LitQuake’s Barbary Coast Award Tribute to the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley

Last Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at LitQuake's Barbary Coast Award honoring the Squaw Valley Community of Writers at Z Space in San Francisco. I have been a proud member of the Community of Writers for 15 wonderful years.

  Chris Upham speaks at LitQuake’s Barbary Coast Award Tribute - Photo by S. Smith Patrick

Chris Upham speaks at LitQuake’s Barbary Coast Award Tribute - Photo by S. Smith Patrick

Other writers included Heather Altfeld, Anita Amirrezvani, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Troy Jollimore, David Perlman, Elizabeth Rosner, Nayomi Munaweera, and Amy Tan.

  Speakers at LitQuake’s Barbary Coast Award Tribute to the Community of Writers

Speakers at LitQuake’s Barbary Coast Award Tribute to the Community of Writers

Emcee Matthew Zapruder wryly coordinated the writers and heralded the amazing musicians of Los Train Wreck - David Phillips, Sam Barry, Paul Olguin, Todd Swenson and Peter Tucker. If you haven’t heard their rock n roll, rhythm and bluesy, country music, I highly encourage you to come to El Rio in San Francisco their monthly jam every 2nd Tuesday and perform with them. Here’s Los Train Wrecks tuning up before the show:

  Los Train Wreck tunes up before the show

Los Train Wreck tunes up before the show

Memorable stories and poems and inspirations about the 30-odd Squaw Valley workshops were shared onstage to an audience of 150. Here are a couple of my snippets:

On how every workshop makes me feel—

“First, you’re in gorgeous Squaw Valley for a week, living with 150 other writers. Of course a little fear is bound to creep in – because once again, you have to declare yourself quite openly, that yes, you are a writer (at least for a week) on a team with a lineup that includes the best writers in the country, Amy Tan, Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, Alice Munro - writers who have won every prize under the sun – along with brilliant emerging young stars.”

  Squaw Valley in San Francisco, CA

Squaw Valley in San Francisco, CA

On how every Squaw Valley Founder have infused the idea of community into every workshop, social activity and conversation, even - and especially - when we need it the most—

“They know, from having nurtured and loved and cursed writers all their lives – that we poor buggers need a little love wherever we can get it – especially when we’re experiencing that sweet cruelty of keeping company with other writers, because all of us constantly measure ourselves - throwing our work and our lives up against that ghostly pantheon of brilliant dead writers - as well as the flesh and blood parade of the very talented people walking beside you across the ski lift parking lot.”

  Illustrious author Amy Tan

Illustrious author Amy Tan

Every summer at Squaw I wonder how we could possibly outdo ourselves next year, and each time we crack open the cynical and tortured hearts of writers, new and old, to discover new insights and inspirations.

Each writer who has ever attended Squaw Valley has never truly left, in that the ghosts of their memories continue to whisper suggestions and encouragement in our ears. 

After all, “the Community resembles that old 1950’s Broadway musical, Brigadoon, where every summer, the same spirits gather for a glorious week together once again in an isolated mountain valley, before disappearing back into the mists of time – until the next summer. Squaw Valley is a little like Brigadoon – time almost manages to stand still. Because during that magical week, no one ever really disappears … all of them seem to be out there, floating around the valley, goading the rest of us to write something that they can be proud of- or better yet, something that makes them laugh.”

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