Literary Boroughs #28: San Francisco and North Bay (Part Two)

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[Read part one of this post here.]

Where to get published:

Though the writer-to-everyday citizen ratio is kind of out of control in the Bay Area (meaning: heaps of competition for space in local publications), there are still plenty of opportunities for publication in local journals and magazines. McSweeney’s has opportunities to publish both fiction and nonfiction in their quarterly, as well as online at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.  They also publish The Believer, which features nonfiction, while their new magazine Lucky Peach runs stories about all things edible. Narrative Magazine and Memoir Journal publish both online and print and The Rumpus,  though strictly online, is based in San Francisco as well. Zoetrope’s All Story features fiction while Sparkle & Blink, a monthly publication, features collections of fiction, nonfiction and poetry read at the Quiet Lightning Reading Series in San Francisco. Zyzzyva features work strictly from West Coast writers and is also based in the bay. The West Marin ReviewKnow Journal‘s online publication, SFSU‘s lit journals and even Rad Dad Zine and  Make Magazine are all other potential venues for local writers.

As far as presses go, the Bay Area has a small handful of publishers.  Probably the most notable, if not  most diverse publisher in San Francisco is McSweeney’s Publishing. In addition to publishing nonfiction and fiction, McSweeney’s also has specialized imprints of its company, including Voice of Witness, which focuses on social justice issues, and McMullen’s, which publishes children’s books and art, poetry and comic publications as well.  MacAdam/Cage publishes both fiction and nonfiction, as does City Light Publishers, who also prints poetry and translations. Sixteen Rivers Press is a small press committed to publishing poetry, as is OmniDawn, who publishes fiction as well. Chronicle Books specializes in nonfiction and gift books while the forty-five-year-old Cameron + Company features books with a local, Bay Area twist—along with some photography, art and general interest books. The Book Club of California, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, celebrates its 100th year in late 2012 and is another publishing house which keeps its focus local, especially in regards to books about the history and culture of California. PAC (Portuguese Artist Colony) Books highlights short fiction and some novels while   Travelers Tales cranks out annual anthologies and travel guides on a quick and regular basis. Finally, the East Bay is home to AK Press and PM Press which both publish mostly nonfiction books covering radical politics and  Seal Press which publishes nonfiction writers who are women.

Where to write:

Though I’ve received some pretty interesting emails and text-messages from folks riding MUNI, this is probably not the best place to work on a novel. Instead, public places with gorgeous views—sans the moving mass transit—are better bets. Many locals find it best to avoid running into friends or colleagues while hankering down for writing. For this, parks and museum cafes are perfect. Golden Gate Park has several spots including the cafe at The De Young museum, the Japanese Tea Garden and the steps of The Conservatory of Flowers. The SF Moma has two cafesCaffè Museo and Blue Bottle Coffee Bar—for writers to get some quality time in on their latest story. Aside from the SF Library, The SF Mechanic Institute Library charges a small admittance fee but is increasingly popular among writers, as is The San Francisco Center for the Book.  The San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm also provides quiet space to get away from it all and write. They often offer writing retreats and lectures, as well. For those needing more convenient locations with easily accessible caffeine, Oasis Cafe on Divisadero and Muddy‘s on Valencia are hot spots. For those of us easily distracted by the internet and its ever-tempting Bad Lip Reading videos, Four Barrel on Valencia is the spot for you, as they offer no WiFi to their customers. And for writers who need to unwind with a cocktail or pint of beer, don’t forget the legendary Caffé Trieste and Vesuvio.  Another literary hot spot, The Makeout Room provides space to write at as well as an eclectic calendar of literary events..

In the North Bay, a solo trip with pen and paper to Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen provides a perfect, inspiring setting for quiet writing time, as does Russian River’s Armstrong Woods. Many Bay Area residents also book some time at the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma for personal writing retreats. For the coffee and book  lovers, the Book Passage Café in Corte Madera is perfect (and guest can often bump into Isabel Allende roaming the adjacent book store). Also in Marin County: A’Roma Cafe or Arizmendi Bakery in San Rafael and the Depot in Mill Valley are great. In Sonoma County, Flying Goat Coffee—with locations in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg– offers a perfectly well-lit atmosphere to write in. Aqua Cafe in Petaluma has a decent sized space to write in and also hosts frequent readings. A new cafe at the Arlene Francis Event Center in Santa Rosa also provides quiet writing time. For the more unconventional writing atmosphere, The Casino—an old divey road house in Bodega—is the perfect backdrop for mystery writing. And my personal favorite (Note: my bias is that I’ve been teaching writing workshops here with Petals and Bones for almost three years) is Jack and Tony’s Whiskey Bar in the Railroad Square neighborhood of Santa Rosa. The back booth in the bar side of the restaurant is private enough to avoid the crowd that often gathers for happy hour in the bar.

