San Francisco: Inspiration

January 10, 2015

The fourth Poets & Writers Live event was held on January 10, 2015, at San Francisco's Brava Theater Center. The program featured a "poetry keynote" by Pulitzer Prize–winner and former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan; a conversation with award-winning poets and writers about why we write; a "quarrel" between David Shields and Caleb Powell over the age-old debate of life vs. art; a multigenre, multimedia “inspiration experiment” featuring acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates; and much more.


Date: Saturday, January 10, 2015

Time: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM

Location: Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th Street, San Francisco, CA


8:00 to 9:00     CHECK-IN AND COFFEE

9:00 to 9:15     POETRY KEYNOTE
Former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Kay Ryan will read a selection of her work. Listen to audio from this event. Watch the video of this event.

Jamie FitzGerald
, director of Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops (West), leads a discussion about resources available to writers in San Francisco, the importance of community, and how various literary communities can support one another. Panelists include Stacey Lewis of City Lights Books, Laura Moriarty of Small Press Distribution, Joyce Jenkins of Poetry Flash, Janis Cooke Newman of the Grotto, and Jason Bayani of Kearny Street Workshop. Listen to audio from this event. Watch video of this event.

10:30 to 11:30     THE SAVVY SELF-PUBLISHER
Publishing veteran Debra Englander gives an overview of the self-publishing process, followed by a conversation with self-published author Keith Devlin, literary agent Ted Weinstein, and publicist Amy Packard about the opportunities available to independent authors as well as the challenges they face. Listen to audio from this event. Watch video of this event.

11:45 to 12:45     THE PERFECT PITCH PANEL
Editors Jordan Bass of McSweeney's Publishing and Ethan Nosowsky of Graywolf Press join literary agent Danielle Svetcov and publicist Megan Fishmann of Counterpoint Press for a conversation about how authors can make a good impression—in cover letters, book proposals, and even at social gatherings. A select group of audience members will be invited on stage for a critique of their elevator pitches. Kevin Larimer, editor in chief of Poets & Writers, will moderate. Watch video of this event.

12:45 to 2:15     LUNCH BREAK
Local restaurants and delis in the area offer participants a number of options for lunch.

2:15 to 3:15     ART VS. LIFE: A QUARREL
David Shields
and Caleb Powell, authors of I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, reignite the age-old debate about the lives of artists as they attempt to disturb preconceived divisions between reality and fiction, life and art. Watch video of this event.

3:30 to 4:30     WHY WE WRITE
Melissa Faliveno, associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine, leads a conversation with authors Wendy Lesser, Yiyun Li, Alejandro Murguia, D. A. Powell, and Michelle Tea about the personal, political, and professional reasons we choose to write while living in a culture, a family, or a community that doesn’t always value what we do. Watch video of this event.

Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates, singer-songwriter Ben Arthur, poet and filmmaker Nick Twemlow, award-winning illustrator Roman Muradov, and dancer Sarah Fiske present an inspired series of linked performances, followed by a conversation, led by Kevin Larimer, about the creative process and the roots of inspiration. Watch video of this event.

6:00 to 7:00    LITERARY MIXER
A wine reception in the lobby of the Brava Theater.

About the Presenters:

Ben ArthurBen Arthur has released six albums and two novels, and is the host of the songwriting Web series SongCraft Presents. Guests so far have included John Wesley Harding, Ollabelle, Vienna Teng, Tracy Bonham, and Latin film star and two-time Grammy-nominee Ximena Sarinana. His upcoming album, Call and Response, is a collection of “answer songs.” Arthur has performed live on national television and syndicated radio, and has shared the stage with artists including Dave Matthews, Tori Amos, Bruce Hornsby, Shawn Colvin, and Toots and the Maytals. He has licensed songs to ABC, CBS, Showtime, Lifetime, and PBS.

Jason BayaniJason Bayani is the author of Amulet, published by Write Bloody Publishing. He has an MFA from Saint Mary’s College. A former Kundiman fellow, Bayani is a longtime veteran of the National Poetry Slam scene. He is currently the program manager for Kearny Street Workshop in San Francisco and continues to perform regularly.

Jordan BassJordan Bass is the executive editor of McSweeney's Publishing, where he's helped to edit and design dozens of books, both fiction and nonfiction, since 2004.

