Jane Ganahl’s Litquake mixes brainy books with booze and fun.
The Bay Area is ranked among the most literate parts of the country, thanks to top universities (Stanford, UC Berkeley), iconic bookstores (City Lights, Cody’s, Kepler’s) that launched movements, and a highly educated workforce. But when journalists Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware organized Litstock, an afternoon of readings with local authors at Golden Gate Park’s bandshell in 1999, they never suspected it would blossom into Litquake, a 10-day San Francisco festival with 200 events and 700 authors that’s inspired literary pub crawls around the world.
“We just had this idea, and the more people heard about it, the more they wanted to be involved,” says Half Moon Bay’s Ganahl, the festival’s co-founder and artistic director. (Boulware is co-founder and executive director.) “Before you know it, it’s become this huge thing.”
Humor is a big draw, one reason comedian Chris Kattan, author of Baby Don’t Hurt Me: Stories and Scars From Saturday Night Live ($10.48, Ben Bella Books) will appear. Hospitality entrepreneur and Burning Man board member Chip Conley, author of Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder ($12, Random House) will talk about elderhood; Julian Guthrie, author of Alpha Girls ($14, Currency) will talk about Silicon Valley pioneers; and venture capitalist Roger McNamee talks about taking aim at Facebook with Zucked ($10, Penguin Press). Self-help books are not a draw, but poetry readings in Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill are, with standing-room-only crowds. New this year is 20 in 20—readings in 20 California cities from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz that have never hosted a Litquake event before.
Even with today’s shorter attention spans, people read books, Ganahl believes, for a sense of escapism. “They can surround themselves with story and creative fonts, and it takes them away from the stresses of the day,” she notes. “All the naysayers who said books are dying, it just hasn’t borne out. Book sales are still holding very steady.” And that’s a good thing for Litquake, which “capitalizes on how amazing the Bay Area is,” she says, “by offering maximum intellectual stimulation and fun at the same time.” Oct. 10-19, most readings free, various Northern California locations
Photography by: CHRIS HARDY