If I had to name one thing that all of us meager human beings are searching for throughout our lives, that is the word that comes to mind: connection.
Before Quiet Lightning, I loved to read. I loved to write. I loved to attend literary events. But each time I came away with a feeling of something lacking. I listened to the poetry and prose, I smiled at the funny parts, teared up with the sad. But at the end of the night, when it was over, I went my way, the audience and readers went theirs. The reward for my participation was fleeting—a temporary rush.
That was what I was missing. That is what Quiet Lightning gave me. Evan Karp approached me to submit to the reading series after hearing me at an open mic. I’d never been approached like that before—never had an invitation to be a part of anyone’s anything. Words I had struggled over, words, which for some reason, I longed to share—maybe they meant something outside of myself after all. I submitted. My work was selected. I was ecstatic. The evening itself: glorious. Standing under a spotlight, reading to a rapt audience. Afterwards, being congratulated by people I didn’t know, but somehow knew I would come to know.
I had it that night. This time it was different. It wasn’t the fleeting thing I’d had at other readings; the fix. This connection lasted. And lasted. And now it’s been three years and it’s never been stronger. I am a board member. I’ve had the chance to partake in the magic that creates these shows. I am proud. Not of myself, but of our participants who honor Quiet Lightning with their art and their support, who let us be the mouthpiece for a community, a soul, that has been here in San Francisco all along but disjointed, unaware of its separate parts. At any given show I can look out at the audience and see faces that I know and love, and faces that I don’t know yet, but will know. And I feel like someone who has sailed around the earth just to come home and realize that this is the new world.
I have often wondered: Where would I be? Where would I be without Quiet Lightning? It’s not so hard to imagine. I’d be exactly where I was before: standing in the corner of a dark, crowded bar, longing for the light. Longing for that connection.
– Meghan Thornton
Quiet Lightning has been a beautiful thing for me. There are plenty of places in San Francisco where a man can go to read something he’s written to people, but there are not as many places where he can be so sure that everybody in attendance has come expressly to hear it. Where they have come to hear it with an openness and curiosity that feels like a rare thing in a world of easy entertainment. I have always written with an eye to the private individual reader first, but there is something magnificent in the collective reader, or collective listener in this case, and the readings at Quiet Lightning encourage the notion of community in collective listening with an uncommon sincerity. When I have read stories at Quiet Lightning events, I have wanted to live up to that sincerity. I have wanted to do my best reading because I’ve seen people doing their best listening. And that naturally means that I’ve gone back to my desk the next day with an even greater desire to do my best writing.
– Siamak Vossoughi
I was first published by Quiet Lightning in November of 2010, and my piece “At What Point” was promptly republished by fullofcrow.com. My reading was put up on Youtube and now has 262 “hits.” I first read my piece in public at The Booksmith, which webcast the Quiet Lightning writers around the globe; we were also photographed by the New York Times. No pressure! This unforgettable, validating experience continued when I received a letter from a young gay man in Guam who had seen the reading on the internet. My piece related to gay civil rights, and this young man was impressed by the freedom and openness I was able to publicly express.
Freedom and openness are hallmarks of Quiet Lightning. QL isn’t an effete, stuffy series; established, published writers are published along with writers just beginning their careers. I have three dear friends who have also been published by Quiet Lightning. When S.B. Stokes, Maisha Johnson and John Panzer were just beginning their writing careers, I was pleased to suggest submitting to QL. I was thrilled when all three, some after several attempts, were published. Quiet Lightning fosters this generosity and support within the San Francisco writing community. This genuine, non-competitive atmosphere fosters great writing and special QL evenings throughout the City. When John Panzer was published, I arranged to have an audience member call me in Los Angeles to hear his reading over the phone.
I have lived in San Francisco for over 20 years. Quiet Lightning has exposed me, and others, to venues I’d never been to before. The Emerald Tablet and 15 Romolo, in North Beach, are but two examples. Every month, Quiet Lightning is a gift I look forward to. These QL experiences always enhance my life while exposing me to words and places I’d not otherwise have the opportunity to witness.
Since first being “launched” by Quiet Lightning, I’ve been a featured reader at eight other reading series. This last November, I was on the same bill as Ishmael Reed. This reading, with Reed, ended an incredible 12 months of readings and experiences I never would have had without Quiet Lightning. I am forever in debt, and happily so, to Evan Karp and his creation, Quiet Lightning.
