New East Bay Lit Scene Develops

Budding East Bay writers have new local places to explore to share their latest works.


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A reading from the regular Pandemonium Press night at downtown Oakland’s Spice Monkey Restaurant.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

If you scan the horizon looking for a rising literary scene on the east side of the Bay, you’ll find it. A number of new or evolving events and spaces have upped the East Bay’s game in the last year, for poets, authors, and other scribblers. Oakland’s Beast Crawl, for example, aims to catch up with San Francisco’s Litquake. Here are some other noteworthy venues for scribes.

The Octopus Literary Salon: The Octopus is newest on the scene, having just opened its doors in April. The Octopus Literary Salon includes a café, a small-scale specialty bookstore, and a space for public readings and discussions, with the focus on local artists. Owner Rebecca Grove said “We’ve been working on it for years” with a team of friends. The current space “is the dream that evolved from programs in our own living rooms. It’s everything we dreamed of.” The calendar at The Octopus—Grove avers it is the only Bay Area bookstore that serves beer and wine—is filling up with spoken word, storytellers, poets, and more, she said. The Octopus has open mics and themed events for newbs as well as seasoned artists. 2101 Webster St., www.OaklandOctopus.org

Liminal: Gina Goldblatt, 29, is a New York transplant who to California to get her MFA in writing at Mills College and stayed. Goldblatt sought a shared writing space that felt comfortable to her as “a platform for feminist voices. I was hard-pressed to find a place in the Bay Area that was conducive to writing. I found that the majority of them were male-dominated.” So she started one herself, calling the loft space on 38th Avenue, “Liminal,” which was unrelated to former Oakland arts venue known as Liminal Space. The writing space is airy with wallspace and work tables. The arty room works well for intimate readings, for writing workshops, and even for trapeze work, as witnessed at a recent reading event. Women and men are welcome; the open loft space echoes the openness of Liminal’s ethos: A writing space engaged with feminism of all types. Check into the Liminal calendar for upcoming classes and readings. 3037 38th Ave., Oakland, 510-298-7541, www.TheLiminalCenter.com.

Pandemonium Press: Pandemonium Press is a small publishing company located in Berkeley that monthly produces three journals: riverbabble (literary magazine), Doorknobs & BodyPaint (flash fiction), and Day w/o Art (online annual AIDS commemoration). Founder and publisher Leila Rae has been producing literary collections and zines since about 1993 and was an early adapter of the Internet for sharing creative writing. Once a month, on the first Wednesday, Rae curates a reading series at Spice Monkey Restaurant & Barin Oakland, with featured and recently published readers, plus open mic after. Local writers who want to read can attend and sign up. www.IceFlow.com.

Spice Monkey Restaurant & Bar: The Spice Monkey’s upstairs loft offers live comedy, music, and community gatherings throughout the month. General manager Russell Bass said Spice Monkey’s mission is to present relevant and engaging threads from Oakland’s diverse cultural fabric. He cited Rae and Pandemonium Press as an excellent example of a shared vision. “Her various literary trajectories, including the nights at Spice Monkey, are a valuable gift both to authors seeking an audience and folks looking to hear the words of contemporary authors presenting their own work,” he said.

Spice Monkey couldn’t be in a more artistic location; with original Art Deco tiles in the historic Howden and Sons Tile Co. building, artwork and stained glass, and a multicultural cornucopia of fusion food, the stage is set for pleasing all the senses. With scheduled music on every first and third Friday, comedy on second and fourth Saturdays and Wednesdays, and various literary open mics, there are many opportunities for audience and artists to get involved. 1628 Webster St., 510-268-0170; www.SpiceMonkeyRestaurant.com.

Beast Crawl: An on-the-hoof literary party in one grand night, Beast Crawl is a summer event in downtown Oakland with a multitude of venues, writers, and readings to enjoy. Each leg of the Beast lasts one hour, and offers as many as a dozen readings to choose from. There’s a half hour break between literary legs for socializing and relocating to a new venue before the next reading begins. Crawl maps are available online. www.BeastCrawl.weebly.com

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