Sexy Litquake ‘Password’ to Prohibition

San Francisco Chronicle  –  by Louis Pitzman

Published 05:53 p.m., Wednesday, July 18, 2012

  • Alia Volz participates in a Litquake event called "PASSWORD: Litquake’s Literary Speakeasy," in which Bay Area authors dress up as, and read from, Prohibition-era writers. Volz charakter is Louise Brooks. San Francisco, Cal. on Monday, July 16, 2012. Photo: Sonja Och, The Chronicle / SF
    Alia Volz participates in a Litquake event called “PASSWORD: Litquake’s Literary Speakeasy,” in which Bay Area authors dress up as, and read from, Prohibition-era writers. Volz charakter is Louise Brooks. San Francisco, Cal. on Monday, July 16, 2012. Photo: Sonja Och, The Chronicle / SF

Not all literary events are low-key, dignified affairs – especially not in San Francisco.

As Litquake brings out its slew of notable writers and the readers who love them, one event is looking to transport attendees back to a wild party in the 1920s.

At Thursday night’s “Password: A Literary Speakeasy,” a group of writers and other eccentrics will dress up and read as luminaries from the Prohibition era. The performers include Robin Ekiss as Tallulah Bankhead,Joshua Mohr as Sinclair Lewis and Alia Volz as silent film star Louise Brooks, taking on emcee duties for the night.

“The San Francisco literary culture today is vibrant and interactive and inspiring – and it’s sexy,” Volz says. “What could be sexier than Prohibition? I feel like nothing is more exciting than what’s underground.”

While San Francisco has a long history as a literary city, Volz says Litquake has revitalized the community. Since its inception in 1999, the annual event has become the largest literary festival on the West Coast.

“(Literature) is getting to a point where it’s become glamorous,” Volz says. “I think they’ve made life glamorous again for San Francisco writers and bookworms, so that we don’t have to hide in basements and home offices anymore.”

“Password” will be an especially glamorous event, with a jazz pianist and singer, and an artist sketching New Yorker-style caricatures. For her part, Volz is trying to channel some of Brooks’ unique persona.

“It’s ironic that Litquake has approached me to perform as a silent film actress,” she jokes, “because I have such a big mouth.”

But in reality, Brooks was equally outspoken, as Volz explains.

Brooks “didn’t kowtow to anybody, much to the detriment of her career,” she continues. “I think she was a true feminist in the sense that she was a completely self-identified woman. She played entirely by her own rules, so I have a tremendous amount of respect for that.”

And while this is a Prohibition-era event, the alcohol will be free-flowing as it once was in so many underground speakeasies. On tap: San Francisco’s own Prohibition Ale, of course.

“Password” is a party for the indoor kids who aren’t afraid to let loose once in a while. It may not actually take you back to the Roaring Twenties, but it does promise a rich, stimulating atmosphere of like-minded literature enthusiasts.

“Writing is naturally such a solitary act,” Volz notes. “For us to have an environment where writers and other intellectuals can go into public, out of the basement, and meet other people of similar interests, and seek inspiration and relate as part of a community, is a vital and precious thing.”

8 p.m. Thursday (July 19). $15-$18. Public Works, 161 Erie St., S.F. www.litquake.org.

Louis Peitzman is a freelance writer. E-mail: 96hours@sfchronicle.com Twitter:@LouisPeitzman

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