Write On

While Sacramento might not quite qualify as a city of literature, it’s got lots to offer its creative writers.
write on
Artwork by Kelly Barr

Is Sacramento poised to join Iowa City and Seattle as the third UNESCO City of Literature in the United States, joining Edinburgh, Prague and Barcelona in the International Creative Cities Network?

In a word, no.

Nonetheless, the River City has plenty to offer its creative writers. A review of the criteria for applying to be designated a City of Literature—which include the presence of independent bookstores, cultural diversity, literary organizations and events, libraries and colleges—shows that we check many of the boxes. Additionally, an informal survey of area writers of varied ages, genres and stages in their writing practice revealed what they value about the Sacramento writing community, and what they think we lack.

Note: While this article relates to “creative” writing, which includes fiction, poetry and narrative nonfiction but not journalism and traditional nonfiction, much of its information may interest any writer. The term “creative” is used for clarity regarding this article’s scope, not to imply other types of writing aren’t creative.

Finding a Writing Community
When I retired from 35 years in state government to pursue my dream of becoming a published writer, finding other writers to help me navigate new, unknown terrain was challenging. Now that it’s been over a decade, a frequent lament I hear from new writer friends goes something like this: “There’s nothing in Sacramento. I have to drive to the Bay Area for anything worthwhile.”

So how did I and other area writers find community? You know what they say about Sacramento being two hours from anywhere you’d rather be? The same could be said about the writing universe. It may sound like I’m about to agree that we’re a cultural backwater. Hold that thought.

Many area writers found people from their Sacramento community at the Napa Valley Writers Conference (I met my writing partner there), Community of Writers (Olympic Valley), San Francisco Writers Conference, Sonoma County Writers Camp, Book Passage Mystery Conference (Corte Madera), Lit Camp (Bay Area/Mendocino County) and others. Sometimes you have to leave town to find someone who was back home all along.

For others, the area’s colleges and universities have been the golden ticket. The creative writing classes offered by the LOS RIOS COMMUNITY COLLEGE campuses are accessible, reasonably priced and high value. And for older adults, both THE RENAISSANCE SOCIETY, under the Sacramento State university umbrella, and the UC DAVIS EXTENSION PROGRAM’S OSHER LIFELONG LEARNING INSTITUTE offer seminars, events and courses including memoir, fiction and general writing workshops, as well as book discussion groups.

write on
Artwork by Kelly Barr

After retirement, I enrolled in every community college creative writing class I could fit into my schedule. The classes and professors were great. Just as importantly, I met other writers. One invited me to join their writing group. Members of that group introduced me to Jan Haag, who facilitates AMHERST WRITERS AND AUTHORS (AWA) method workshops in the loft at the Sacramento Poetry Center. Writers from that group got me interested in 916 INK, an inspiring youth literacy nonprofit that uses the AWA method in its writing curriculum. Soon I was volunteering as an “Inspirator,” writing alongside students, and then working for 916 Ink.

Synergy in action!

Other Workshops and Classes
A number of local writers have organized writing opportunities. Some examples: JAN HAAG provides periodic AWA trainings in the area each year, as well as her own AWA workshops (by invitation) and private coaching. MORE TO THE STORY is an online book coaching program for nonfiction authors with Janna Marlies Maron. JOEY GARCIA works with authors as a book coach and on platform building and media relations. GINI GROSSENBACHER and her ELK GROVE WRITERS & ARTISTS group offer workshops, classes and coaching. SANDS HALL, based in Nevada City, and long affiliated with the COMMUNITY OF WRITERS, provides online classes and workshops, and is a pleasure to work with, a combination of encouraging and challenging.

There are also a number of local writing organizations. The oldest and broadest in scope is the SACRAMENTO BRANCH OF THE CALIFORNIA WRITERS CLUB, a resource and networking hub for writers in all genres and stages of their writing journey. There are also specific organizations for mystery writers (CAPITOL CRIMES, the Sacramento chapter of the international Sisters in Crime), NORTHERN CALIFORNIA ROMANCE WRITERS (currently meeting online), NORTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLISHERS AND AUTHORS, SACRAMENTO SUBURBAN WRITERS (which meets monthly in Fair Oaks) and GOLD COUNTRY WRITERS, with monthly meetings in Auburn. Check out their individual websites for further information on offerings and membership requirements.

The nonprofit ELK GROVE WRITERS GUILD (not exclusive to Elk Grove), founded by Loy Holder, has been bringing speakers, classes and a weekly writers workshop to Elk Grove for years. Holder orchestrated the first ELK GROVE WRITERS CONFERENCE in 2018 and a second in 2022 (after a two-year pandemic hiatus). A third is scheduled for September 2023.

