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Discover San Diego’s Vibrant Literary Community

R&C Editor-at-Large Andrea Naversen uncovers those supporting local wordsmiths

Portrait of Nancy Warwick in La Jolla's Warwick's bookstore
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When Anastasia Zadeik steps up to the microphone at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla this month, she will not only be reading from her just-released debut novel Blurred Fates — a gripping psychological thriller about love, loss, betrayal, and more — she will be joining a long list of writers who have come before her, from established literary lions to newer, best-selling authors. Zadeik (AKA Stacy Hipkins) says launching at the premier bookstore is like having a “stamp of authenticity,” and indeed many local writers have ascended into the national spotlight after readings there.

Warwick’s has a storied reputation not only in La Jolla but far beyond as the oldest continuously owned and operated family bookstore in the country, now with Nancy Warwick, a fourth-generation bookseller, at the helm. The bookstore is so beloved that when it was about to lose its lease and its longtime home on Girard Avenue last year, a group of loyal friends and supporters bought the building and saved the store.

Portrait of Nancy Warwick in La Jolla's Warwick's bookstore
Nancy Warwick

Warwick’s does much more than sell books, it helps to support writers, both nationally known and those just starting out. The bookstore has hosted thousands of authors over the years, often partnering with literary organizations to raise funds. “Community is very important!” exclaims Julie Slavinsky, Warwick’s Director of Events. Warwick’s provides “a venue for local authors to highlight their work,” she says, especially through a program called “Weekends with Locals,” two-hour table signings at the store as well as readings.

Rancho Santa Fe author, essayist, and poet Sarah Sleeper launched her debut novel, Gaijin, two years ago with a virtual Q&A sponsored by Warwick’s. “They are an invaluable community resource,” she recalls. She has since been invited back to interview other authors about their work. “I love doing it,” she says. “It combines my journalism skills with my literary passion. It is so rewarding, and I love my advance research — reading great books!” 858.454.0347, warwicks.com

Sarah Sleeper portrait
Sarah Sleeper

Warwick’s will also present The San Diego Writers Festival (SDWF) on October 8 in partnership with the Coronado Public Library and Performing Arts Complex and The San Diego Memoir Writers Association. Marni Freedman and Jeniffer Thompson founded the free festival four years ago to showcase the work of talented writers, foster collaboration, and highlight diversity. This year’s festival, titled “What Unites Us,” is special, says Freedman, because it will be the first time the writing community has gathered in person for more than two years.

Marni Freedman
Marni Freedman

The festival will feature dozes of live presentations from New York Times bestselling authors, experts in writing and publishing, performances, and “an agent pitch fest,” says Freedman. The event also honors Renee Taylor, an actress and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, and David Smith, MD, MAS, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Diego Health whose memoir, Catching a Breath, is about his quest to find treatments for COVID-19.

Jeniffer Thompson
Jeniffer Thompson

Local luminaries include Rancho Santa Fe’s Shilpi Somaya Gowda, author of Secret Daughter, The Golden Son, and The Shape of Family; Madhushree Ghosh, author of Khabaar; and Dean Nelson, author of Talk to Me. Nelson is founder/director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University and hosts the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea.sandiegowritersfestival.com 

Zadeik, SDWF’s director of operations, also volunteers as a writing and performance coach, producer, performer, and board member of So Say We All (SSWA), a nonprofit literary and performing arts organization. Its goal, according to Zadeik: To help people tell their stories, and tell them better. The organization sponsors “Long Story Short,” the chance to share a five-minute story with an audience. VAMP (Video Audio Monologue Performance) is a juried storytelling event held monthly at South Park’s Whistle Stop Bar. Writers submit a narrative nonfiction piece on a specific theme, and those selected get help from writing and performance coaches before taking the stage. SSWA also offers classes at local community colleges. 877.357.2769, sosayweallonline.com

San Diego Writers, Ink is another resource for those who want to learn about the craft. Headed by Executive Director Kristen Fogle, the nonprofit nurtures writers and fosters literary community, offering classes and workshops, writing groups, readings, and special events. Most classes are held online or at The Ink Spot at Liberty Station. “San Diego Writers, Ink and Kristen Fogle in particular, have provided me with access to the broader community of San Diego writers,” says Sleeper, who has taught classes for the organization. “SDWI publishes an annual anthology, A Year in Ink, and hosts readings so writers can share their work. 619.696.0363, sandiegowriters.org

Anastasia Zadeik
Anastasia Zadeik

La Jolla’s Diane Schneider, MD says she considered “writing as a solitary endeavor” when she wrote The Complete Book of Bone Health. An expert on osteoporosis, her research findings have also appeared in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Annals of Internal Medicine, among others. But when Schneider began writing Lives on Brown Cards, a memoir about patients she encountered as a young resident at an Atlanta hospital and the lessons she learned from them, she “became immersed in a vibrant community of writers,” she recalls, adding, “Through classes, organizations, festivals, and read-and-critique groups, my writing and horizons have expanded along with new friendships and bonds that were unexpected benefits.” 

One of those organizations, the San Diego Memoir Writers Association, also founded by Freedman, offers writers the opportunity to see their work performed live on stage by professional actors at its annual Memoir Showcase. Freedman, the showcase producer, and Tracy Jones, the show’s co-producer and director, work with the winners to polish their pieces before local actors are cast.

“Killer Bees,” a chapter in Schneider’s coming-of-age memoir, was among the ten winners out of about 200 submissions at the 2019 Memoir Showcase at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Actor Sibongile Nagako brought Schneider’s words on the page to the stage as the nervous author listened and watched from the front row. “All of a sudden her words transported me back 35 years to the 7B floor at Grady Hospital, an unexpected death of a young patient and her family’s response brought alive by her powerful performance,” Schneider reflects. “What an amazing experience.” drdianeschneider.com

The 2022 Memoir Showcase will be held at 7pm on December 8 at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla. This year’s theme is “What.Just.Happened?” Judges will select eight to ten pieces for the performance and publish 20 more in Shaking the Tree, an annual anthology. Deadline for submission of stories (no longer than five pages) is August 10. The San Diego Memoir Writers Association also holds free monthly online meetings about memoir writing, with guest speakers, authors, and publishers sharing their knowledge. info@sdmwa.org, sdmwa.org

Zadeik, whose work has been featured at the showcase several times, was co-producer of last year’s show at The Conrad. As she debuts her first novel this month, Zadeik is grateful for the support she has received over the years. “The writing community has been such a huge part of my reaching my own literary goals,” she says. “As the saying goes, it takes a village.” anastasiazadeik.com 

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