– Matthew James DeCoster
The people behind Quiet Lightning are committed to both writing and community. It’s exciting and refreshing to see such a variety of writers, from those just starting out to the well-published and well-awarded, share the same stage and perform for a large and enthusiastic audience. Anyone who thinks poetry, books and literature are endangered in the digital age should attend a Quiet Lightning reading. But “reading” doesn’t do justice to what this organization is making happen: it creates literary events that people want to come to, in order to experience writing that is variously hip, intelligent, moving, funny, devastating–and a hell of a lot of fun.
– Kim Addonizio
That was just wonderful. The whole evening, start to finish… No overly trumped up stuff just ‘here we all are together and isn’t that a great thing.’ I was so impressed and moved by that spirit. So thank you once again for inviting me to be a part of it. I’m going to take the good feeling of last night well into the summer.
– Toni Mirosevich
Amazing. Not an event. A moment.
– Isaac Fitzgerald
One of the city’s most unique reading series.
– Dean Rader
Seriously—such an amazing event. I feel so lucky to have been able to participate! Absolutely beautiful event.
– Miquila Alejandre
It was awesome. Really, one of the best readings I have both been to and participated in. Wonderful talent. Thank you for letting me be a small part of it, Quiet Lightning is rad.
– Stacy Barrett
The night was magical.
– Eliza Mimski
I just wanted to write and tell you how much I enjoyed the reading last night. It was actually fun, unlike most readings. Really, it was so refreshing to laugh and smile that much at a literary event, and what a wonderful nexus of people it brought together. Thank you again for Quiet Lightning: I’m so glad I had the chance to participate.
– Austin Smith
I can’t thank you enough for last night’s Quiet Lightning. I’ve never had more fun at a reading and I really look forward to attending future readings. I also met some really amazing people, which was just icing on an already-delicious cake. It’s tough to make new friends in a city.
– Laura E. Davis
Quiet Lightning is a beautiful, community-centered reading series/organization that gives emerging and established writers a space to share their work. The readings reflect the excellent caliber of Bay Area literature, and the subsequent publication in sparkle + blink does what every upstanding literary organization should do: create and archive the stories of a community and literary family.
– July Westhale
I’ve done 200 readings in the last three years, and Quiet Lightning is one of the most consistent and thoughtfully constructed series. A couple of the things that really stand out to me about QL: first, Evan takes the time to have each event at a unique space. These location changes keep the evenings fresh and add a lovely element of surprise. I can’t imagine how much work goes into setting this up: it’s so easy to dial into one spot and just squat your series there forever. But Evan’s attention to detail and willingness to tackle such a thankless assignment really adds to the overall experience. Secondly—and most importantly—Evan and the Quiet Lightning gang make sure that all the pieces of art being read are, well, good. There’s a submission process each month, so again, here comes that inspired willingness to work hard in a way that rarely gets recognized. They sort through the submissions finding the best prose and poetry for the audience to enjoy. Couple that with the daunting task of the rotating venues and you start to see the reason for Quiet Lightning’s local success: someone coming for the first time or returning for their ninth will see a wholly unique show. All of which is a testament to Evan’s and QL’s work ethic: it’s the thankless magic that happens between each reading that makes the events themselves so wonderfully compelling and an important part of the vibrant San Francisco literary scene.
– Josh Mohr
Quiet Lightning is simply the most efficient and fascinating reading series you’re bound to see this decade, as if put together as the intended blueprint to a poetic amusement park of the future. It’s an effective, infectious delight, working to broaden people’s horizons with a new perception of the spoken word artistry.
I’d like to take a few moments to talk about Quiet Lightning – as both an audience member and a writer. The first time I saw Evan Karp’s Quiet Lightning, I was hugely impressed with the venue. Sitting and listening to people share their stories and poems at The Conservatory of Flowers felt like a magical scene out of ‘A Midsummer’s Night Dream.’ The selection of readers was professional and poetic, riveting and confessional. I feel it is vital that writers and artists have the opportunity to read their stories aloud. In my opinion, Evan Karp has elevated the Bay Area literary scene with his Quiet Lightning reading series—and we need this kind of consistent and creative venue. I also appreciate all the attention that goes into curating each evening—the live music, the printed night’s readings in sparkle + blink, the cool variations of location and even the Micro-brew. The dynamic and talented group that makes Quiet Lightning come together each month deserves a big round of applause.
