NBCC/Zyzzyva Partygoers Celebrate Bay Area Literary Institutions

By Admin

On the eve of the American Library Association convention in San Francisco, the National Book Critics Circle and Zyzzyva Magazine threw a party to celebrate a raft of bookish anniversaries and a growing contingent of Bay Area writers. The crowd in the Zyzzyva offices in the historic Mechanics Library building on Post Street, one of San Francisco's literary hubs, toasted and talked until long after dark on a long summer day. It was the fifth annual collaboration between the NBCC and Zyzzyva, with co-hosts: Zyzzyva editor Laura Cogan, Zyzzyva managing editor Oscar Villalon, a former NBCC board member, and Jane Ciabattari, NBCC VP/Online, who led the toasting.

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Toasting began with salutes to the Bay Area authors in attendance who had been honored by the National Book Critics Circle over the 40 years of our awards: Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, nonfiction award, 1976; China Men was a 1980 finalist), Terry Castle (The Professor and Other Writings, criticism finalist, 2010), Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son, fiction finalist, 2012), whose new story collection, Fortune Smiles, is due out in August, D.A. Powell (Useless Landscape; or, A Guide for Boys, poetry award, 2012), and Jason Roberts (A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History's Greatest Traveler, biography finalist 2006). (See a special salute to Maxine Hong Kingston from Bay Area Asian American women writers Frances Hwang, Yang Huang, Vanessa Hua, Aimee Phan, Bich Minh Nguyen, Kirstin Chen, and Reese Kwon here.)

Toastmaster Ciabattari called out treasured Bay Area literary institutions in order of longevity:

City Lights Publishers was founded by NBCC Sandrof award winner Lawrence Ferlinghetti 60 years ago and remains a Bay Area gem. Publisher Elaine Katzenberger was on hand for the toasts, as were Stacey Lewis, Paul Yamazaki and Peter Maravalis. In celebration of their 60th, City Lights is publishing a commemorative, restored edition of Pictures of the Gone World, the first City Lights book and Ferlinghetti's first book of poetry; the City Lights Pocket Poets Anthology, 60th Anniversary Edition, edited by Ferlinghetti and a book of selected correspondence between Allen Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career. This fall Norton/Liveright will published Ferlighetti's Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals 1950-2013. 

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, founded 45 years ago by Blair Fuller and Oakley Hall, is still going strong, building community and nurturing writers. Oakley's daughter, author/playwright/musician Sands Hall, who grew up at Squaw Valley and is a popular workshop leader there, represented the community at the celebration. The packed crowd cheered on the concurrent poetry reading at Squaw, featuring Sharon Olds, Forrest Gander, Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, J. Michael Martinez and Evie Shockley.

The Bay Area outpost of Graywolf Press (40 years), named Small Press Publisher at the year by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs this spring, was toasted, with salutes to editorial director Ethan Nosowsky, and Graywolf authors D.A. Powell, Lewis Buzbee and Susan Steinberg.

Cheers also to The Threepenny Review, founded 35 years ago by Wendy Lesser. Threepenny seemed destined to become a literary force when Susan Sontag showed up at an early party. Lesser has maintained the publication while writing ten books, most recently last year's Why I Read. She also found time to serve as an NBCC board member.

Zyzzyva, which has been immersed in a year-long bicoastal celebration of its 30th anniversary. Zyzzyva's Fall issue will feature the art of Jay DeFeo (best known for her mammoth painting “The Rose”), and an essay about a series of art work she did on bones, plus new fiction from NBCC John Leonard award winner Anthony Marra, former NBCC board member David L. Ulin, Patricia Engel, Glen David Gold (who was at the party, as was new contributor Austin Smith) and April Ayers Lawson. Cheers went out to Zyzzyva and co-hosts Cogan and Villalon.

