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Fall Literary Season Kicks Off in California

A dispatch from correspondent Cynthia Shannon

The San Francisco Writer’s Grotto held their annual open house earlier this month, unofficially kicking off the fall literary season in California (Litquake, the beloved SF literary festival that has just started gaining traction in New York, launches today). Readings were short and sweet, emceed by former SF Chronicle Book Editor Oscar Villalon, featuring original Grotto founder Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us, new member Justine Sharrock, author of Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things, and the best-dressed man in the room, James Nestor, author of Get High Now.

The Grotto is a writer’s co-op, unique to San Francisco in that it gives freelance writers the impression of having a day job. Started 16 years ago by Po Bronson, Ethan Watters, and Ethan Canin, it has grown to about 30 writers in residence, meaning everyone contributes their share of rent for use of “office-like personal space” in order to feel less lonely as a writer. Members gain valuable feedback from a prestigious (and published) community that hosts workshops and networking events to help writers hone in on their craft.

“It ritualizes the feeling of being a freelancer,” says author Julia Scheeres, author of Jesusland and the upcoming Jonestown (Free Press). One wall in the shared community space painted in dark orange displays the signatures of visiting writers (pictured), most notably Gay Talese. “Over 1000 people have come through the Grotto,” explains Watters, who read his amusing piece of advice for authors appearing on The Daily Show. “It’s a place they can learn about the industry, make connections, and in some cases, friends.”

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