The Litography Project: Mapping writers, literary history of S.F.

The Litography Project: Mapping writers, literary history of S.F.

Back in March, KALW reporter and producer Ninna Gaensler-Debs set out to combine three of her passions — radio, literature and the Bay Area, where she was born and raised — into a multimedia storytelling map of the local landscape. With a small team and a Kickstarter campaign, she raised $23,000 to seed the beginnings of the Litography Project, which makes its debut into literary society Thursday with a party at the Booksmith.

The scope of the project is ambitious and intentionally open-ended throughout the first big stage of development.

“We’re trying to start with a really big aperture because I want to be open to all sorts of ideas that I didn’t even have, and then if something doesn’t work we won’t do that again,” Gaensler-Debs said recently at an Inner Richmond cafe. “But I want to see what it is.”

The Litography Project is accepting pitches for writing, radio, photography and illustration — all paid. So far, some examples include a piece devoted to Adolph Sutro’s early letters about San Francisco and a walking tour of the Mission with San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía, who might read site-specific poetry as he discusses the changes of the neighborhood throughout the years.

“I want to use this event as a way for people to get a better idea of what it looks like, of what we’re hoping to build and why it’s important that it’s going to be this living thing, and evolving, and how all the different parts of it are going to fit together,” Gaensler-Debs said.

“I kind of hope that it’s a sort of ‘all roads lead to Rome,’ where everyone finds a thing that maybe they didn’t already love beforehand, because that’s what I feel is so wonderful about radio, literature and the city: They lead me to things that I feel like I didn’t know I was missing.”

As the site,, is populated with stories and as connections form, people will be able to explore the area through first-person accounts, sorted by topic, location, author and media. Anything not easily mapped will go on the blog, Uncharted, which will also include (paid) regular features.

KALW, the project’s official media partner, is airing some of the stories and has started to run a short segment called “The Book Report,” which is produced by Gaensler-Debs and consists of a two-minute conversation with local authors about one of their favorite books. This is unpaid, but open to any locals who identify as a writer. In fact, the project is building a database of Bay Area authors and even illustrating every last one.

“Part of the thing that’s really important to me is that this is a space, in the stories on the map, on the blog and on the calendar — all parts of it — it’s an equalized playing field where you see the Daniel Handlers and Isabel Allendes and Dave Eggerses and the people who have self-published their first chapbook,” Gaensler-Debs said. “Being able to access everyone on kind of the same plane — I like that idea, that everything lives together in that way.”

The party will feature music by DJ Wam Bam Ashleyanne, a raffle, madlibs and beta images of the site. Tickets include drinks, with a literary cocktail punch made specifically for the event by one of Outerlands’ mixologists, and the staff will be on hand to answer any questions, discuss the pitching process and to hear any ideas regarding the project.


The Litography Project: 7-9 p.m. Thursday. $10-$25. The Booksmith, 1644 Haight St., S.F. (415) 863-8688.

This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.