By Julie Zigoris
Lit Night has returned to Ocean Ale House, where once a month writers from City College, San Francisco State University, and the community gather to read their latest works.
The event is organized by theme, with topics such as family, fear, mirth, and immigration taking center stage. Ritual is the subject for the Nov. 15 gathering.
English Department Chair Michelle Simotas started Lit Night three years ago with a graduate student from San Francisco State University. “We both wanted to create a community space in our neighborhood where writers could share their work, connect with other writers, and build community,” Simotas said.
Tehmina Khan, a faculty member in City College’s creative writing program, has attended many of the events and published work in its first anthology. “It’s a way of gathering and sharing stories and creating space for people to share work in a place that’s friendly and supportive,” Khan said. “It’s a fun community, where you can hear a range of voices.”
The venue, Ocean Ale House at 1314 Ocean Ave, is an integral part of Lit Night. Beloved pub owner Miles Escobedo was born and raised in Ingleside and bought the business with his best friend. The former café soon became a local hangout for different departments throughout City College, according to Escobedo.
Escobedo said Lit Night began with a handful of students reading their work out loud but soon expanded to include people from throughout the community. “It’s something we never had,” Escobedo said, “and it creates a different dynamic of getting to know someone, on a different level with a different kind of connection.”
Given that the Ocean Ale House is not typically open on Monday nights, the monthly Lit Night feels like a bit of a “speakeasy,” according to Escobedo. While they don’t offer their full menu, they always manage to have small bites and snacks available.
Escobedo himself has performed at Lit Night several times — and so have his mom and dad, who live in the neighborhood.
Khan recalled fondly the night when Miles’ dad performed with Scooter, a local musician. The crowd is always a nice mix of students, faculty, and community members, according to Khan.
“The community is from all walks of life, diverse in every way. The work is often raw and fresh, and we love that,” Simotas said.
The space is inviting for performance: a low raised platform covered with a rug squats to the left of the entrance, and a floor-to-ceiling mural of ocean water covers the right-hand wall. The curling waves are so full of motion they seem to pull you along for the ride. A hung surfboard that serves as a beer menu completes the ocean-themed decor.
“Every community needs an artistic and creative outlet,” said Alex Mullaney, who studied creative writing at City College and restored the college’s literary journal Forum in 2008. Mullaney is now the editor of the Ingleside Light, which supports the event with free advertising. “Ingleside has talent,” Mullaney said.
Lit Night even continued throughout the pandemic, with participants temporarily gathering on Zoom to share their stories and support the community. “There was a real need for some sort of connection during COVID,” Khan said. Simotas agreed: “At this time of uncertainty Lit Night was able to provide a stable community that is always supportive.”
Lit Night also produces a bi-annual anthology, and volume two is open for submissions now on their website. City College students Joëlle Chartier, Tu Lam, and Stephanie Johnson had work in the first volume. The volume also included writing by City College professors Tehmina Khan, Chante McCormick, and Athena Kayshap.
Simotas’ goal for Lit Night is to grow the literary community and give back “by providing a welcoming space where they will be valued and celebrated at whatever stage of their writing journey they are on.”
Lit Night is a partnership between City College’s Creative Writing Program, the Ingleside Light, SFSU MFA Program, and Ocean Ale House owner Miles Escobedo. The next Lit Night will take place on Monday, Nov. 15, from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. You can email Michelle Simotas (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be added to the scheduled readers list.