Unleashing the Beast Crawl

Now in its second year, Oakland's largest literary festival is even bigger and broader than before.

After having spent the better part of two decades in the Bay Area spoken-word and poetry scene, Paul Corman Roberts is, perhaps unsurprisingly, given to simile: Over the course of a fifteen-minute conversation about Beast Crawl, which he helped found last year along with seven other like-minded local writers, he likened the literary event to an unruly teenager; a coming together of tribes; a science experiment “where you have all these super-charged particles and you’re cramming them in a very small space and letting them burn bright for a short amount of time and seeing what kind of chaos you can create.”

Beast Crawl is, of course, all of those things, but to speak more literally, at least for a moment: It’s somewhere between a literary-minded pub crawl and an unusually casual, extra-boozy reading series — a free-form, free-of-charge afternoon festival consisting of three hour-long sessions (plus a half-hour break between each one, as well as an afterparty), each of which offers a choice of nine to eleven different readings at venues scattered through Uptown Oakland.

“We wanted to get the energy of Art Murmur in a lit crawl,” Corman Roberts said, recalling the genesis of the event — which was modeled in part after San Francisco’s lit crawl and takes its name by reverse-engineering “East Bay” in pig latin — over cocktails with his writers’ group more than a year ago. At the time, organizers figured they’d be able to recuit a few writers and businesses to participate, but — as these things tend to do — “it just blew up”: The first-ever Beast Crawl ended up drawing more than 1,000 people to see 125 writers at 26 venues over the course of three and a half hours, and this year’s iteration, which happens Saturday, July 6, looks to be even bigger, with 140 writers, 31 readings, and 26 venues. The goal, according to Corman Roberts, is to foster the East Bay’s huge-and-growing literary community partially by highlighting the diversity of its membership: The event’s organizers enlisted various publications, presses, and organizations to act as curators of their own readings, and the result is about as varied as you can imagine. “We’ve got erotica, storytelling, experimental poetry, all at the same festival,” Corman Roberts said, to name but a few of the genres that’ll be respresented.

This year’s Beastcrawl features readings organized by folks from the radical parenting ‘zine Rad Dad, the long-running variety show Tourettes Without Regrets, and the R-rated real stories series Bawdy Storytelling. Over the course of the night, attendees will have the option of attending sessions focused on erotic spoken word, queer writers of color, “badass fiction,” and “the physicality of the book, its objectness, its beauty,” at venues as disparate as a sex shop, a dive bar, and an Ethiopian restaurant. “There’s a lot of activity,” he said. “It’s like an experiment …. But it’s the right time to try that kind of experiment.” 5 p.m., free. BeastCrawl.Weebly.com

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