Posted by: wordrunner | October 1, 2020

October 2020

Dear Literary Folk,

Literary Update for October 1, 2020
In preparing this month’s post of the Literary Update, I looked at September’s post, which begins, “The past few weeks have been intensely difficult here in Sonoma County. Some of you have lost your homes and many have spent long, anxious days under evacuation orders or warnings.” And here we are still in the dreadful throes of fire season in Northern California, the COVID pandemic, protests against racial injustice, and the anxious weeks leading up to our national elections.

While the sky overhead grew dark and heavy with smoke from the Glass Fire and Shady Fire, I also looked at the October post from 2019, saddened to remember the fall literary events we’ve had to postpone, especially the Petaluma Poetry Walk and the Poesía del Recuerdo/Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading.

Readings and Events Online
But I’m happy to say that many of our online literary events continue to thrive, as you can see by checking our Calendar page. Adding to those listed in our calendar and in previous posts, Poetry Flash’s reading series is now up and running online. There are usually three to four readings each month, introduced by Poetry Flash Associate Editor Richard Silberg, with Editor Joyce Jenkins. For the readings scheduled this fall, go to

WatershedI’m also pleased that the 25th annual Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival will zoom through the air over three days this November. The festival will feature poetry on climate change, environmental justice, and our place in nature. Familiar features of the much-loved gathering will be experienced virtually.  Dates and programs will be posted on Poetry Flash in October.
LitQuake has also moved to an online format, running from October 8-24, 2020. LitQuake’s programs include poetry, fiction, memoir, film, children’s events, and spoken word. Among the featured readers and presenters are Joy Harjo, Jericho Brown, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Tommy Orange. Check out all the events at the website:

A Little More Red SunCongratulations to Gillian Conoley for the NCBA in Poetry!
The 2020 Northern California Book Awards Ceremony was held on September 23, recognizing the achievements of writers whose books were published in 2019. In the poetry category, Sonoma State University professor, poet, and editor Gillian Conoley won for her book A Little More Red Sun on the Human: New & Selected Poems, published by Nightboat Books.

The “Unnatural Disaster” of Our Fire Season
Jean HeglandMany of you already know that Sonoma County’s beloved novelist and memoirist Jean Hegland and her husband Douglas Fisher lost their home in the LCU Complex/Wallbridge fires last month. The Healdsburg Tribune invited Jean to write a feature about her experience, which was published on September 23: “Unnatural Disasters.” In the article, Jean reflects on her home and the surrounding woods, writing, “Soon after we moved there (in 1989), that forest had been the inspiration for my first novel, and it had been an inspiration, a solace and a delight ever since.” In response to a friend’s comment about the fire being a natural disaster, Jean reflects, “There was nothing natural about the Walbridge Fire. Instead, it had been caused by the unfortunate conjunction of record-breaking high temperatures, a freak electrical storm that had bombarded Northern California with over 12,000 lightning strikes, and many decades of fire suppression in a forest that had evolved to burn. It was not a natural disaster but an unnatural one, not an “act of God,” but the result of human ignorance and greed, that same lethal combination of opportunism and denial that is currently causing record flooding in China and a record-breaking hurricane season in the Atlantic.”
Here’s the link, if you’d like to read the Jean’s full article:

New Release: Iris Jamahl  Dunkle’s Biography of Charmian Kittredge London
Charmain LondonIris DunkleIris’s just released biography is a triumph of biographical and literary research. She’ll be giving several readings/interviews in October. Here are the dates and hosts. For details, check the calendar page.

October 3, 2:30 at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen; October 7 at 7 PM at Reader’s Books in Sonoma; October 8, 7 PM with Forrest Gander at Copperfield’s Books; and October 22 at 6 PM at Bookmine in Napa.

Charmian Kittredge London captivates us as she did Jack London. In this compelling biography, Iris Jamahl Dunkle captures Charmian’s illusive qualities that made her a force to be reckoned with and an integral part of London’s career.”—Jay Williams, author of Author Under Sail: The Imagination of Jack London, 1893–1902
Paying Tribute to RBG
To add to the onslaught of 2020 disasters, on September 18, we lost a champion and hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She served on the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death, making history through majority opinions, and making waves though her eloquent and brilliant dissenting opinions. Before her Supreme Court nomination, she served as legal counsel to the ACLU, and it was during the years 1973-1980 that she prepared and argued cases that would alter the lives of American women, bringing us closer to the goal of “equal protection under the law.”

