First literary interveners: the authors of the Bay region ensure the survival of neighborhood bookstores

With retail businesses recently cleared to open for curbside pickup, bookstores across the Bay Area have started advertising their sidewalk order fulfillment systems. But as any aficionado of these literary havens knows, some of the best book buys come from quietly browsing the shelves, behavior not yet sanctioned by public health guidelines. And with many independent bookstores already operating on paper-thin margins, their future looks more precarious than ever.

The economic blow to local bookstores has hit Bay Area writer and events producer Charlie Jane Anders particularly hard. Facing the cancellation of his own long-standing literary series Writers with drinks, along with the collaborative bookstore and Chocolate Crawl, Anders immediately decided to channel his event curatorial powers into a virtual fundraising series. Along with her bookstore and Chocolate Crawl co-organizers, Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Jackie Risley, she began to reach out to bookstores and readers.

April 8, the first We love bookstores reading has started. A fundraiser for Pegasus Books of Berkeley — with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman — the event raised nearly $ 3,500. A vibrant new series is born.

Alia Volz, author of ‘Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana and the Stoning of San Francisco’ and co-organizer of We Love Bookstores. (courtesy of Alia Volz)

As the project evolved, the curatorial team expanded to include people such as Evan Karp of Quiet Lightening and Litseen; Alia Volz, whose book Homemade: My Mom, Marijuana, and the San Francisco Stoning was recently published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; book publicists Lara Starr and Cristina Deptula; science writer and author of speculative fiction Annalee Newitz; and science fiction author Mike Chen, who designed the series’ website.

As the project attracted more and more guest authors, some of them specified which bookstore they wanted to fundraise for. For example, the fundraiser for Marcus Books attracted a range of prominent readers including Chinaka Hodge, Tongo Eisen-Martin and Daveed Diggs, who had been personally inspired by the highly influential Black Bookstore (now celebrating its 60th anniversary) . A joint event with Volz and Armistead Maupin slated for June 17 will benefit Rakestraw Books in Danville – a move, Volz says, born of a mutual desire to raise funds for a “classic Bay Area bookstore” that has roots extending to the 1970s, an era inhabited by their respective books.

Armistead Maupin will read with Alia Volz on June 17th. (Christophe Turner)

As anyone who has attended Writers With Drinks can attest, one of the hallmarks of the monthly series is its vibrant diversity. Every night the audience can hear comedy, poetry, erotica, speculative fiction, journalism, memoir and everything in between, with equal time given to emerging local writers and international bestsellers. . Set in a nightclub rather than a bookstore, the event has been a part of literate nightlife for nearly 20 years and never fails to draw a noisy crowd. With Anders presenting each author with hilarious and thoughtful biographies drawn from a parallel universe, and local booksellers on hand to ensure some of the featured books make their way with members of the public that evening, Writer’s With Drinks mixes disparate genres and audiences in a great sparkling cocktail.

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