Janis Cooke NewmanJanis Cooke Newman has been a member of the Writers Grotto since 2007. During her time at the Grotto, she has launched the organization’s successful classes program, which offers more than twenty writing classes and workshops for aspiring Bay Area writers per week. She is also the founder of Lit Camp, the juried writers conference cosponsored by the Grotto, now in its third year. In addition, Cooke Newman worked with Litquake to launch the popular Regreturature show. Recently she started the Basement Series, a bimonthly reading series that pairs emerging writers with published authors. She is the author of a memoir, The Russian Word for Snow, and two novels, Mary and A Master Plan for Rescue, forthcoming from Riverhead in July 2015.

Keith DevlinKeith Devlin is a mathematician at Stanford University and a cofounder and president of an educational technology company, BrainQuake, that creates mathematics learning and assessment video games. He has written thirty-two books, from textbooks to popular science trade books. His titles have won the Pythagoras Prize, the Peano Prize, the Carl Sagan Award, and the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics Communications Award. In 2003, he was recognized by the California State Assembly for his “innovative work and longtime service in the field of mathematics and its relation to logic and linguistics.” He is the “Math Guy” on National Public Radio.

Debra EnglanderDebra Englander is an experienced editor and writer. Formerly editorial director at John Wiley & Sons for nearly two decades, she is currently a freelance editor and writing coach. She has written a personal finance book and contributed articles to a range of publications including Publishers Weekly, Money magazine, USA Today, Redbook, and others. She has participated as a publishing expert on numerous panels and at writer's workshops.

Melissa FalivenoMelissa Faliveno is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine. She previously worked as an editor for an independent nonfiction press based in the Midwest, and in various editorial capacities for a major fiction publisher and two literary journals. She is also a freelance writer and book reviewer, and has taught creative writing to high school students and incarcerated men in New York City. She holds a BA in English and creative writing from the University of Wisconsin and an MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in DIAGRAM, Din, Isthmus, and Lumina. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Megan FishmannMegan Fishmann is the publicity director for Counterpoint and Soft Skull Press, based in Berkeley. Previously she was a publicist at Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill and Random House. She has also done editorial work at VQR, Narrative magazine, and Zoetrope: All Story. She holds a BA from Bard College and a MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia. Her fiction and nonfiction has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, FiveChapters, Bust magazine, 7x7, and TheHairpin.

Sarah FiskeSarah Fiske is a San Francisco Bay Area choreographer. Her work has been presented at CounterPULSE, Z-Space, Z-Below, the Garage Theater, and the International Home Theater Festival. She is a founding member of Collage Theater, an interdisciplinary dance theater company. Sarah has also taught movement for actors at The Urban School San Francisco. She holds an MFA in dance from Sarah Lawrence College in New York.

Jamie FitzGeraldJamie FitzGerald has been with Poets & Writers since 2005, and directs the California office and Readings & Workshops (West) program. Her poetry is forthcoming in Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, and has appeared in magazines including Works & Days, Mom Egg Review, Cultural Weekly, and Literary Mama. She was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets College Prize at the University of Southern California, earned an MFA in poetry from San Diego State University, and is originally from Hawaii. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.

Joyce JenkinsJoyce Jenkins is the editor and executive director of Poetry Flash, Literary Review & Calendar for the West and chair of Northern California Book Reviewers. She is also the author of Portal and Joy Road, a limited edition chapbook. Her poems have appeared in Parthenon West Review, Ambush Review, ZYZZYVA, Addison Street Anthology: Berkeley's Poetry Walk, The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems of the San Francisco Watershed, and elsewhere. Jenkins received an American Book Award in 1994 and the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, among other honors.

Kevin LarimerKevin Larimer is the editor in chief of Poets & Writers, where he edits Poets & Writers Magazine; oversees the organization's website,; and directs Poets & Writers Live. He holds a degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and received his MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was the poetry editor of the Iowa Review. He has served on a number of panels on publishing at events such as the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, the Slice Literary Writer’s Conference, the Academy’s Poets Forum, and the AWP Conference. His poems have appeared in Fence, Pleiades, Verse, and a dozen other literary magazines. He has written book reviews for American Letters & Commentary, American Book Review, Chelsea, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Wendy LesserWendy Lesser is the founding editor of the Threepenny Review and the author of one novel and nine nonfiction books, most recently Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books. She has received awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy in Berlin, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Dedalus Foundation, and many other institutions; she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences as well as of the New York Institute for the Humanities. Her journalistic writing about literature, dance, film, and music has appeared in a number of periodicals in America and abroad. Born in California and educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and University of California in Berkeley, Lesser now divides her time between Berkeley and New York.

