For weather watchers in the Fresno area, I have an ironclad forecast for the Tower District on Saturday, April 23: There will be heavy flurries.
LitHop 2016, a free daylong literary festival, is the creation of Lee Herrick, Fresno’s poet laureate, who wants to bring to Fresno an event that will celebrate the city’s growing reputation as a poetry and prose powerhouse. The inaugural event will feature more than 140 writers across all genres in nine venues.
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All the talk about Fresno’s thriving literary scene isn’t just empty boosterism. Yes, the outside world has noticed this region’s impact on the nation. LitHop includes such powerhouse names as Fresno’s Mai Der Vang, winner of the prestigious national 2016 Walt Whitman Award, and Mas Masumoto of Del Rey, author of “Epitaph of a Peach.”
And in a happy bit of synchronicity, the headlining event is none other than Fresno’s Juan Felipe Herrera, who just days ago was appointed to a second term as the U.S. poet laureate. Herrera wanted so much to be a part of LitHop that the event was organized around his busy schedule.
“I think it’s a groundbreaking event,” Herrera says. “To hear each other and hang out with each other is the nectar of poetry.”
The real power of LitHop, however, is the sheer number of established and emerging writers participating. Herrick hopes that sense of bounty is reflected in the event.
So is the idea that literary pursuits don’t have to be presented in stuffy, formal venues. The LitHop locations include a bar, frozen yogurt shop and sports club. (Then again, the Fresno City College Old Administration Building auditorium, where Herrera will read at 7 p.m. Saturday, is among the most beautiful places I can think of to hear a poet.)
To hear each other and hang out with each other is the nectar of poetry.
Juan Felipe Herrera, U.S. poet laureate
Here’s how it will work: Readings will take place at the venues, which are within walking distance, every hour on the hour from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Four writers are scheduled for each 45-minute program, giving them each about 10 minutes to read. Most of the programs have some unifying theme (Asian-American writers, Hoover High School writers, LGBTQ voices, writers reading in Spanish, etc.), with some themes broader than others. Two of the venues are for audience members 21 and over, so take note.
Then, at 7 p.m., everyone is encouraged to gather at Fresno City College to hear Herrera.
Printed schedules will be available at Mia Cuppa Caffe, 620 E. Olive Ave., which is also serving as LitHop headquarters. (You’ll be able to buy books from participating authors there.) But the easiest and paper-friendly way to plan your afternoon is to use the festival’s online blog at www.lithopfresno.wordpress.com.
Herrick modeled the event on similar literary festivals in other cities, including San Francisco’s annual LitCrawl. He made the project his Fresno Poet Laureate initiative, and while all events are free, it’s also a fundraiser for the Fresno Arts Council poetry programs, so donations are accepted. His wife, Lisa Herrick, has been a key organizer for the event, and a hard-working planning committee helped put things together.
For me, the promise of a festival such as LitHop is that it can centralize, if just for one day, the artistic energies of a creative pursuit that is by necessity thought of as a solitary endeavor. The performing arts have the advantage of feeding off the appreciation of an audience. With writing, that’s harder to do.
But words are powerful.
And the festival is a good way to counter some of the negative stereotypes about Fresno and the problems that all urban areas face.
“I see it as a humanizing element for the things that trouble the city at times,” Herrick says.
For him, it’s also an opportunity to give back to a place that makes him, well, wax poetic.
“I feel like Fresno is not only my home but a literary home,” he says. “I can’t fathom being a writer anywhere else.”
- 2-7 p.m. Saturday, April 23
- Various venues, Tower District
- Go to www.lithopfresno.wordpress.com for a full schedule, or Mia Cuppa Cafe, 620 E. Olive Ave., for printed programs