[Literature] in the City

BY COLLEEN MCHUGH
November 24, 2009

The Young Urbanist [Literature] in the City forum at SPUR on November 10th presented a lively discussion on this topic and other aspects of the history and culture of San Francisco’s literary community.  Stephen Elliott of the San Francisco Writer's Grotto and editor of The Rumpus, writer and City Lights editor Elaine Katzenberger, and Filipino American poet and professor Barbara Jane Reyes joined the forum moderator, poet Matthew Zapruder, in an exploration of the relationship between literature and the city.

The forum began with readings from each of the three panelists.  Barbara Jane Reyes shared poetry of a walking tour through San Francisco’s cultural landscape, Elaine Katzenberger spoke from a speech given by City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti during his acceptance in 2000 as San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate, and Stephen Elliott read from his critically acclaimed new book The Adderall Diaries.  What followed was a debate over the extent to which San Francisco remains a center of bohemian culture that nurtures artistic expression.  The panelists spoke to rising rents and gentrifying neighborhoods.  But when asked why writers continue to live in this city when it may make little financial sense, the speakers referenced family, a strong writing community, history, and a counter-culture unique to San Francisco.  Stephen Elliott expressed, “There is something nourishing about this place.”

Ultimately, the evening’s panelists agreed that a certain culture of resistance – to the norm, to consumerism, to war – permeates this city’s literary community.  Moderator Matthew Zapruder reasoned that San Francisco might be the most “American” city in the country in that it embodies this ideal of personal freedom.