– Melissa Cistaro
Quiet Lightning only strikes once a month, but going there is to sample from the spirit of a SF community of writers—a fog-enshrouded petri dish of poets, short storyists, long storyists, the uncategorizable.
Words can move us. I’ve been moved. I know it. At QL, I remember being blown away by Meg Day’s exuberant bedroom poems. Then, thirty minutes later, I was parachuting through the moral universe of a Libyan pilot created by Steven Gray. I only mention these two because they spring to mind. There’s been plenty there to admire from the mouths of dozens.
I’ve felt the zing of words that had the impudence to come off the page and fly across the room.
What do I gain from it? I don’t know. Inspiration, for one thing. And the reassurance that there’s a place where these organized and reorganized strings of words can be tested both for style and meaning.
Some words live long full lives on the page, while others vibrate in space like a firefly. Or even like lightning.
– Robin Bullard
In the 1970’s I was in my 20’s and reading poems at open mics in San Francisco. One reason I burned out on the process was having to listen to ten or more varieties of mental illness, or so I thought at the time, considering there were no standards as to who got up to read. I spent many years writing away from the mic, but eventually returned, and a couple of years ago the Quiet Lightning reading series showed up on the scene. It is saturated with respect for writers and their work—not only are the readings videotaped and posted online, each reading is published in a small book.
QL attracts a large crowd every month because people know the writers were selected with care by people who appreciate good writing—it doesn’t matter if the writers chosen are unknown and never read before, and it goes without saying that the works of all races and sexual persuasions are included. The ban on small talk—readers are asked to read their work and that’s it—is a nice touch, along with the pre-arranged sequence of readers. One gets the sense that some planning and intelligence went into the presentation. The venues are generally quiet with few distractions (there’s a different venue every month), giving 12 or more people the chance to show us how their minds work—usually in ways you wouldn’t expect.
This is all very civilized, but it is also inspiring for writers like myself. Hearing the work of others who have been selected and showcased through the Quiet Lightning process is a shot in the arm, if not the brain, for those of us who are prone to isolating ourselves. I have been selected several times, and attended other shows as a listener, and any group that is intent on increasing the literary intelligence of people should have a lot of support. It is only too apparent how that can be hard to come by when the schools are underfunded and the TV overdone.
– Steven Gray
Hi, my name’s Chris Peck. I perform as Peck the Town Crier. I visited and performed at my first Quiet Lightning reading in the Fall of last year. But before actually experiencing Quiet Lightning, I had heard about the reading for a year, and watched several clips online. Evan Karp is a tireless documenter of SF writers, so I first learned about him through his Youtube channel, his blog (Litseen), and through several writer friends who spoke gratefully of all the work he’d been doing.
So, when I submitted to read at Quiet Lightning’s October 10th reading at the Conservatory of Flowers, I already knew that a great experience awaited me. Upon being accepted, I heard from a couple people on Facebook, saying “We’re excited to see you!” Right away, I noticed a genuine enthusiasm in the organization. When I got to the event, a few more people made a point of introducing themselves, making me feel welcome, and offering some creative advice. For instance, Chris Cole said “Everyone’s going to love your poem, Peck! But the experience will go by so fast, so just take it in for a minute before you start.” I followed this advice and was glad.
The performances that night were diverse. People read from their novels, delivered poetry from memory. Some pieces were intimate and serious, others outspoken and absurd. But I came away knowing I loved Quiet Lightning, for its inclusiveness, enthusiasm, and most importantly for its lack of cultish unspoken rules. San Francisco is a very hip city, with many factions. Quiet Lightning welcomes us all and allows for something bigger and more random.
– Chris Peck the Town Crier
Quiet Lightning is a tremendous addition to the local scene. I admire its boundless energy, its rigorous presentations, its joyousness in getting together for a reading in… can you believe it, for one example, the Conservatory of Flowers. Quiet Lightning zeros in on the new voices who make our neighborhood so exciting. Also, they published my first story, which is proof in itself of editorial perspicacity and courage.
– Howard Junker
This event was awesome. Great setting, great music, great readings. Loved it.
