An unusually rich literary event occurred at the San Francisco Public Library on June 9, 2009. Hostess Michelle Tea pulled together a program of superstar writers for the 6th anniversary of her Radar Reading Series that drew a full room at the library’s modernistic Koret Auditorium. Shawn Stewart Ruff, with a must-read first novel, spoken word performer Raquel Gutierez, club kid turned literary sensation James St. James, and legendary lesbian author and activist Sarah Schulman had the audience hanging on every word. Each author read, then hostess Michelle Tea bribed the notoriously reticent guests with gourmet cupcakes to ask questions.
All of the authors traveled great distances to be at the library. Gutierez came in from East Los Angeles, and Ruff, St. James, and Schulman visited from New York City.
Michelle Tea introduced the readers, saying that they would blow the audience’s mind. New novelist Shawn Stewart Ruff pulled the listeners into a graphic scene from a boy’s life when a man described as a “player” pulled up to his mother’s home in a Thunderbird and invaded a bathroom while the boy was the bathtub.
Raquel Gutierez created an intense atmosphere with her account of a Southern California Latino neighborhood being gentrified, the Night Stalker on the loose, and the pungent toxic mist of state-ordered insecticide in the air.
James St. James related the multiple layers of process for his progression from writing the true-to-life, club kid, murder book “Disco Bloodbath,” that evolved into the book and popular film “Party Monster.” Macauley Culkin starred, and St. James said that his favorite moment came when he saw the young actor’s butt. That drew muffled nervous laughs.
Sarah Schulman’s large fan base was well-represented, and she did not disappoint them. It was a momentous event for Schulman, since it was the 25th anniversary of her first novel “After Delores” and also this year is her 50th birthday. She read from “After Delores” and it was an emotional vision of women trying to get closer to each other while trying to overlook their differences. Schulman is a novelist, historian, and playwright. She has written 14 books, was a founder of the first Dyke March, and protested against AIDS, anti-abortion groups, and homophobic ballot measures across the U.S.
High points of the event came when James St. James said that “The goal is to do away with reality. Reality is for poor people and everyone else.” There was shock and delight and light applause. And Sarah Schulman said that the evident collapse of the traditional publishing industry will make way for young and alternative authors to more easily reach readers. That also was appreciated with light applause and some sighs.
Shawn Stewart’s novel, “Finlater” was promoted by MC Michelle Tea, and Raquel Gutierez mentioned her performance group Butchalis de Panotchitlan and their future projects. James St. James heard gasps when he said that a publisher wants him to write a children’s book. Sarah Schulman mentioned that she is trying to have her plays that feature lesbian heroines produced in uptown New York City, her controversial new novel about teenage sexuality “The Child” is selling well, and that she is working on a book about how 81,000 deaths from AIDS accelerated NYC gentrification. And she worked on the impressive film “ACT UP Oral History Project Series”, which is being screened at the 2009 San Francisco Int’l LGBT Film Festival. It is a remarkable achievement that should be emulated in other cities that had large active groups of AIDS activists.
The evening ended with the literary stars and their fans on the sidewalk outside the library inhaling ozone from a surprise rainstorm, squeezed together for last lingering interactions.