The San Francisco Writers Grotto was a legend not long after its founding 20 years ago by Po Bronson, Ethan Canin and Ethan Watters. Today it's a thriving hive of activity, with 100+ members churning out a steady stream of books, articles, feature films, television series, short stories, poems and essays. In January Noah Hawley won a Golden Globe for Fargo. In February, Shanthi Sekaran sold her book, Lucky Boy, to Putnam/Penguin, Natalie Baszile's novel Queen Sugar was picked up by Oprah's OWN network to be turned into an original drama series, and ABC purchased Rodes Fishburne's 'Boom,' about the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. Two members (Joshua Mohr and Janis Cooke Newman) are publishing new novels July 14.

The Grotto contingent at the party included Angie Chau, Lindsey Crittendon,Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Laurie Ann Doyle, David Ewing Duncan, Anisse Gross, Meron Hadero,”>Constance Hale, Yalitza Ferreras,  Vanessa Hua, Lee Daniel Kravetz, Stephanie Losee, who just took a job as POLITICO head of brand content;  Susanne Pari, Sophia Raday, Jason Roberts (NBCC award finalist in biography),  Julia Scott and Shanthi Sekaran.

If anyone has proven the Bay Area is a hotbed of readers and writers, it's Jane Ganahl and Jack Boulware, whose nine-day literary spectacular Litquake is now 15 years old. Come October they'll be launching season 16, with book-loving masses gathering throughout the Bay Area, concluding in the ever expanding Litcrawl.

The Bay Area continues to be a fertile ground for start-ups. Three outstanding newcomers were toasted at the party.

Lit Camp, launched out of the Grotto by Janis Cooke Newman as a juried writers' conference at Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, just concluded its third year with forty students selected from some 200 applicants. Year four is in the works. (Newman was in the house, with board members Matthew James DeCoster and Lee Daniel Kravetz.)

The final toasts were to the newcomers launched this year. The Bay Area Book Festival drew 50,000 to the streets of Berkeley for a book-centric weekend under the exuberant leadership of Cherilynn Parsons, who was still beaming from the success, as were  Oakland Book Festival founders (and Laphams Quarterly staffers) Timony and Kira Don. Their carefully curated festival centered around Oakland City Hall, with every event SRO including the keynote by Lewis Lapham, who reminisced about his days as a cub reporter at the San Francisco Examiner, covering the Oakland police.

Also in the crowd:

SF Chronicle book editor John McMurtrie and colleague Mike Berry; Brian Hurley, book editor of The Rumpus, with his wife Michelle Lipinski, acquisitions editor at Stanford University Press, and Emily-Jane Cohen, senior editor at Stanford University Press, who says they will soon be publishing fiction. A contingent from the thriving Bay Area-based Counterpoint Press, including publisher Rolph Blythe, Sharon Wu, Corinne Kalasky, Joe Goodale, Deborah Kenmore and Claire Shalinsky. Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNoWriMo, editor of 100WordStory and author of the new flash collection Fissures.

Lauren Cerand, who did stellar pro bono work for the NBCC, in town from NYC for the ALA. (Other special guests in town for the ALA included librarians Edward Elsner from the North Country Library System in New York state and Deirdre Cerkanowicz from the Berkeley Public Library, and staffers from Library Journal.)

Grateful Dead biographer Dennis McNally, who noted that this Thursday night was also on the eve of the Dead's farewell performances in the Bay Area before their last concern in Chicago. McNally had just announced a new Jerry Garcia project, due in November from Hachette.

Also spotted: Ralph Lewin, executive director of the Mechanics' Library, Bridget Kinsella, Regan McMahon, Paul Wilner, novelists Elizabeth Rosner (her Electric City is due out in paperback in early fall), Meg Waite Clayton, whose The Race for Paris is out this summer, Naomi Williams, whose first novel, Landfalls, is coming from FSG in August, Karen Bjorneby and Elizabeth Scarboro.

And yes, there were toasts and thanks to to Wine and Spirits Magazine and senior editor Luke Sykora for providing the wine.