For  long-term projects, both the Headlands Center for the Arts near Sausalito and the Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes offer writers residency programs.


Rarely a day passes without a literary event here in the Bay Area. Readings in antique furniture store basements. Write-a-thons in hotels. Classes with yoga. Every type of innovative and wacky literary event that can be dreamed up occurs in this slice of the world. For starts, San Francisco’s epic mid-October, week-long LitQuake and the action-packed LitCrawl event is a prime example of fusing together the best of the best in San Francisco’s writing world. With a unique approach to the literary reading, Quiet Lightning is a monthly submission-based series. This means that the group takes blind submissions each month and selects the finest for a live reading at a different San Francisco location on every first Monday. Bang Out is slightly similar, except they send a call for submissions with a theme just one month before their deadline. LitUp Writers also calls on themes for submissions and hosts humorous readings every other month. Speaking of comical, Literary Death Match is yet another lively event which includes judges and encourages hecklers. Writers with Drinks dishes up a smorgasborg of eclectic writers each month. Feast of Words fuses writing with reading and eating, while a reading-meets-tell all confessional is Mortified, which calls upon the brave to share stories from high school diaries and more. Porchlight brings storytellers to the stage without notes to recite a true story from their lives. Radar Productionsthe brainchild of author Michelle Tea—offers a reading series which highlights queer and underground literature around the bay. City Arts and Lectures bring writers together in live conversations that are also broadcast on radio via KQED Public Radio and has recently featured writers like Joan Didion and Cheryl Strayed. The folks from NANO (National Novel Writing Month) also host events throughout the year, including their Night of Writing Dangerously Write-a-thon Fundraiser in November. For the radical readers out there, the annual springtime Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair is the go-to spot for not only radical literature in the form of books and zines, but to also hear lectures and readings and take workshops. The annual Queer Arts Festival at Yerba Buena Garden hosts readings along with their film and musical performance programs.

Finally, moving north into Sausalito, Why There Are Words features a great mix of new and emerging writers at their monthly, themed readings in a local art gallery. The Tuesday Night Writers in Fairfax host a lively bi-monthly reading, Pints and Prose, at the local saloon and the Marin Poetry Center hosts readings and a summertime traveling poetry show. The Marin Poetry Festival in October is another event to check out in the North Bay and it often features local poet, Robert Hass. Marin County is also home to the Geography of Hope Conference which mixes together literary events with environmental education in Point Reyes every other year in March or April. One Book, One Marin organizes readings, lectures and other events around a new notable book  from a local or semi-local author each year. Past featured books include The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas, Dave Eggers’ What is the What and Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan, among others.  Sonoma County is the home of the annual Sonoma County Book Festival in late September and always has an extensive line-up of speakers and small presses on hand. Spoonbar at H2 Hotel in Healdsburg hosts semi-regular readings with authors like Neal Pollack

and Adam Mansbach. The monthly North Bay Poetry Slam takes place on one Sunday a month at HopMonk tavern in Sebastopol and the Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club—hosts readings, workshops and other events throughout the year.

I am fairly certain I’ve accidentally omitted many notable authors, events and other literary tidbits from this list. I encourage readers to fill in the blanks in the comment section below and to be nice to me about it. I am, after all, a struggling writer. And this land of Milk and Honey is an epic, glorious, literary packed place.

Dani Burlison is a staff writer at a Bay Area alt-weekly, a recent columnist atMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency and a book reviewer for The Los Angeles Review. Her writing also appears in several other notable online and print publications such as The RumpusHip Mama Magazine,Rad Dad Zineelephant journal, and others. She is 80% done with her first collection of essays and hard at work on her subsequent book. Dani also teaches writing workshops and co-edits Petals and Bones zine. Find her at or @DaniBurlison.