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Notes from San Francisco Roundtable Meeting
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Jun 4, 2012, 3:36 PM

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Notes from San Francisco Roundtable Meeting Can't Post

Periodically, Poets & Writers convenes regional roundtable meetings, where writers and other members of the literary community can exchange ideas, network, and discuss common challenges. If you're interested in being invited to the next roundtable in your area, please email cklein@pw.org. Below are notes from our last San Francisco roundtable meeting. Please note that the text is not an exact transcript of what transpired, and that the opinions expressed by attendees are not necessarily shared by Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers, Inc.

San Francisco Literary Roundtable Meeting

San Francisco Public Library

April 19, 2012


Tatyana Brown, The Lit Slam
Mary-Marcia Casoly, Waverley Writers
Regan Douglass, Cal Humanities
Jamie FitzGerald, Poets & Writers
Soma Mei Sheng Frazier, Oakland School for the Arts
Sari Friedman
Joan Gelfand, Women’s National Book Association, Poetry Inside Out
Mark Hauber, Center for the Art of Translation, Poetry Inside Out
Joan Jasper, San Francisco Public Library
Joyce Jenkins, Poetry Flash
Evan Karpe, Quiet Lightning Reading Series, Litseen.com
Cheryl Klein, Poets & Writers
Hut Landon, Northern CA Booksellers
Michael Larsen, San Francisco Writers Conference, Literary Agent
Ali Liebegott, RADAR Productions, Writers Among Artists
Claire Light, Kearny Street Workshop, Carl Brandon Society
Laura Moriarty, Small Press Distribution
Christin Rice, Litquake
Meg Taylor, Small Press Distribution
Susan Terence, CA Poets in the Schools
Sally Thomas, Hayward Public Library
Miranda Tsang, 826 Valencia
Emma Tau White, Institute on Aging


Readings/Workshops grants

Readings/Workshops applications from San Francisco have tapered off over the years since the P&W office moved to Los Angeles. We don’t want you to forget about us and encourage you to apply for Readings/Workshops funding in our next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2012. Application and guidelines can be found here: http://www.pw.org/funding


Unique event ideas

Cheryl: Last night at the library, Kay Ryan’s reading style was interesting—a lot of short poems that rhyme. She read them twice, would stop in the middle and dialog with the audience; asked them “Did you get that?” It commands the audience’s attention. It was fun. We got more out of each poem. What are you thinking about in terms of your own literary events to make them more fun? What are some unique event ideas take the traditional literary reading out of the usual stand-behind-the-podium model?

Soma: We want to appoint a Youth Poet Laureate for the SF/Oakland area. Oakland School for the Arts and Youth Speaks partnership.

Ali: RADAR has Spectacle, our annual fundraiser. We invite people who we think might make a spectacle. We host it with Michelle Tea at the Verdi Club. The ladies lounge there is worth ticket admission.

I’m also organizing a memorial reading for Adrienne Rich at a tattoo shop. People who want to get quotes by Adrienne Rich tattooed can get them there that day.

Laura: We’ll celebrate the opening of SPD’s reading room with an event featuring poets silently reading to themselves. You can get a free book of poetry.

Tatyana: Lit Slam came out of a desire to create a place for underground/slam writers to hone their craft on the page. Getting more page writers to show up for poetry slams is difficult. Sent a series of personal invites and got a 15-25% return on artists showing up. Stigma of underground coming up against the academy. I’m interested in looking for new ways to reach audiences.

Soma: We’ve used P&W. We look at regional writers in the Directory, and contact them by email for calls for submissions and to have them come do workshops. A kid saw a writer read, thought she was amazing, and contacted her via the Directory.

Claire: Lit Slam as a competition is a turn-off for me, especially as a fiction writer.

Cheryl: A 15-25% return is not really so bad when you’re asking for people to come participate.

Tatyana: What I get is people who say they don’t do slams.

Michael: There should be a from the page to the stage workshop on how to present yourself.

Claire: Kearny Street Workshop has been thinking about doing this for a long time. The hard part is getting someone to teach this. We want to offer a class that helps people to find a way to read their work effectively.

Soma: Youth Speaks’ Isa Nakazawa works with kids and gets them to do amazing things.

Miranda: If you think the people you’re reaching out to would be great on stage and you need to get them there, send them a clip of the program showing them the best aspects, offer to coach them--let’s meet and talk and get it figured out. I work with teachers who want to teach workshops; they have no experience, but are really good writers with a lot of passion. We help them.

Regan: A lot of writers are great performers; a lot don’t want any part of that. When I was doing slam stuff, it helped to flip it around. The performers judged the judges, and everybody judged the crowd. It was funny. We judged ridiculous things. It helped when it wasn’t so traditional and it lightened the mood.

Joyce: Poetry World Series is a competitive reading where page poets are reading in rounds mimicking baseball, the audience pitching topics to them, the poets picking poems on the spot that would go. It’s lighthearted and partially rigged so people feel comfortable and have fun. Ultimately, it’s to celebrate poetry and see where it can go. Almost a pseudo competition.

The work on the page is where the voice lives for a lot of poets. They don’t want to dishonor or misrepresent that by getting into a competitive thing with people who have a different attitude about their work. Celebrating the poetry has to be the heart of it.

Cheryl: As a fiction writer, Claire said doing that type of event wouldn’t work. What does work for fiction writers?

Joyce: Cocktails.


Claire: Writers with Drinks at the Makeout Room pairs a bar atmosphere with the best emcee ever. She does a standup routine, creates a theme, talks about it, then she introduces readers--five in different genres—with a completely fictional biography for each. No matter how boring the writer is, the show is always fantastic because of Charlie.

