Literary Boroughs #51: Sacramento, CA

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the fifty-first post on Sacramento, California, by Tim Kahl. —Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor


Sacramento is the “land of big water” as the Miwok referred to it, but it is most well known as The Capital City and the site where the Gold Rush madness began. It is the seat of state government of California. It is the birthplace of  Tower Records and Cake. It is affectionately known as the “River City” (a distinction it shares with Grand Junction, CO; Mason City, IA; Decatur City, AL, Louisville, KY; etc.), the “City of Trees” (a distinction it shares with Paris and Amsterdam), the “Big Tomato” and the “Camellia City.” It was named by the Civil Rights Project of Harvard University as the most racially/ethnically integrated major city in America. Recently it was named the Farm-to-Fork Capital of America for its abundance of locally-grown produce. Other local luminaries include: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, actor Sam Elliott, actress Adrienne Barbeau, businessman Charles Schwab, musician Jackie Greene, Lee Greenwood and jazz legend Jimmy Smith.

Sacramento’s literary scene puts as much emphasis on how words enter public space as part of the oral tradition as it does on words impressed onto the printed page.

Resident writers:

Joan Didion was born and grew up in Sacramento, the young Brother Antoninus (William Everson), Raymond Carver, Richard Rodriguez, Dennis Schmitz, Mary Mackey, William T. Vollmann, Donald Sidney-Fryer (of the West Coast Romantics), Cornel West, Joshua McKinney, Doug Rice, Pablo Neruda translator William O’ Daly, mystery writers Karen Kijewski and Brenda Novak, Susan Kelly-Dewitt, Christian Kiefer, Valerie Fioravanti, Danny Romero, Francisco X. Alarcon, Jeff Knorr, Julia Connor, José Montoya, Douglas Blazek, Quinton Duval, Eugene Redmond, Terry Moore, Lawrence Dinkins (NSAA), Indigo Moor, and Pete Dexter.

Literary references:

Raymond Carver poems that are set in Sacramento are “The Man Outside,” “Our First House in Sacramento,” “Bankruptcy” and “A Summer in Sacramento.” Among his stories, “A Small, Good Thing” was written about incidents that happened in Sacramento, like when his daughter Christi was hit by a car. Also, “Night School,” “The Student’s Wife” and “Bicycles, Muscles, Cigarettes,” were written about experiences Carver had in Sacramento. Joan Didion’s first novel Run River was set entirely in Sacramento. Gold Rush-era chanty “Sacramento” covered by Burl Ives.

Where to learn:

The MA Program in Creative Writing at California State University, Sacramento emphasizes fiction and poetry with an array of literature and workshop-oriented classes.

The Los Rios Community College District (comprised of American River College, Sacramento City College, Cosumnes River College, and Folsom Lake College) offers introductory creative writing courses as well as specialized classes in fiction and poetry.

Other non-accredited sources include The Sacramento Poetry Center where a number of privately-run workshop series run that range from fiction classes (with periodic master classes from well-known visiting fiction writers) to poetry and creative non-fiction.

The Sacramento Poetry Center also organizes a Literary Lectures series where many local professors will present material on a specific literary topic.

There are also Amherst Writers and Artistsmethod creative writing workshops that focus on the short story and poetry.

Where to find reading material:

Sacramento is home to many used bookstores that provide opportunities to peruse and connect. Primary among them is The Book Collector, which features a large poetry and fiction section as well as many other interesting tidbits. It is also home to one of the largest collections of local poetry chapbooks and vintage beat era and mimeograph revolution writings. Beers Booksopen since 1936 is also a repository for new and used volumes. Time Tested Books is a Sacramento establishment that even sports its own currency (via the store-issued gift certificates). Poetry and fiction readings are occasionally held here as well. Richard L. Fine focuses on scholarly and fine arts books. Dimple Books, located just outside of midtown proper in the Arden-Arcade area, is home to a wide variety of used offerings with music-oriented books being one of their specialties. Underground Books, part of the 40 Acres and a Mule complex, is owned and run by mayor Kevin Johnson’s mother and is partial to material about people of color.

The Avid Reader is a bookstore whose home base is in Davis but also provides a store in Sacramento where many local authors outside of the poetry and fiction communities preview their offerings.

