With its moody fog, freewheeling spirit and madcap hills, San Francisco has attracted bohemian types for centuries, particularly writers and their artist friends. Many iconic authors have chosen the colorful city as the setting for their works. Literary landmarks dot the urban landscape, from Burritt Alley, a murder scene in “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett, to the site of John Steinbeck’s Vallejo Street apartment and Caffe Trieste, a North Beach writer’s hangout frequented by Jack Hirschman and Francis Ford Coppola. Here are six of the many authors inextricably tied to the Bay Area and its enduring literary community.
The Oakland-born writer is best known for her 1989 novel set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, “The Joy Luck Club.” The book, which she views as a collection of short stories, remained on the New York Times Bestseller List for 18 months and was translated into 35 languages and adapted into a successful 1993 film. Born to Chinese immigrant parents, the current Sausalito resident earned her doctorate in linguistics from UC Berkeley and was a National Book Award finalist. Often visiting a recurring theme of mother-daughter relationships, her bestselling novels include “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” and “The Valley of Amazement,” published in 2013.
An award-winning and prolific author and poet active in San Francisco’s literary arts community, Michelle Tea has penned four memoirs, including the acclaimed novel “Valencia,” and edited various anthologies, most notably “Pills, Thrills, Chills, and Heartache: Adventures in the First Person.“ Dedicated to radical queer and feminist themes, she’s collaborated with the celebrated City Lights Publishers and founded RADAR Productions, a local non-profit producing literary events.
The Berkeley resident has been a literary icon since he published his first novel, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” in the ’80s at age 24. He went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay,” and Michael Douglas starred in the film version of his book “Wonder Boys.” In addition to his critically lauded novels, the inexhaustible author has published essays and children’s books and penned screenplays. Considered one of the country’s best current writers, his latest work, “Telegraph Avenue,” is set on the border of Berkeley and Oakland.
A San Francisco resident since 1971, native Southerner and born storyteller Armistead Maupin started his famous “Tales of the City” as a series in the San Francisco Chronicle. Set in an apartment building on fictional Barbary Lane (based on Macondray Lane in Russian Hill), the revolutionary serial tackled current controversial social issues and evolved over four decades into nine books that sold over six million copies and inspired a television miniseries and a musical.
A pioneer of the Beat Movement and the author of its bible, “On the Road,” novelist and poet Jack Kerouac never actually lived in San Francisco, but he’s nevertheless intensely linked to the city, where he spent much time with his fellow beatniks, including Neal Cassady. He frequented City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, and City Lights Publishers published some of his books. He would drink and write at Vesuvio Cafe, located on what is now named Jack Kerouac Alley. Around the corner is the Beat Museum, home to an extensive library of artifacts related to the Beat Generation.
The author and humorist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, made his home in bohemian San Francisco from 1866-68, working as a newspaper journalist. After being fired by the newspaper, he first found major literary success with his story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” commemorated today by a fountain sculpture of jumping frogs in Transamerica Redwood Park. He became famous for his sharp wit and satire and went on to author “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” He did not, however, ever say “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” although the quote is often attributed to him.