Christin: LitUp Writers is a humor series. It works well for fiction, which needs to be short or funny for people to stay engaged. Five readers. Everyone brings their friends. Requires rehearsals to get it out of your system, so you can really bring it the night of your reading.

Laura: Less is more for fiction. Fiction is a lot harder to read. It’s not an oral form. I’ve reduced the amount of fiction I read every time I read.

Competition in the literary community

Claire: I’ve never experienced competition in being published. I’ve also been an editor, and the editor is just trying to find good work.

Laura: Being involved with publishers, there is competition. But you’re competing with people who are also your colleagues--colleagues for 20 years. You’re going to judge them; they’re going to judge you. You are already three degrees away from your future publisher, because you’re in their community. Just being older and in the context, I really see that. I don’t think it’s cutthroat. You’re going to be cooperative.

Michael: The future of the culture is social and mobile. Writers have more ways to reach readers than ever: podcasts, videos. It’s not about competition. It’s about how well a writer communicates. If a work delivers well enough, it can’t be stopped.

Cheryl: You’re still competing for people’s time.

Affect of economy, budget cuts, reduced funding on programs, enrollment, attendance, etc.

Ali: I’ve been a little disgusted with SF lately. Met with Mayor to talk about budget funding. It’s so expensive to live here. People are fleeing to Oakland. It was great to meet with Mayor. It’s great that Twitter and Zynga are moving into city, but I asked for affordable housing for writers and artists.

If you don’t live in SF, you can’t get Healthy San Francisco. I went to Paris, and met all these people who get money from the government, plus healthcare, a subway pass—I’m in the process of writing an open letter to the mayor. Apparently, they will be granting children of low income families a Muni pass. There’s the huge problem of where anyone will live, but asking for small things, like a transportation pass, might be good. I was twenty when I moved here 21 years ago. You could work at a coffee shop, have an apartment, and be an artist. No more. I don’t see queer people moving here anymore; they’re moving to places they can afford to live. I’ve seen the city change.

Evan: I would love to sign that letter.

Joan G: We just sent a letter to the New York Times, regarding women being published, and it was published. Just got back from Philly. Amazing city. Art everywhere. They write into codes that they have to give a percentage to public art.

Joan J: So does San Francisco.

Joan G: Where is it? Maybe we can be written in as poets and writers.

Ali: Arts funding comes from the hotel tax. SF is radical in so many ways. It pisses my father off, so I know it’s going on the right track. Part of our tax goes to Healthy SF. We have these things in this city that we can grow. I’m on a committee that gives grants through Rainbow Grocery. I understand that to continue funding the arts is hard as a granter when you have applications from homeless prenatal. It’s hard to make cases for lit mags, etc. We shouldn’t have to make those choices to the degree we have to. We have to keep putting pressure on the fact that art keeps the world turning.

The movie Bridesmaids changed my life. I left feeling so good. I always bring it up. Without these things… they lighten people. We need them. I’m sick of arts programs asking us to do social service. Sometimes I just want artists to be allowed to be artists. As a community it’s not healthy to not let artists be artists.

Joan J: I’m ticked off about Twitter and Zynga getting all these tax breaks. I’ll sign your letter.

Michael: Cities are the future of the world. What’s happening to SF is happening everywhere. It gets chic, rents go up. It’s a phenomenon.

Joan G: Berkeley has such a diverse population because they insist on affordable housing. They hold the line. There needs to be space for artists in this city. Artists need to be in the center, where the energy and density is.

Cheryl: Asking for small things sounds good. What other things could we ask for? What small things could the city of SF do to help artists?

Ali: What is your city doing for you? Oakland is close to bankrupt.

Joyce: Berkeley Civic Arts Commission, Mayor, City Council--we constantly have meetings. They know the arts are a main part--the poetry sidewalk in downtown Berkeley was spearheaded by the arts commission. In SF, Carey Perloff with ACT is doing something along Market Street.

Ali: The mid-Market development near Sixth Street… the face of addiction is profound there. You see people in wheelchairs smoking crack and throwing dice. Poverty, addiction, vice. It’s going to be an arts district. Where are those people going to go?

Through the SF Arts Commission there is the Cultural Equity Grant for artists as individuals, $10k. That money was fought for. We need to keep pushing for these things, putting pressure on, showing up as groups of people.

Claire: The city money pool has shrunk. We all knew it was going to happen. Local, private, and community foundations.

Michael: San Francisco is the second largest publishing community in the country. It’s a great publishing community. The city doesn’t get it. How does the publishing community relate/compare to dance, the symphony.

Hut: Issue is other cultural communities may be better organized. We have this diverse group with so many different pieces. If you’re going to have a conversation about affecting public policy and getting all these people to sign a letter—there ought to be a way to organize around that.

Joyce: There is historical precedence for writers, not so much from bookselling, but writers and nonprofits have organized dramatically to do things like save the NEA. There was a lot of great organization around that--it’s why they give writing fellowships. When these city councils and mayors meet to free up money for the arts, they don’t separate it out into music, literature, etc.—although they might give a special perk to a museum or orchestra--it’s the arts as a whole. How that pie is split up is housekeeping after the fact. The political process is whether or not they are giving money to the arts at all.

Hut: Could the literary community organize and present itself as just as culturally valuable as the symphony. If you compare the lit community in this city, I think we’d stack up just as well…

Claire: Where does the money go?

Joyce: It would go to the SF Arts Commission, or Hotel Tax, and they would disperse it.

Joan G: A while ago a group of poets went to the City and said we should be called the City of Poets. It would be great for civic purposes and the literary world.

Ali: Elko, Nevada is the City of Cowboy Poetry.

Do you know about the online fundraiser for Diane di Prima. We’re doing fundraising to get healthcare for our poet laureate of SF:


Cheryl Klein, Director California Office and Readings/Workshops (West), Poets & Writers, Inc.

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