. But what might stand out when Tolkin takes the stage with the likes of Exene Cervenka, Joyce Maynard, Martin Cruz Smith and Kristen Tracy at an Oct. 5 event called “Tales of Hollywood Hell” at the Herbst Theatre — just one of many notable Litquake events — is the way he’s been able to mix his business resolve with his creativity.

“I’m juggling about five different projects at the moment,” he says.

Tolkin made a significant mark with his late-1980s book “The Player,” which later turned heads and won accolades when it hit the big screen.

The lit sequel “Return of the Player” hit bookshelves in 2006. His other books, “Under Radar” and “Among the Dead,” plunged deep, especially the former, which chronicles the emotional aftershocks of a man coming to terms with losing his family in an airline tragedy — he was supposed to be on the flight.

Watch for some of Tolkin’s “edge” to show up at Litquake too. “I am going to be talking about the most taboo subject a person could talk about: money,” he says. “It’s something that is central to what brings people to Hollywood and essential to everybody’s thoughts these days.

“Hollywood used to be a place where you could make a lot of money, and it’s not that true right now,” Tolkin says.

But the man who recently shared screenwriting credit on “Nine” can’t help but wax philosophical about writing, the lit community in general and why San Francisco might stand out in literary circles — even though at times, he says, it feels as if writers from the West may seem like they’re “despised” by the East.

“There are great writers in the West who are writing about issues that are much rougher, much harsher, much deeper than East Coast writers,” Tolkin says. “And they may not get the same respect or coverage or validity in the political imagination of the literary world.

“I would just love Litquake to remind everyone that we are out here.”

It’s a feat destined to happen. With nine days and a feast of readings, ceremonies, discussions — including Terry McMillan and  TJ Stiles — and even a lit film festival, it will be hard for “the writer” to go unnoticed here.

Tales of Hollywood Hell: Litquake and Porchlight

Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 5
Tickets: $12
Contact: (415) 392-4400,



Something for everyone

Body-art fans, artsy socialites
A swanky opening-night cocktail party is at 111 Minna St. from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday. It will feature a no-host bar, authors, sponsors and organizers. Music is by Los Angeles “Diva Deluxe” Suzy Williams and Brad Kay, and artwork is “Everyday,” an exhibit of pieces by California tattoo artists.

Beats, revolutionaries
The spotlight’s on Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the soul-stirring poet and co-founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, who receives the festival’s Barbary Coast Award for achievement. Those in awe of the poet sharing thoughts include rock ’n’ roll goddess Patti Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye, Winona Ryder, Michael McClure, New Yorker cartoonist Eric Drooker, Ishmael Reed and the Marcus Shelby Quartet. The event is at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Herbst Theatre, and it costs $25 to $100.  

Feminists, history junkies
“Women Authoring Change” — from noon to 1 p.m. Sunday in the Variety Club Preview Room at 582 Market St. — features Bay Area alums of the Hedgebrook writers’ colony, which has supported and transformed the work of 1,200 visionary women writers during 22 years. Guests include Faith Adiele, Eugenie Chan, Carolina De Robertis, Elana Dykewomon, Elaine Elinson and moderator Amy Wheeler.

Movie critics, deep thinkers
From 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema, it’s Lit Flicks, screenings of four films with a basis in literature and literary culture — “Dante’s Inferno” at 1:30 p.m., “Red Poet” at 2:30 p.m., “Ghost World” at 4:30 p.m. and “The Practice of the Wild” at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 per screening.

Foodies, lunchtime bookworms
Litquake Bites — at noon Oct. 7 — features authors, food vendors, presentations and tastings from Cowgirl Creamery. Guests include Sarah Billingsley, Gordon Edgar, Steve Sando and Amy Treadwell. The fun is at Book Passage in the Ferry Building.

Ocean lovers, eligible singles
“Words and Waves,” Litquake’s first-ever surf-themed event, combines cocktails, videos, music and appearances by Krista Comer, Elizabeth Pepin, Doug Dorst, Daniel Duane, Thomas Farber, Steven Kotler, Mark Massara, Michael Scott Moore and Matt Warshaw. It’s at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Park Chalet, 1000 Great Highway. At $5 to $10, you can order off the happy-hour menu all night.