I know I owe RBG a debt of gratitude for the changes she helped to bring, ones I personally have benefitted from, including work-place protections for pregnant women, which the “pro-life” Catholic school I worked for didn’t recognize until 1990. The work she did was largely unknown and invisible to me, and though my undergraduate years at Stanford overlapped with her time as a Fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, I regret I never had the chance to meet her In August, Ginsburg was selected as this year’s recipient of the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal “for her efforts to advance liberty and equality for all.”

Her dying wish, expressed to her granddaughter, was that her seat on the Supreme Court not be filled until after the election of a new US President. But that was not to be. Nonetheless, we can strive to be forces of change and justice in our own communities, and we can exercise our power to vote, one way to pay tribute to RBG’s legacy.
“May her memory be for a blessing.”

The Sitting Room Community Library Is Renovating
Taking advantage of the COVID hiatus, the Sitting Room Community Library is undergoing renovations to make it even more welcoming to reading and writing groups, literary researchers, workshops, readers and writers once it’s able to open again. Among the changes are new flooring in the living room/workshop space (do you recognize it her in the photo?), new shelving, new electrical system, a less cluttered kitchen area, the addition of a microwave (yeah!). JJ Wilson writes that “We are working on the several suggestions for better storage for the art collection and plan to have exhibit areas built in for revolving art pieces and a foam core board posted up near the television cabinet for exhibits.”

Three ways to Celebrate Sixteen Rivers Press’s 21st Anniversary!
Every fall, the nonprofit poetry publishing collective I help run, Sixteen Rivers Press, hosts a benefit reading to celebrate its founding in October 1999. Of course, we won’t be holding a gala event this year, but there are several ways you can help us celebrate.

  1. If you missed the launch of our video  America, We Call Your Name, A Poetry Reading for a Nation in Crisis, you can catch it on our website at

It’s a 50 minutes presentation of poems from the anthology, professionally recorded and edited, and featuring Rick Barot, Joshua Bennett, Mai Der Vang, Camille Dungy, Dante Di Stefano, Judy Halebsky, Forrest Hamer, Brenda Hillman, and Evie Shockley.

  1. Prageeta SharmaJoin us online for our fall fundraiser with Prageeta Sharma and Matthew Zapruder, Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 3 PM Pacific time.

You can register for this online event at This event is free, but donations of any size to help us fund new books for 2021 are welcome. Donate here.

  1. Mark your calendar for Sunday, October 25 at 3 p.m. PDT when we present Jay Deshpande (Love the Stranger and The Rest of the Body)  and Hadara Bar-Nadav (The New Nudity and The Frame Called Ruin).

Our new reading series Sixteen Rivers Presents, is hosted by Eliot Schain, whose collection The Distant Shore was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in April 2020. You can use this link to join the Zoom reading: You can also find the link on the Sixteen Rivers website.
Poem for September 

Matthew ZapruderSun Bear
by Matthew Zapruder

yesterday at the Oakland zoo
I was walking alone for a moment
past the enclosure holding the sun bear
also known as beruang madu
it looked at me without interest
it has powerful jaws and truly loves honey
it sleeps in a high hammock
its claws look made out of wood
and if it dreams at all it is of Malaysia
home of its enemy the clouded leopard
a gorgeous arboreal
hunting and eating machine
whose coat resembles a python
now it is night and the zoo is closed
some animals are sleeping
the nocturnals moving in their cages
getting ready to hunt nothing
I don’t know why but I feel sure
something has woken the sun bear
it is awake in the dark
maybe it is my spirit animal
I am reading about the early snow
that has fallen on the Northeast
all the power shutting down
the weather going insane
the animals cannot help us
they go on moving without love
though we look into their eyes and feel
sure we see it there and maybe
we are right nothing
can replace animal love
not even complicated human love
we sometimes choose to allow
ourselves to be chosen by
despite what everyone knows
the problem is
in order to love anything
but an animal you cannot allow
yourself to believe in those things
that are if we don’t stop them
going to destroy us
(from America, We Call Your Name:
Poems of Resistance and Resilience,
Sixteen Rivers Press, 2018)

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor


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