Stacey LewisStacey Lewis is the director of publicity and marketing at City Lights Publishers, where she has worked for twenty years, collaborating with writers such as Howard Zinn, Ellen Ullman, Sesshu Foster, Bill Morgan, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Paul Madonna, Tim Wise, and Rebecca Brown, and Diane di Prima, among many others. She got her start in Bay Area publishing by interning and working for Heyday Books, Berkeley. She briefly worked at Lonely Planet Publications, and also volunteered for the Bay Area Book Council; Mercury House Publishers, where she read book submissions; Sierra Books, where she helped out in the publicity department, and at the Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco. Stacey directed the programming for the Northern California Book Publicity and Marketing Association (NCBPMA) for a number of years, and has spoken about her work at UCSC, USF, with booksellers at the NCIBA, at NCBPMA programs, on a panel convened by the National Book Critics Circle at BEA, as part of a discussion on West Coast publishing recently held at City Lights, on CSPAN, and other media. On a number of occasions, she has shared embarrassing anecdotes at the Porchlight Storytelling Series in San Francisco. Originally from Orangeburg, New York, Lewis is a graduate of the University of California in Santa Cruz and the Stanford Publishing Program. She lives in Berkeley with her husband and two sons.

Yiyun LiYiyun Li is the author of two story collections and two novels, including her recent novel, Kinder Than Solitude. She was named by the New Yorker as one of top twenty fiction writers under age forty from the United States. In 2010 she was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

Laura MoriartyLaura Moriarty has been the Deputy Director of Small Press Distribution since 1999. She has taught at Naropa University and Mills College. She was the director of the American Poetry Archives for the Poetry Center at SFSU from 1986 to 1997. Her awards include the Poetry Center Book Award in 1983, a Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation Award in Poetry in 1992, a New Langton Arts Award in Literature 1998, and a Fund for Poetry grant in 2007. Recent books include The Fugitive Notebook, a chapbook just out from Couch Press in Portland; Who That Divines (Nightboat Books, 2014); A Tonalist (Nightboat Books, 2010); A Semblance: Selected and New Poems, 1975-2007 (Omnidawn, 2007); and the novel Ultravioleta (Atelos, 2006). She is currently helping out at the Bay Area Public School where she and Zoe Tuck have just finished teaching a class in Vampire Poetics.

Roman MuradovRoman Muradov is a Russian illustrator and comics artist who lives in San Francisco. He has published illustrations for the New Yorker, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Penguin, Random House, Vogue, Time, and others. For five years he has been publishing the DIY fanzine The Yellow Zine, completely made of his own work. His first graphic novel Picnic Ruined came out in fall 2013 with Retrofit Comics, while in September of 2014 Nobrow published (In A Sense) Lost & Found. In Italy two of his stories have appeared in Teiera and Delebile, while Retina published a collection of his short stories from the Yellow Zine.

Alejandro MurguiaAlejandro Murguía is the author of This War Called Love (winner of the American Book Award). He is a founding member and the first director of The Mission Cultural Center. Currently he is a professor in Latina Latino Studies at San Francisco State University. He is the author of the short story “The Other Barrio,” recently filmed in the street of the Mission District. This year City Lights Books released his newest book, Stray Poems. In May 2014 SF Weekly named him Best Local Author. He is the sixth San Francisco poet laureate and the first Latino to hold the post.

Ethan NosowskyEthan Nosowsky is editorial director at Graywolf Press. He began his career at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and has also been editorial director at McSweeney’s. He has edited books by Jeffery Renard Allen, Hilton Als, Kevin Barry, David Byrne, Geoff Dyer, Dave Eggers, Sarah Manguso, and Maggie Nelson among many others. He has taught in the creative writing program at Columbia University and has contributed to the Believer, Bookforum, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Threepenny Review.

Joyce Carol OatesJoyce Carol Oates is the author of the novel The Gravedigger’s Daughter. She is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Amy PackardAmy Packard Ferro has more than fifteen years of experience in the publishing industry, working as publicity director and manager. Amy drove numerous book campaigns with esteemed authors such as Patrick Lencioni, Ed Koch, Victor Davis Hanson, James Kouzes, and Barry Posner. Her media hits include Book TV, CNBC, New York Times Book Review, San Francisco Chronicle, FOX, Wall Street Journal and the TODAY Show. Packard Ferro is also a seasoned social media professional who has led social media campaigns across various platforms. She began her career in New York City and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Caleb PowellCaleb Powell spent eight years on six continents, supporting himself by teaching ESL. Now he is a husband and stay-at-home father. His argument with David Shields about life and art, I Think You're Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, is forthcoming from Knopf in January 2015. Other work of his has appeared in Pleiades, The Sun magazine, and ZYZZYVA.

