THE BASEMENT SERIES: Creating Community for Emerging Writers

THE BASEMENT SERIES: Creating Community for Emerging Writers

What started three years ago as an annual four-day juried writers’ retreat at Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, called Lit Camp, has become a nonprofit that presents bimonthly readings and monthly writing meet-ups. Founder Janis Cooke Newman says that while the mission was always “to help Bay Area writers get their books out into the world,” another goal has become creating community for emerging writers.

“It’s easy for us who are published to find each other, and our community, because we see each other at festivals and conferences, and we meet each other through our publishers,” Newman said by phone. “But when you’re an emerging writer and you’re not well-published, it’s hard to find each other. This is a way for people to start to find each other.

“And I think that emerging writers need a lot of that — they need the write-ups, they need the literary series so that they can start to form their community, so as they publish they will have the people to talk to, to get advice from, to introduce them to agents, to publicists to blurb their books. You need that writers’ community.”

The reading series was born just over a year ago when Newman, author of A Master Plan for Rescue, Mary and The Russian Word for Snow, had the idea to provide a showcase for writers who applied to Lit Camp but didn’t get in. Since the retreat is relatively small, with room for only 40 people, many strong submissions aren’t accepted, and because it costs about $1,000 to attend, there are plenty of writers who might be selected who aren’t able to go.

“We realized we needed to do scholarships for Lit Camp,” Newman said, explaining that half the proceeds from each show go toward Lit Camp scholarships, and half is donated to Scholar Match. They were able to raise two full scholarships for last year’s retreat and are hoping to raise four this year. Submissions for Lit Camp, which takes place in May, open on Friday, Oct. 2.

Developed in partnership with Sports Basement’s Tom Phillips, the Basement Series pairs two published writers, who together select five emerging writers from a pile of submissions. “That way it’s really an honor for the people who are reading,” Newman said. “They know they’ve been chosen by the published authors to read with them.” This month’s show, themed “High School Confidential,” features Newman and Joshua Mohr, who both had books released on July 14.

The Basement Series includes draft beer, courtesy of Fort Point Beer Co., and food donated by Sports Basement.


The Basement Series: High School Confidential: 7 p.m. Friday, $5-$10, Sports Basement, 1590 Bryant St. (415) 575-3000.

Other book events this weekend

The Poetry Center presents New York-based poet Katy Bohinc (“Dear Alain”) and local Paul Ebenkamp (“The Louder the Room the Darker the Screen”) (4:30 p.m. Thursday, SFSU, 1600 Holloway Ave. Free).

CCA Master Writer in Residence Marlon James, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist “A Brief History of Seven Killings” and two-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award, reads from his work (4:30 p.m. Friday, Writers’ Studio, 195 De Haro St. Free).

Two dozen-plus Bay Area poets read from and celebrate the late Michael Gizzi’s newly released “Collected Poems” (7 p.m. Friday, the Green Arcade, 1680 Market St., Free).

Kearny Street Workshop’s annual multiday, multidisciplinary arts festival APAture this year features Siamak Vossoughi during its literary night, which also showcases a stout list of talented emerging writers (Sunday, 7 p.m., ARC Studios & Gallery, 1246 Folsom St., $5).

Bazaar Writers Salon returns with Tiffany Higgins and Stegner Fellows Mark Labowskie and Casey Thayer (Sunday, 6 p.m., Bazaar Cafe, 5927 California St., free).

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Image by Ian Tuttle