New Jewish writing on stage at Lit Crawl

If you’ve never been to Lit Crawl — the free, one-night literary extravaganza featuring three hours of readings at bars, bookstores, a sex shop and even a bowling alley — maybe this will persuade you to go this year: For the first time, there’s a Jewish salon, too.

“Nu? Words! New Jewish Writing from J” makes its debut at the annual San Francisco event on Oct. 19. Six Bay Area writers of fiction and poetry will read from their works; J. editor Sue Fishkoff will serve as moderator.

The session takes place from 6 to 7 p.m. at Four Barrel Coffee, 375 Valencia St. It is one of 79 widely diverse readings that make up Lit Crawl, which runs from 6 to 9:30 p.m. at myriad venues across more than a dozen blocks in the Mission District.

Lit Crawl is the culmination of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival, which runs from Friday, Oct. 11 to Oct. 19.

“Nu? Words!” is a perfect fit for Lit Crawl, says Ilana DeBare, who will read a Jewish-themed short story she has written. DeBare is a J. board member and the prose editor of the paper’s monthly Lit section, which features original fiction and poetry by Northern California Jewish writers. The section also includes a review of new and noteworthy books at the Jewish Community Library penned by the library’s director, Howard Freedman, and a rundown of new books by local Jewish authors.

“We have a really vibrant, creative Jewish community here in the Bay Area and a large number of really good Jewish writers, and this is a great way to showcase that,” says DeBare, explaining the genesis of J.’s Lit section, which was launched just over a year ago. “People are delighted to have another place to show their work locally.”

Between the constant clatter of social media, the Web and print sources, “it’s a big struggle to get their work known through the noise,” says DeBare, who is writing what she calls her “fourth first novel” and is the author of “Where Girls Come First: The Rise, Fall and Surprising Revival of Girls’ Schools” (2004).

J.’s Lit section also serves readers, of course. “The Bay Area Jewish community tends to be very well educated, very interested in culture,” but not everyone belongs to a synagogue or other communal institution, DeBare points out. “So reading books with Jewish themes is one of the ways they connect to their Judaism.”

J.’s poetry editor, Joan Gelfand, will read from her book of poems, “A Dreamer’s Guide to Cities and Streams” (2009), as well as some of her newer work. Her poetry, fiction and reviews have been published in national and international anthologies. A veteran presenter at past Lit Crawls, Gelfand is a huge fan. “It’s a riot,” she says.

Gelfand says she has no trouble finding Jewish-themed poems for J.’s Lit section. “Maybe it’s because poetry is something you can do and still have a straight job,” she quips — as opposed to the time-consuming process of writing a book.

Poets presenting at J.’s Lit Crawl event somehow manage to do it all, however. Psychotherapist David Shaddock, for instance, has a private practice in Oakland specializing in couples’ therapy and is also a prolific writer. In addition to publishing professional texts on relationships, he is an award-winning poet and the author of “In This Place Where Something’s Missing Lives” and “Dreams Are Another Set of Muscles.”

Jannie Dresser, whose poem “Cloud by Day, Flame at Night” was featured in the Lit section in January, also will read at “Nu? Words!” Dresser co-founded and publishes the Bay Area Poets Seasonal Review and writes a regular column about the San Francisco poetry scene at

Novelist Samuel Sattin of Oakland, whose debut novel “League of Somebodies” was released in April (an excerpt was featured in J. last year), will read from his prose work. Sattin, a contributing editor at the literary website The Weeklings, has been cited in the New Yorker; his work has appeared in Salon, Heeb magazine and elsewhere.

Local short-story author and essayist Audrey Ferber also will join the group. Her creative writing has appeared in literary journals, anthologies and online, and her book reviews run in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News.

“It will be fun to get us all together loud and live and with an audience,” DeBare says. “It adds a completely different and exciting dimension to our work. … It lets people connect.”

“Nu? Words! New Jewish

Writing from J” at Lit Crawl, 6 to 7 p.m. at Four Barrel Coffee, 375 Valencia St., S.F. All poetry and fiction featured in J.’s monthly Lit section is archived at

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.