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(en) US, Media, San Francisco literary underground celebrates decade of dissent

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 26 Mar 2005 10:41:30 +0100 (CET)

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When the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair started in 1995, it was a rather
small collection of like-minded radicals getting together to talk
politics, not certain if they were just preaching to the choir.
Ten years later, thanks to shared enemies like the Bush
Administration and the Patriot Act, the fair has become a popular
rallying point for the far left and the focus of an entire weekend of
dissident cultural events, from punk rock concerts to soccer games.
"The Bush era," says Joey Cain, 50, a longtime organizer, "has
been good for anarchist consumerism."
All 75 merchants' tables were sold out in advance of Saturday's fair
in Golden Gate Park, which along with Montreal's "Festival of
Anarchy" each May is one of the largest such events in North
America. Vendors fly in from as far away as Europe to sell rare
anarchist and political books.

Enthusiasts see it as part of a venerable tradition of dissident
literature in the San Francisco Bay area, where Jack London, a
professed socialist for much of his life, learned to write and City
Lights Books owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti faced obscenity charges
for publishing Allen Ginsberg's Beat-era poem "Howl."

"There is a literary underground in the city that keeps renewing
itself," said Adam Cornford, who heads the poetics program at the
New College of California, a progressive liberal arts school in San
Francisco. "There have been waves of counterculture in the city all
the way back to Jack London and the Beats. Serious committed
anarchists have been driving force in the literary scene since the

And nothing sells books like controversy.

One of the biggest displays at the fair each year is by Oakland-based
anarchist publisher AK Press, which has seen a 10 to 20 percent
growth in its business annually, including spikes in sales during
such polarizing events as the World Trade Organization protests,
the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the leadup to the Iraq war.

"We haven't hit a wall yet," crowed Ramsey Kanaan, who works for
the publisher and volunteers at the fair. "It seems like the number
of people interested in this literature has grown everyday."

The label recently cracked Amazon's top 100 list with firebrand
activist Ward Churchill's book "On the Justice of Roosting
Chickens," which includes his essay about the terror attacks, and
Churchill is among the many authors in town for the fair.

While many of the works being sold are little more than
self-published pamphlets, these authors can only benefit as the
nation turns harder to the right, organizers say. In fact, many
classics of underground literature were just pamphlets until they
became controversial, said Cornford, citing San Francisco author
Robert Duncan's 1944 statement of gay liberation "The
Homosexual In Society" as an example.

"People will suddenly become famous because they get banned or
clamped down on," he said. "I have no doubt that some of these
books will be highly regarded just like 'Howl' is."

For Chris Carlsson, a self-employed, self-publishing San Francisco
book designer, the fair is a chance to get together with other
anarchists, where "people with contending and antithetical views
can talk, share literature and denounce each other."

That's just the spirit organizers were hoping to cultivate ten years
ago, when the first fair was held by the Bound Together Anarchist
Collective, a fixture in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, where
the small storefront is tucked in amid smoke shops and tourist

"We were looking to reach out to a larger community rather than
people who just walked in off of Haight Street," said Cain, 50, one
of about 25 unpaid volunteers who have managed to organize
themselves into two shifts a day at the collective, which is packed
with racks of zines, anarchist flags and Malcolm X T-shirts.

Another activist who has helped organized the fair since its
inception is Tom Alder, a fervent anti-war protester in Michigan
during Vietnam who came West and found his following. "People
have always called me an anarchist - even at a point where I
didn't understand the word," he jokes.

On Saturday, Alder will be drawn to the same mixture of art,
politics and commerce that brings black-clad anarchists, aging
radicals and younger intellectuals with children in tow to browse the

After all, when civilization as they see it is falling apart, it's time for
anarchists to get together.

"They are inclined to rebel anyway," Cornford said. "They look
around and see the world is going to hell."

On the Net:
Bookfair: www.bayareaanarchistbookfair.org

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