Small Press Soiree on the Bay: Postcard From Oakland

J. Hempel

Approximately two hundred editors, writers, and readers of small literary magazines published in the Bay Area gathered at the Black Box, a trendy Oakland theater art gallery on Sunday, November 18, for the Small Press Soiree. Dulcey Antonucci, the editor of Area i, a literary magazine that takes its name from the parking designation for residents of downtown Berkeley, collaborated with local editors to plan the evening in an effort to introduce the audience to new publications.

An evening like this gives people a chance to check out new work from magazines they havent seen before, said Area i fiction writer Monica Wesolowska, who read a humorous story about the pains of being a nice guy. Other local readers included Laura Arendal, Chaim Bertman, Jenny Bitner, Sasha Cagen, Mieke Eerkins, Mark Holland, Beth Lisick, Zoe Reed, Aaron Shuman, and Sarah Skaggs. Each writer had ten minutes in which to perform a selection of prose or poetry.

A $3 admission fee was collected to support future events, and copies of the participating publications were on sale in the lobby. Fiction writer Beth Lisick was on hand to sign her new collection of short stories, This Too Can Be Yours (Manic D. Press, 2001). She shared a table with Jan Richman, this years editor for the annual journal 6,500, which features a new editor in each issue. Both women spoke about the importance of small presses and literary journals for writers whose work goes unnoticed by larger presses.

In the Bay Area there are so many people working on cool projects in near obscurity, Lisick said. This way everybody can exchange not only creative work, but ideas on how to get their magazines out to a wider audience.

Editors of nearly a dozen additional publications set up tables outside the gallery, including Bad Subjects, the progressive political webzine that has been pushing the boundaries of new media since 1992; To-Do List, winner of the Readers Choice award for best new magazine of 2000 from Utne Reader; Em Literary, a recent creation started by San Francisco State University grad students to showcase student writing on a national level; and Watchword, a small press and literary magazine out of Oakland that gives voice to emerging American and Eastern European writers.

Following the readings, chairs were cleared and the event turned into a dance party. Antonucci was excited by the evenings success: Events like ours allow more voices, and a wider variety of voices, to be heard-perhaps the most important aspect of supporting small-press publishing, he said.