BLACK WOMEN WRITE—founded in 2018 by Stephanie McLemore Bray—is a community of Sacramento writers committed to celebrating and uplifting Black women’s voices through storytelling. The group, which prior to the pandemic met at UNDERGROUND BOOKS in Oak Park, now meets monthly online and hopes to return to in-person meetings in the near future.

Getting Published
Some of our area colleges publish literary journals, including American River College’s award-winning AMERICAN RIVER REVIEW and Sacramento State’s CALAVERAS STATION (which is accepting student submissions for its Spring 2023 issue through Dec. 10). Some campuses offer a class where students curate journal content and can submit their work for consideration (a path to that first publication credit). While most of these college journals accept only student work, UC Davis’s OPEN CEILINGS considers work from nonstudent writers.

On the topic of literary journals, a shout-out to Sacramento’s UNDER THE GUM TREE and TULE REVIEW. UTGT is a quarterly full-color print (and online) nonfiction and visual arts magazine. Editor/publisher Janna Marlies Maron started UTGT in 2008 and has never wavered from the promise of “true stories, real art, no shame.” The Sacramento Poetry Center has been publishing Tule Review annually since 2009, showcasing new and award-winning poets from the region and nationwide. Check both publications’ websites for submission guidelines.

Where To Listen
LUNA’S CAFÉ & JUICE BAR has the longest-running open mic poetry reading series in Northern California, featuring the best in spoken word, poetry and music every Thursday evening since 1995. Perch on a stool at the counter or at one of the tables facing the stage and enjoy a glass of wine or the best fresh-fruit licuado in town.

The SACRAMENTO POETRY CENTER has been a literary arts resource and hub since 1979, bringing diverse poets to local audiences and providing classes, workshops, performances and regular open mic opportunities. The POETRY NIGHT READING SERIES, hosted by Andy Jones at the John Natsoulas Gallery in Davis, happens the first and third Thursday of every month with a featured reader at 8 p.m., followed by an open mic segment. DR. ANDY’S POETRY & TECHNOLOGY HOUR airs on KDVS Davis every Wednesday at 5 p.m., live and via podcast, featuring interviews with writers, poets and innovative thinkers from the local and international artistic communities since 2000—an eclectic mix!

Since 2008, STORIES ON STAGE SACRAMENTO has brought local and nationally acclaimed authors and actors together for live performances of today’s best prose, now at the Auditorium at the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts. Founded by Valerie Fioravanti, managed for years by Sue Staats (who continues to bring her home-baked cookies to the shows, gratis) and most recently by Dorothy Rice (that’s me) and Shelley Blanton-Stroud, SOSS will undergo a baton pass for 2023 and beyond, when Joshua (p joshua) and Jessica Laskey assume the helm. Sister program STORIES ON STAGE DAVIS, founded in 2013 and managed by Suzanne Bardasz and Emily Masuda with performances at the Pence Gallery in Davis, follows a similar format.

write on artwork
Artwork by Kelly Barr

What We’re Missing
What do Sacramento writers wish we had more of? A book festival or conference. Many miss Summer Words, a multiday creative writing event that was offered by American River College from 2012 through 2016.

Area writers would also like to see a creative writing “center” in Sacramento, akin to San Francisco’s Writers Grotto and Page Street (a coworking space for writers operated by Lit Camp), Seattle’s Hugo House or Write Around Portland. These are actual physical spaces that offer classes, workshops, communal workspace for writers, sponsored readings, special events, conferences and community involvement.

The two things our writers say they want most—a book festival/conference (or two or three) and a literary center/space—also happen to be missing from Sacramento’s checklist for a successful application to become a City of Literature.

Yet where the literary arts are concerned, the Sacramento landscape continues to evolve. Despite the pandemic, despite the economic downturn in other sectors, new independent bookstores continue to take their chances here, becoming neighborhood hubs for writing groups, book clubs and, of course, book and gift buying. (That season is upon us, folks!)

As for Stories on Stage, we couldn’t be more proud of the talent we’ve been able to bring to the stage, both homegrown and of the New York Times best-selling variety. And, after two years of quarantine and Netflix bingeing at home, poetry open mics, book launches, drop-in writing opportunities and more are cropping up everywhere, far too many to include here. You might find just the group or event you’re looking for tacked to the bulletin board at your favorite bookstore or coffee shop, or you may be inspired to start it yourself.

While 916 INK’s programming is for kids grades 3 through 12, adult writers benefit too, by volunteering to write with and encourage students during workshops, typing and editing the stories that are transformed into one-of-a-kind books, and by donating. If you haven’t attended an event in the Imaginarium, 916 Ink’s whimsical writing space, it’s available to rent for events. (Perhaps your book launch?)