Meet the man who keeps San Francisco Litquaking

Some festivals and cultural movements are grassroots. Litquake, which began its life as Litstock, could more correctly be called beerroots. Started in a San Francisco bar called the Edinburgh Castle in 1999, the festival seeks to bring authors and readers together in a series of events that end in a night of literary reverie, known as Lit Crawl. Rechristened Litquake, a nod to our seismic uncertainty, it’s since broken the bounds of the bar and the city itself. Litquake events now happen in in Manhattan, Austin, Seattle, Brooklyn, Iowa City, Los Angeles, Miami, and London, presenting authors in cafes, cathedrals, bookstores, galleries, and bars.

Jack Boulware was there from the beginning. We sat down with him to find out what makes Litquake so crucial to a city of constant change.

Blurb: Which local writers, past or present, do you most admire?

Jack: Mark Twain, Ken Kesey, Adam Johnson, Susie Bright, Alejandro Murguía, Chris Colin, Katie Crouch, there are too many to list.

Blurb: Why do you think San Francisco is a city that spends twice the national average on books?

Jack: The Bay Area is a brilliant incubator for new ideas and you could argue that traces back to the early beginnings of San Francisco. It’s an intellectually curious city, and there’s always been a restless spirit for innovation, unique ways of looking at things, finding solutions, creating communities, and upsetting the status quo. I would even venture to say it began as a port town and new ideas are constantly washing in and out of this area from all over the world. Also, until recently, SF has not been much of an industry town, such as L.A. or New York. People savor creativity here a bit more, since every idea doesn’t have to provide grist for the entertainment mill.

Blurb: How does Litquake inspire you as a writer?

Jack: Hearing all of these amazing authors, year after year, I appreciate the variety of the written word much more than ever before. And, unlike New York, a publishing hub which can be very cutthroat, Litquake and the Bay Area literary scene are much more supportive to writers, both established and aspiring. You’re allowed to fail here, before you improve your skills.

Blurb: What is it about the live relationship between reader and author that makes Litquake so invaluable?

Jack: It’s an annual social experiment every year. It’s an interesting Petri dish of writers and readers, who usually pursue their passions in a solitary setting, suddenly all being in a social environment for nine days. And there’s something about hearing a reader deliver their own words out loud. It’s the creativity straight from the source, without any filter. It’s the most basic form of human communication that exists. People love to be told stories.

Blurb: How many Litquake authors do you think are self-published? Has this changed at all over the years?

Jack: I wouldn’t begin to estimate how many there are. Obviously that number has grown, given the number of options now available for people to self-publish. The festival has seen a big upswing in people performing their readings from laptops, tablets, and phones.

Blurb: How do the changing economic and demographic factors in San Francisco affect a festival like Litquake? And how can Litquake help keep San Francisco, San Francisco?

Jack: It’s increasingly difficult for any arts organization, or individual, to remain based in San Francisco. Many of us have been evicted or priced out from our offices and spaces, in favor of startups with plenty of money to burn. This includes Litquake, twice.

In the not-so-distant past, arts nonprofits have enjoyed great support from the local community’s companies and individuals who place value on keeping the city’s arts scene alive and healthy.

It’s fun to have such a surge of money and youth and fresh ideas wash through the city. And Litquake does partner with many of these companies and many of their employees love Litquake and the arts.

Image: Chris Hardy

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