Two years ago, the Beast Crawl literary festival premiered with 27 readings spread out over three hours in 25 Uptown Oakland venues. Originally conceived as only nine events in the three hours, the crawl reached relatively monstrous proportions by the time the programming dust had cleared.
“It was the core group of Andrew Thomas, Missy Church, Youssef Alaoui and myself, and Patti Cronin that really got the idea going,” said festival founder Paul Corman-Roberts. “It was when we were going along, looking for really good options and the best way to strategize … that we hooked up with Hollie Hardy, and Hollie said, ‘A crawl is exactly what this part of Oakland has needed.’ “
With the help of some volunteers, but mostly of their own efforts, Thomas, Church, Alaoui, Cronin, Corman-Roberts, Hardy and SB Stokes have engineered a major festival the past two years. The third Beast Crawl has a schedule that’s bigger and bolder than ever, with more than 150 authors reading in 30 events throughout 30 different venues.
“Because of the unique economic circumstances that are taking place in the Bay Area right now, the East Bay’s a lot friendlier to artists in general,” Corman-Roberts said of the diverse festival, which this year includes performance-heavy shows such as the Berkeley Poetry Slam and Tourettes Without Regrets as well as umbrella organizations such as Poetry Flash and Kundiman West.
“You see things like poetry gain a lot of cultural cachet when times are feeling a little bit harder. And that can be as much spiritual as it is economic, too. Because of course you saw a huge surge of the cachet of poetry in the ’60s. Those weren’t hard economic times, but the country was in kind of a spiritual crisis then. But you can trace it back to the Great Depression of the ’30s, and poetry had a lot of cachet at that time. It comes in cycles. … Someday it will again be uncool to be a poet,” he laughs. “Just hopefully not anytime soon.”
One of this year’s new features is an open mike in each of the three phases. They’ll be at various locations and hosted by different people in each of the three legs.
“We borrowed from our predecessors across the bay, Lit Crawl,” Corman-Roberts said. “We think it was very brilliant of them to do an open mike for each phase. They show us a lot. They show us a lot about how it is to run a really big crawl. And they do so much right.
“The open mike was one of those things that was really inspiring to us. … It makes it more inclusive, and it’s just a no-brainer, because that’s what the spirit of all these festivals is supposed to be, I think – to be a really inclusive gathering of so much of the local talent.”
IF YOU GO
Beast Crawl: 5 p.m. Saturday. Free. Various locations, Uptown Oakland. (415) 706-9128. (Afterparties start at 9 p.m. at both Telegraph, 2318 Telegraph Ave., and the Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph Ave.)
Photo by Raheleh Zomorodinia