McSweeney's is throwing a 15th birthday party

McSweeney’s is throwing a 15th birthday party

When Dave Eggers started McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern in 1998, he was only publishing work rejected by other magazines. The literary journal has grown into what Fast Company magazine last year rated the world’s seventh most innovative media company “for proving the value of print publishing.”

“Empire” is a word commonly used to describe the publishing house due to its broad range of activities: In addition to the quarterly, now at Issue 45, McSweeney’s publishes about 30 books each year and monthly issues of the Believer magazine (now at No. 103), as well as the humorous literary site McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, updated daily.

But don’t forget its pioneering aesthetic: Each issue of the quarterly boasts a wholly unique design – one resembles a pile of junk mail, while another contains a short story printed on large playing cards – and the tone of much of the writing has prefigured, if not caused, an increasingly popular tendency toward attitudes steeped in whimsy and tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. The gumption has worked: Within the covers, however packaged, one can consistently find work by some of today’s best and brightest writers.

Recently on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Eggers said he “wanted the journal to work on all those different levels – to surprise and delight on an object level and a design level, but also when you get into the stories, you get phenomenal new writing.”

The almost counterintuitive combination of what he called “intimacy and … blustery salesmanship” hasn’t led to much, if any, profit, but as McSweeney’s celebrates its 15th year Saturday, it has set an inspiring and almost unparalleled example that you don’t have to make money to be influential.

The party will be at the Swedish American Hall, with unplugged sets by Sean Hayes, John Vanderslice and the Yellow Dress, as well as DJ appearances “by members of the McSweeney’s family” and a reading by Portland author Arthur Bradford. True to form, the invite recalls “that holiday party where Lemony Snicket wandered about dressed as the Pope for several hours,” so that sort of thing might be happening, too.

Tickets are tiered: $20 gets you into the party, but for $35 you also get a copy of the new 600-page “The Best of McSweeney’s.” Other tiers include a tote filled with books, the chance to have a star or a whale named after you, dinner at Mission Chinese with the McSweeney’s staff and a lifetime ticket to all McSweeney’s events, to name but a few.

Berkeley’s vital University Press Books celebrates its 40th year Friday with readings by some of the poets who have known the bookstore as a sort of second home: C.S. Giscombe, Robert Hass, Lyn Hejinian, Brenda Hillman and Geoffrey G. O’Brien. The artist Vita Wells will say a few words about her installation “Flights of Mind.” (7-9 p.m. $40. 2430 Bancroft Way, Berkeley.


McSweeney’s 15th Birthday Party8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets start at $20. Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., S.F. (415) 642-5609.

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo by Tina Fineberg