D. A. PowellD. A. Powell’s most recent poetry collections are Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (2012), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry, and Repast (2014), both from Graywolf Press. He lives in San Francisco.

Kay RyanKay Ryan, former United States poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winner, was born in California in 1945 and grew up in the small towns of the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert. She received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from UCLA. Since 1971, she has lived in Marin County in Northern California. Ryan has published several collections of poetry, including The Niagara River (Grove Press, 2005); Say Uncle (2000); Elephant Rocks (1996); Flamingo Watching (1994), which was a finalist for both the Lamont Poetry Selection and the Lenore Marshall Prize; Strangely Marked Metal (1985); and Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends (1983). A reissue of her 2002 collection, Believe It or Not!, poems inspired by stories from the newspaper cartoon Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, has recently been rereleased and retitled as The Jam Jar Lifeboat & Other Novelties Exposed (Red Berry Editions 2008). Ryan’s first European collection, Odd Blocks: Selected and New Poems was published in England in August 2011. Her collection The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, was nominated for the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in April 2011. Grove Press will publish her new collection of poems, New Rooms, in 2015.

David ShieldsDavid Shields is the author of fifteen books, including Reality Hunger, named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications; The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, a New York Times bestseller; Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Remote, winner of the PEN/Revson Award. He has five more books being published over the next two years: I Think You’re Totally Wrong, forthcoming in January 2015 from Knopf and also as a film directed by James Franco; That Thing You Do With Your Mouth (McSweeney’s); War Is Beautiful (powerHouse); Life Is Short—Art Is Shorter (Hawthorne); and Other People (Knopf). The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and two NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and the Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.

Danielle SvetcovDanielle Svetcov is an agent with Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency. Previously she worked as a freelance journalist and earned an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College. She is based in the Bay Area.

Michelle TeaMichelle Tea is the author of five memoirs, most recently How to Grow Up (Penguin/Plume) and two novels, including Mermaid in Chelsea Creek, the first in a YA trilogy being published by McSweeney’s. She is the founding executive director of RADAR Productions, a literary nonprofit that produces the monthly RADAR Reading Series at the San Francisco Public Library, the international Sister Spit performance tours, and many more events across the Bay Area and beyond. She is the editor of Sister Spit Books and Lil Sister Spit, imprints of City Lights Publishing. Tea is also the founding editor of Mutha magazine (, an online magazine featuring personal essays and comics by and for moms, mothers, and muthas.

Nick TwemlowNick Twemlow’s video works have screened at Athens, MCA Chicago, Slamdance, South by Southwest, Tribeca, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of a Princess Grace Honorarium in Filmmaking and a Fulbright fellowship to New Zealand. His book of poems, Palm Trees, won the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. He coedits Canarium Books and is a senior editor for the Iowa Review. He teaches filmmaking and poetry at Coe College.

Ted WeinsteinTed Weinstein is a literary agent as well as a recovering writer. He has been a music critic for NPR’s All Things Considered and the SF Chronicle, and is the author of a book that was (rightly) never published. He much prefers working as a literary agent, representing a wide range of nonfiction authors on traditional as well as direct-published projects. His clients include NPR's “Math Guy” Keith Devlin, New York Times bestsellers Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist), and Leander Kahney (Cult of Mac, Inside Steve’s Brain), international bestsellers Kelly McGonigal (Willpower Instinct) and Dan Roam (The Back of the Napkin), and many others. More information about his agency and clients can be found at

About Poets & Writers Live:

Poets & Writers Live is a new initiative developed in response to interviews and discussions with writers from all over the country. When we asked what Poets & Writers could do to support their writing practice, time and again writers expressed a desire for a more tangible connection to other writers. So we came up with a living, breathing version of what Poets & Writers already offers: Poets & Writers Live.

Poets & Writers Live debuted in Los Angeles in January 2014 with a program focused on Inspiration. Subsequent events were staged in New York City and Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Learn more, and access audio and video from past events, at

Next stop: Chicago in June 2015! Follow on Twitter, @poetswritersinc #PWLIVE.

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