Issue Party: Alta Journal 22 at Bookshop West Portal

James Cagney, Marcus Crowder, and Mary Ladd headlined the special event.

bookshop west portal, issue 22 party

Alta Journal—with help from Bookshop West Portal—hosted a celebration of Issue 22: “The Desert Is Coming” last Friday in San Francisco. Members of the Alta community flocked to the bookstore to mingle, enjoy wine and sparkling water, and hear three contributors read from their work.

Managing editor Blaise Zerega welcomed the audience and explained how the goals of independent bookstores—as gathering places for readers to engage with books and with one another—align closely with those of Alta. He said the purpose of the issue party was to celebrate Issue 22, showcase the writing and books of local contributors, shine a spotlight on Bookshop West Portal, and have fun.

Mary Ladd, a member of the Writers Grotto and the author of The Wig Diaries: An Irreverent Cancer Book, kicked off the program. She read “An Exvangelical’s Self-Care Sunday,” which was part of Alta’s You Are Here column series, written by members of the Writers Grotto. Ladd’s moving essay describes how her “willful disobedience” led to her “being choked and dragged at home and beaten with wooden spoons and paddles at [her] church-run school.” She recounts returning to the site of a summer Bible camp—now a wellness spa—to make peace with the past.

Next up was Marcus Crowder, who read from “Mike Henderson’s Personal Renaissance.” Crowder was the theater critic at the Sacramento Bee for 17 years and also wrote about jazz, pop, and dance for the paper. He gave an energetic reading of Henderson’s journey from “cloistered, KKK-dominated rural Missouri” to California, where he achieved success as a painter, musician, and filmmaker. Crowder’s article coincides with a partial retrospective devoted to Henderson at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, on the UC Davis campus. The exhibition runs from January 30 through June 25, 2023.

Closing out the program was poet James Cagney, author of Martian: The Saint of Loneliness, which won the 2021 James Laughlin Award. His work “Proof,” published in Alta Journal 14, was included in The Best American Poetry 2022. Cagney gave a rousing reading of “Teach Your Children to Remain Small and Invisible,” a searing poem that he wrote in the days following the mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The verse is full of fury and frustration and earned Cagney a round of heartfelt applause.

In addition to Ladd, Crowder, and Cagney, a number of contributors were in attendance: Peter Fish, Laura Fraser, Penni Gladstone, Sydney Love, John Mattos, Gordon Wiltsie, and Oscar Villalon.

Alta owes a debt of gratitude to Bookshop West Portal co-owner Anna Bullard and manager Lillian Van Cleve, who went above and beyond to make the gathering a success.

We look forward to seeing more of the Alta community next month in Los Angeles when we host an issue party at Skylight Books on February 27 at 7 p.m. It’s free, but RSVPs are encouraged. Please sign up today!•

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