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Fourteen Hills Part of a LitQuake Tradition

As a born and raised New Yorker, I grew up writing stories before I even knew my own. Moving to San Francisco meant creating a foundation from scratch. Three years later, a map remains, and the week-long annual literary festival known as LitQuake has earned a secured pin on it.

While not yet a reader at any of the sponsored events, my avid desire to attend as many as possible helped me determine which reading series would best match my writing in style and content. While many readings were free and open to walk-ins throughout the week, there were some that required a small entry fee. During LitQuake 2013, I attended three events, as well as three back-to-back readings at LitCrawl, including Fourteen Hills’ Time Capsule Tour.

Monday’s event was held at Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers as part of a monthly submissions-based reading series in San Francisco called Quiet Lightning. Along with the reading, there is also their magazine, Sparkle & Blink, which on this occasion was offered as a free gift to the first 100 attendees. This meant taking home a bound memento of the event, a welcome by-product of arriving on time.

The event essentially mimicked the ingredients of what I consider to be a good cup of coffee: a dark roast with rich flavors, the tiniest bit of nuttiness, and a finishing bittersweet aftertaste, because the emotions that come from participating in a reading series I often find to be complicated.

Tuesday’s event had a theme, “Sitting in the Catbird Seat,” that six short story authors wrote about and read from. Held at North Beach’s Glass Door Gallery, the seats quickly filled up, and the space hummed with anticipation. There were free cookies, wine for sale by the glass, and a table of books by the event’s authors. The flat fact of this event’s magic was that the tasteful setting was peanuts compared to the writing we fortunate few had the pleasure of hearing. San Francisco State University’s Peter Orner closed the event with a brand new story.

However, the story that left a mark was by the author Jodi Angel. In her story, written in the vein of her recent story collection, You Only Get Letters In Prison, Angel designed a window through which we saw a teenage boy hardened by his absent mother and father’s alcohol addiction. Rife with dry humor, stark imagery and a strong voice, the piece was a song I wished I could draw.

After the last reading, I approached Angel with a newly purchased copy of her book, calling myself a meek New Yorker trying to write. On my way home, I opened the book to her inscription. Then I looked over the story titles, realizing I’d read one of them before in an issue of One Story earlier this year. It was a piece that stood out, and while reading it over, I knew the evening couldn’t have gone any other way.

The third event, on Friday, was the most boisterous, and therefore appropriately held at the Elbo Room in San Francisco’s Mission District. Originating in San Francisco, the Literary Death Match is exactly what it sounds like: writers competing in rounds judged by a group of artists. The host, Adrian Todd Zuniga, coined this match a landmark 50thepisode. Seated on the floor at the foot of the stage, this first timer waited to be wowed by words.

Traditionally, the writers are each given seven minutes to read before getting cut off by the bell. Perhaps in the spirit of camaraderie, the host decided to let slide the fact that every reader refused to acknowledge the bell. Perhaps the readers were all uncomfortable with time limitations. Either way, the judges, Andrew Sean Greer, Beth Lisick, and Brian Boitano, were the lifeline of the event; a strong comic ensemble from start to finish. There’s hope that a television series by the same name will appear in the near future. More information to come if and when it proves true.

Last, but certainly not least, was LitCrawl, entailing three back-to-back readings. Structured in three two-hour increments, the best advice I received was to decide upon which ones to attend.

To begin, San Francisco State University’s Fourteen Hills celebrated its 20th anniversary with a reading by featured contributors at the old fire station in the Mission District. The packed reading included the recent winner of the Bambi Holmes Award for Emerging Writers, Jill Tidman, and the 2013 Michael Rubin Book Award winner, Sarah Heady.

Raffle winner announcements sealed the event to a close, the final moments of which I missed for the sake of speeding intoPhase Two at Dog Earred Books on Valencia.

Here, a group of four authors read in a line from their latest publications and manuscripts according to the categories, Dialogue, Action, Summary, and Thought. Randomly selected audience members determined the order of the readings and which of the categories the writers would read from, making the readings both hilarious and surprisingly poignant.

I ended my customized Crawl experience at The Make-Out Room with The Rumpus, under a ceiling full of tinsel. Writers read essays on past trauma, emails from overbearing fathers, and articles they wrote in Playboy Magazine. It was a classic event by The Rumpus, dependably entertaining as always.

I organized this year’s LitQuake by my need to be enveloped by the writing community outside of the academic umbrella, and even everyday life. The events I chose to attend were a mixture of unpredictable and steadfast, and were ultimately inspiring, much like a vacation that will—for the sake of writing—have to wait indefinitely.

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