Locals and outsiders alike understand San Francisco and the Bay Area have been cultural centers for decades. Whether it’s music, theater, politics or literature, our cities have been driving change and artistic expression for years — more than a century in some cases.
In the world of literature, the Bay Area offers events like the annual Bay Area Book Festival and Litquake Festival, independent bookstores and publishers like McSweeney’s and City Lights, as well as a huge population of journalists, cartoonists, writers and poets. In summary, there’s no shortage of words. We gathered a few must-reads from local authors for you to peruse. How many of these will you add to your bookshelf?
Over the years, Armistead Maupin has written 12 books, some of which have been adapted into films. His most popular story, Tales of the City, has been adapted into a musical which premiered at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater in June 2011. Originally born in Washington DC, Maupin was raised in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1971, he was assigned to the San Francisco bureau of the Associated Press and has lived in the city ever since. To get started on his books, we recommend Tales of the City, the first of six comedic novels about the residents of the mythic apartment house at 28 Barbary Lane.
Calder G. Lorenz debuted his first novel One Way Down (Or Another) from Civil Coping Mechanisms in February 2017. The story follows a young man living in San Francisco on a journey to self-destruction and has been garnering accolades since it first graced our bookshelves. After living in variou cities in the US and Canada, Lorenz earned an MFA from the University of San Francisco and now works in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District at St. Anthony’s Dining Room.
You may know Daniel Handler by another name: Lemony Snicket. Outside of his famous series, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Handler has published six novels and a play, Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit, which will be produced by Berkeley Repertory Theatre in fall 2017. Born and raised in San Francisco, Daniel lives in the city today with his wife and son.
Dave Eggers is one of the most renowned contemporary authors in the U.S. right now. That influence is felt here in San Francisco more than anywhere else. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house in SF that produces books, a quarterly journal and a monthly magazine. He is also co-founder of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit with a pirate supply shop featured on our blog post 14 of the Bay Area’s Quirkiest Museums. His novels include The Circle, A Hologram for the King, Heroes of the Frontier and a widely popular memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
Photos courtesy of Donia Bijan and Zach Heffner
Donia Bijan dabbles in two of our favorite things here in the Bay Area — cooking and literature. After graduating from UC Berkeley, she attended the Cordon Bleu and ran her own restaurant, L’Amie Donia, for ten years. Her memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie, was published in 2011 followed by her debut novel, The Last Days of Café Leila, in April 2017. For book-lovers and local foodies, we suggest reading both!
Image courtesy of Isabel Allende, Lori Barra and Sarah Hillesheim
Over the years, Chilean author Isabel Allende has become a world-renowned feminist force in the literary world. After writing her bestselling first novel, The House of the Spirits, and living an exciting life in South America, she wrote more than 20 other books and eventually settled in San Rafael in 1987, becoming a US citizen in 1993. Learn more about her foundation and her books to support a local literary icon!
Though not a native, Kerouac has been happily adopted by San Francisco. He was originally born in Lowell, Massachusetts, lived in New York City and famously traveled the country through the 1940s, finding a temporary home in SF. Here, he coined the term “Beat Generation” with his other beat authors and peers Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady. Eventually, he settled in Florida, but his time spent in the city left deep cultural and political influences throughout the region. In San Francisco’s Beat Museum, you can learn more about Jack Kerouac and his fellow Beat peers.
No matter where you travel in the Bay Area, you’ll hear legends and histories of Jack London. Born in poverty in Oakland in 1876, he eventually traveled the world gathering inspiration for his most famous novels, Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf. Eventually, he settled down at his ranch in Sonoma where he lived out the rest of his life. As one of the most successful writers in America in the early 20th Century and a historical powerhouse, we recommend reading any of his novels and short stories you can get your hands on!
For more local history, stop by Jack London Square in Oakland, Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma County and Jack London Village in Glen Ellen.
One of San Francisco’s most important literary influencers, author and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is the co-founder of the city’s favorite independent bookstore, City Lights — a meeting place for writers, artists and intellectuals for over half a century. In fact, his publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems in 1956 led to his arrest on obscenity charges, and the trial that followed drew national attention to the San Francisco Renaissance and Beat movement writers.
Ferlinghetti’s own works include poetry, translation, fiction, theater, art criticism, film narration and essays. Often reflecting on politics and social issues, his work challenged the widely accepted definition of art and the artist’s role in the world. You can find his books and feel this impact at City Lights Bookstore across from the Beat Museum in Little Italy!
Photos courtesy of Meg Waite Clayton
New York Times and USA Today bestseller Meg Waite Clayton lived all over the country — Washington DC, Kansas City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Nashville and Baltimore — before she eventually settled in Palo Alto. Through the years, she’s written multiple books chronicling friendship, travel and classic female archetypes. Her book, The Wednesday Sisters, takes place in her new home in the Silicon Valley and, among other awards, has been named a Northern California Independent Bookstore Bestseller. You can find details about all her works on her website!
Michael Chabon published his first book, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, in 1988 when he was 25-years-old. Since then, he’s written varied styles and stories — all garnering awards and accolades across the world. His book Telegraph Avenue chronicles the lives of two Bay Area families in the year 2004 and has been described as the 21st century Middlemarch. Though he was born in Washington DC, he now lives in Berkeley with his wife, novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children. You can learn more about Ayelet, another favorite Bay Area author on her website here!
Locals in the Bay Area have known Paul Madonna for years. The award-winning artist and writer created the series All Over Coffee, which ran in the San Francisco Chronicle for twelve years, and has exhibited drawings and stories in Oakland Museum of California, the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum and an upcoming solo exhibition at the Legion of Honor. Check out all his books, drawings and projects on his website!
Zoe Ferraris’ debut novel, Finding Nouf, and her two follow-up novels, City of Veils and Kingdom of Strangers, have been international bestsellers and have been published in 45 countries. Inspired by her time spent living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, her books are filled with mystery and secrets. Today, she lives in San Francisco and is always working on new stories. Follow her on Facebook for updates!
What are you reading?
Share your favorite Bay Area authors in the comments below!