– Cristina Martinez
I agree; I feel this volume is true to life with just the right dash of surreal that makes it truer (think Marcus Lund, Saqib Mausoof, Rosaleen Bertolino for that special twist). Some like John Panzer, Manjula Martin, Matt Leibel, and Chris Peck impacted me immediately with their skill and clarity, but then today, I find I am talking about the work by Miquila Alejandre and Sean Taylor with that sweet, steady voice that gets under my skin. Yes, the poets, you rocked (I’m biased)—haunting stuff by Mike Palmer and Dani Burlison.
– Sandra Wassilie
QL is a great series; a warm and friendly environment for reading your work. I’m happy to see it continue and grow. There’s hope in this world.
– Michael Palmer
Quiet Lightning is creating a soft explosion in the busy, self-centered, outward-reaching, tradition-minded, innovative, beat, post-beat writing world of the San Francisco Bay Area. Its leading light(ning) is Evan Karp, who created the series and who continues to guide it as—unlike most venue-stuck arrangements—it moves all over the place, not seeking a home but imagining home as varied and flexible: the Mina Dresden Gallery, the William Westerfeld Mansion, the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers. One of the most innovative aspects of Quiet Lightning is its insistence on work rather than on personality. Authors read their works one after another but they do not give their names. There is a program and there is also a little booklet with all the works included; if the listener wishes to look there, names are available. But what is primary in this series is the explosion of words—words that arise deeply and passionately from the community at large. People come away from Quiet Lightning presentations struck by the diversity and imaginative capacities of this “city of poets.” Who knew that that kind of writing was being done here? Deeply committed to language and performance and highly imaginative in its presentations, this “lightning” is no flash in the pan!
– Jack Foley
Last night’s @quiet_lightning was fucking incredible. A reading in the jungle with crickets and the occasional roar of a dinosaur. #beauty
– Emme Lund
I really appreciate how supportive you are and inspiring to us. Your shows are brilliant and have enhanced our lives in so many ways. Quiet Lightning has been the most exciting experience since I moved to San Francisco from New York. Thank you again for all your help and feedback.
– Cybele Zufolo Siegel
Thank you, Evan—it was a privilege. Truly magic, what QL puts together. Every time.
– Doug Cordell
It was a magical night and I am honored to have been a part of it. Always a pleasure…
– William Taylor Jr.
Again, thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity. The entire event was spectacular. It was my first time at the Conservatory of Flowers and it was truly a wonderful experience reading within the flowers.
I really enjoyed seeing all the readers as well. I hope to attend more Quiet Lightning shows in the future.
Everything, well… went by so quickly yesterday. Cliche of me to say, but it really did go by so fast. I’m so glad and honored to be a part of all this. And now I will push myself to write even more poems that I can hopefully share more with the public in the future.
– Yume Kim
Thanks so much for the time you put into this email. I was so touched by the performances this last time, the raw courage it took for some of the performers to get up there and read their work. My heart just went out to them as they took their first steps in doing a thing that brings NYT bestsellers to their knees!
I’ve been to Quiet Lightning several times now and I want to congratulate you SO MUCH on how well you’ve created a community of acceptance and encouragement. There is a tendency toward harshness in the literary community, toward snarkiness and unnecessarily cruel “criticism,” and finding a place you can feel supported in your efforts, no matter your level of experience, puts hope back in the audacious act of being creative.
– Theresa Rodgers
I had a fantastic time and was blown away by the whole event—such an impressive display of generosity, beauty, talent. You are seriously amazing. Thanks again!
– Liza St. James
Quiet Lightning has kept me going back to pen and paper in a far more consistent way than I otherwise might, left to my own devices and lack of deadlines… for which I am very grateful.
– Peter Bullen
Quiet Lightning is the best thing that’s happened to the San Francisco literary scene in a long time. As Mark Twain so wisely said “Thunder is good, thunder is impressive; but it is [quiet] lightning that does the work.”
– Michael David Lukas
The sort of thing you remember forever.
– Kevin Killian
Better than church for writer-folk.
– Sarah Bugden
I was sorry I didn’t get a chance to thank you in person the other night, but I can’t tell you how grateful I was (and am) to be a part of your show at the Verdi Club. This was one of the most impressive literary events I’ve attended, and it was without a doubt the coolest one that I’ve been able to participate in!
– Moneta Goldsmith
These are just some of the things people have said about Quiet Lightning. If you feel inspired to share your own experience, please add something in the comments below: