Liza Monroy reads an excerpt from her book “The Distractions.”

Like literary moths drawn to the warmth of a bookstore, members of Santa Cruz’s writing community gathered at Bookshop Santa Cruz to share the experience of the town’s inaugural “Litquake” on Oct. 15. 

“Litquake” is a California-based writing festival, connecting authors of all backgrounds to the rich aspects of literature. Founded in 1999 by writers in San Francisco, this annual, 10-day event offers a variety of panels, workshops and venues for literature enthusiasts. 

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the festival expanded to 20 U.S. cities, including Santa Cruz. Emceed by married Santa Cruz authors Amy Ettinger and Dan White, the event’s theme was “Funny and Peculiar: Santa Cruz Writers on Keeping it Weird.”

[Litquake] is special because it’s not meant to promote one book or one writer, but it’s really about the community.”
Liza Monroy
UC Santa Cruz lecturer, author and Litquake panelist.

“[‘Litquake’] is special because it’s not meant to promote one book or one writer, but it’s really about the community,” said Liza Monroy, UC Santa Cruz lecturer, author and “Litquake” panelist. “It’s great that ‘Litquake’ has expanded its reach to here because it’s such a cool festival, and I hope that it’s going to continue to grow here and that it will have different pop-up events all around town.”

A crowd of about 50 attendees filled up a large portion of Bookshop Santa Cruz to listen to written stories and excerpts from five distinguished local authors — Micah Perks, Peggy Townsend, Elizabeth McKenzie, Wallace Baine and Monroy.

Keeping in line with the theme, the five writers shared creative, clever and comical writings. The crowd cackled at stories like Townsend’s tale of a humorous bison encounter and Baine’s narrative of a man being swept into a cultural revolution in Santa Cruz after a voice in his head unearthed the man’s longtime loathing for the Grateful Dead.

“I was really happy with how many people were at the event, they pretty much filled the bookstore,” White said. “It was a really good sign that there was interest in this event. […] I felt that people were really enthusiastic and asked really good  questions.”

Unlike the principal “Litquake” event in San Francisco, Santa Cruz’s “Litquake” was much more intimate, reflecting the close community of writers in Santa Cruz. The featured authors have lived in Santa Cruz for several years and have close ties to the  city.

While Santa Cruz’s literary scene attracts less attention than larger cities, the locals recognize the city’s thriving and tight-knit writing community.

“We have some amazing writers in this town, like Karen Joyce Fowler, Jonathan Franzen and George Saunders,” said local author and “Litquake” co-host Amy Ettinger. “Local people know there are great writers here, and that there’s a great community of writers here. There’s not just two or three big-name writers in Santa Cruz, but dozens and dozens of writers who are doing really good work every day.”

Wallace Baine, like all of the writers at “Litquake,” has had work published in newspapers. Most of the writers are award winners in either journalism or literature.

The attendees, many of whom are local writers, welcomed one another with handshakes, hugs and shoulder pats and chatted among themselves about their work. The panelists engaged with each other during breaks with as much enthusiasm as they displayed while reading their stories. 

“Reading and writing is our quickest route to empathy and expanding empathy throughout society, and I’m all for that,” said Jessica Irish, a Bookshop Santa Cruz employee. “I want as many people as are interested to read books and write books and to really understand  the  human  experience.”

The diverse writing community in Santa Cruz draws many writers to the city and keeps them around, contributing to the growing literary scene.

The night ended with a short Q&A session, book signings and author meet-and-greets before the audience, panelists and hosts buzzed out of the bookstore. The hosts and writers were content with Santa Cruz’s inaugural “Litquake.”

While it’s unknown whether or not “Litquake” will return to shake up Santa Cruz’s literary community in the future, the event’s success is a testament to the city’s promising writing scene.

“Santa Cruz has a character,” Ettinger said, “and while it’s changed over the years, I definitely still think of it as a really wonderful, wacky, weird, unique place, and the stories that were shared at ‘Litquake’ showcase that.”