Average Joes, literary scholars
The closing-night “infamous, indefatigable” Lit Crawl plays host to more than 300 authors appearing in three hours (from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 9) through the heart of the Mission along Valencia Street — for free. Themes cover learning how not to pick up someone at a bar and a competitive literary quiz, among many others.


Big names, best sellers


Jonathan Lethem
The novelist, essayist and short-story writer discusses his new novel, “Chronic City,” at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., at 11 a.m. Oct. 8.  

Yiyun Li, Daniel Handler
Li, listed by The New Yorker as one of the 20 best fiction writers under 40, and Handler, author of “The Basic Eight” and of Lemony Snicket fame, have their fiction put onstage at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre,  2025 Addison St., in “Stories on Stage” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7.

Daniel Alarcon, Andrew Sean Greer
The author of “War by Candlelight” and “Lost City Radio” (Alarcon) and author of “The Confessions of Max Tivoli” and “The Story of a Marriage” (Greer) read during a 25th anniversary celebration of the Center for Literary Arts at the California Historical Society, 678 Mission St., at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Richard Rhodes, TJ Stiles  
The Pulitzer Prize winners — Rhodes wrote “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” and San Francisco’s Stiles “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt” — share their secrets to success during “The Art of Narrative Nonfiction” panel in the San Francisco Public Library’s Koret Auditorium at 6 p.m. Oct. 6.  

Terry McMillan
Kicking off Marcus Books’ 50th anniversary, the best-selling author of seven novels — including “Waiting to Exhale” and the recently released “Getting to Happy” — reads and signs books at Berkeley’s Black Repertory Theater, 3201 Adeline St., from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday.  

Kristen Schaal
The correspondent for “The Daily Show” celebrates the release of her first book, “The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex,” at Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave., at 8 p.m. Oct. 6.


Lit Crawl quick takes

Topics run from A to Z at Lit Crawl, the free 65-event series featuring some 330 literary figures in Mission district storefronts that closes the festival. It runs from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 9. Check the extensive listings at or pick from this abbreviated list:

Poetry is on tap at the Ambush Review Launch Party, 6 to 7 p.m. at 18 Reasons, 593 Guerrero St. Co-editors Bob Booker and Patrick Cahill host the event, which features poems by Ana Elsner, Grace Marie Grafton, Jonathan Hayes, Kit Kennedy, erica lewis, Colleen Lookingbill, Trena Machado and Ken Saffron.

“Mystery & Mayhem” is the theme of a program at the Mission Police Station, 630 Valencia St., 7:15 to 8:15 p.m. Guests include emcee Brenda Walker, a retired San Francisco police officer, and writers Julianne Balmain, Michelle Gagnon, Seth Harwood, Kelli Stanley and Simon Wood.
At 7:15 p.m., the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto is gathering at the Elbo Room upstairs, 647 Valencia St. It will showcase “tales of those who refuse to play nice,” with emcees Gerard Jones and Elizabeth Bernstein, and authors Marianna Cherry, Rachel Howard, Kathryn Ma, James Nestor, Justine Sharrock and Meghan Ward.

“Emptiness in Bloom,” a session with Buddhist writers “on sex, death, one-night stands, and life,” is at the San Francisco Buddhist Center, 37 Bartlett St., 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. It features Suvanna Cullen, Ethan Davidson, Lisa Kee-Hamasaki, Patrick Letellier, Tony Press and Mary Salome.
The famed prison as a beacon of literary inspiration is the topic of “San Quentin, You’ve Been Living Hell to Me” at Ritual Coffee Roasters, 1026 Valencia St., 8:15 p.m. Authors Keith and Kent Zimmerman offer a “literary tour” of the facility through writings done for their class, “Finding Your Voice on the Page.” Inmate alumni appear, along with San Quentin representatives, to address the prison’s standing in the community and the effect education and writing have on inmates.


Litquake by the numbers


550-plus: Writers participating in readings, storytelling, performances, panels and workshops

65: Events in closing-night Lit Crawl

46: Events in main festival

13: Artists honoring Lawrence Ferlinghetti at Barbary Coast Awards night 

9: Days of festivities, from Friday to Oct. 9

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