Never forget the bounty of terrific thrift stores in and around Sacramento like Thrift Town and the midtown boutique Goodwill where books can be had for cheap.

Where to get published:


Though Sacramento puts much more emphasis on places to perform rather than places to publish (see Events/Festivals below for a comprehensive listing), the main places to publish fiction and poetry in the area are The Sacramento Poetry Center’s Tule Review, and Poetry Now are publications that the center sponsors. Tule Review is a semi-annual publication that features primarily poetry. Poetry Now is a quarterly newsletter that features poems, reviews, interviews, and local literary news. It is made available to members and the city at large, and it appears online as a forum for poetry.

Farallon Review is the main fiction periodical in town. It focuses on literary fiction with a West-Coast flavor.

Susurrus, American River Review, and Cosumnes River Review are the student-guided literary magazines at Sacramento City College, American River College and Cosumnes River college, respectively. Calaveras Station is the student publication at CSUS.

Online opportunities for poets are Medusa’s Kitchen, a site where many local poets publish their recent efforts, and Convergence, an online journal of poetry and art. Clade Song is a journal featuring experimental works with an ecopoetics bent, including musical compositions for many of the published poems.

Sacramento Poetry Center Press is the publishing wing of the Sacramento Poetry Center. It publishes a book-length manuscript for its annual manuscript contest. It has also published several anthologies and chapbooks of local poets’ work. R.L Crow Publications is a press that publishes primarily poetry. Roan Press publishes a smattering of poetry, fiction and literary essays.

Where to write:

The best place to write is probably the Central Public Library downtown on 828 I Street, which is large and full of wonderful characters. It also offers the Sacramento Room, a place where rare books, manuscripts and archival collections reside.

Other hot spots include the Naked Lounge and Old Soul Co. at both its midtown and Oak Park locations.

Capitol Garage is a place to see and be seen in Sacramento where many literati and others frequent. Also a restaurant, this site is generally moving at all times of the day.

Coffee Garden is a space with an eclectic garden in the back as well as a secret study/conference room.

Think House is a writers and artists collective where members of the creative class can come together to collaborate and inspire.


The Sacramento Poetry Center is one of two venues that hosts weekly readings by local and/or visiting writers, ranging from the academic to the folksy to the experimental. The Sacramento Poetry Center has been a local literary resource since 1979. It has an open mic almost every week, and also hosts a monthly SLAM series entitled The UP.

Luna’s Juice Bar & Cafe is the other weekly reading venue, hosted by a group of revolving hosts. It has been an ongoing venue for nearly 15 years and features a very lively open mic session every week with many contributors.

Stories on Stage is a monthly series that pairs short stories with local actors who read/perform the stories before a live audience.

Shine Cafe dubs itself as “Poetry with Legs” and includes an open mic session.

The Show with Terry Moore is an event that invites poets and other artists to the open mic, and also provides features. The Show was born 12 years ago and is one of the longest running venues in Sacramento. This event moves around town instead of only offering one location, and does not have a consistent date. Currently its home base is Sekou’s BBQ. All ages are welcome.

Mahogany Poetry occurs every Wednesday and features poetry and spoken word performances.

Festival for the Arts at California State University, Sacramento is the festival that places Dance, Fine Arts, Theater, Music, Film and the Literary Arts together, for a week long string of performances and exhibitions on the CSUS campus.

American River College Summer Words is the annual mid-summer Creative Writing Colloquium of lectures, workshops and readings.

The Sacramento Poetry Center sponsors its Annual Spring Writers Conference in mid-April that includes workshops/lectures and readings and allows for considerable one-on-one contact with presenters.

Confluence, organized by The Sacramento Poetry Center, is the annual tour of colleges, community colleges and libraries by local and visiting poets.

The Cosumnes River College Our Life Stories Writers’ Conference provides an opportunity for memoir writers to explore their work.

916 INK is an organization that promotes literacy in youth by providing periodic creative writing workshops in libraries, and also publishes books of poems that children have written while attending their program.

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW books, 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup, and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center. He currently houses his father’s literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann’s book of photos of Chile, 1932.


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