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The San Francisco Writer's Grotto

Links
About the Grotto
Who's Here
Grotto Official Web Page
Sanchez Grotto Annex
Grotto Nights
Tour Stops Events
Why the Grotto? (An Essay on The Grotto's origins)

 

The Grotto is a place. Or, it is a hypothesis about "Place", which we have been testing for some time. The hypothesis is that working writers will be more productive (and have more courage to pursue the kind of writing they really want to do) if they work in a community of writers -- if they surround themselves with other writers pursuing this same vague ambition. The writers and filmmakers at the Grotto are not united by anything more than that -- not by any school of thought, or style, or genre. Our differences rub off on each other, informally, and we grow into talents we didn't even know we had.

inside our new South Park offices today

The Grotto began as a cooperative writing space that we founded in 1994 in an old Victorian on Market Street. It is for writers of any sort, but only for writers who are committed enough to their writing that they are willing to shell out rent money for space - and very often, but not always, this means writers who make a living at it, or are on the verge of doing so. There is no official organization, no taxpayer ID number--it's just like roommates renting an apartment. Its purpose is, as stated above, to help writers complete their best work. 

South Park, our new neighborhood

It is a community and we are interwoven with the San Francisco literary community, and most people here contribute to that community extensively - teaching classes through 826 Valencia, the Mechanics Library, UC Berkeley and A Clean Well Lighted Place, as well as at less conventional places, such as San Quentin, Juvenile Hall, and the Indochinese Housing Development in the Tenderloin. People here also help put on city-wide events such as Litquake, and serve on the boards of other organizations such as The Magic Theater and Zoetrope: All Story.

Is The Grotto, as a "space," exclusive then? Well, we don't want to be, and we've dealt with it several ways. In the beginning, back in December 1994, there were three of us. We could have rented an office for just three, but we hoped other creative artists would see the potential benefit, so we rented a flat that had room for six. It was not easy to find those first three new people, because we were not anything yet and the concept was vague. Once it was up and running, clearly more people wanted to be a part of it.

So after two years there, we rented a new space with room for nine writers. Rents were skyrocketing in those days, and it was risky - while people might have the desire to work from The Grotto, our pods had to be very small to make it affordable. We lost two in the transition, and after a few very nervewracking months of covering the rent ourselves, we finally filled up. The Grotto began to thrive there, and became more noticeable, publicly, so after three years we moved to a much bigger space, opening our doors to far more people - this former Cat & Dog Hospital, below, with room for 22 private spaces. In late 2005, the landlord booted us, once again, in order to build luxury condos. So we found a new space near South Park with 32 rooms for writers, plus a nice class space, conference room, and two kitchens. That's where we are today.

So we have tried to open our doors to as many as possible, and expand the space to include a greater diversity of creative people.

our neighborhood

We're proud that an idea once meant for three has helped, now, over sixty writers and filmmakers. Individuals also rent out their spaces for a week here, a month there, when they are traveling. Our philosophy is an empty office is a wasted space. We've had a couple dozen writers join us, temporarily, in this way.

If the Grotto sounds like your thing, I strongly encourage you to form another. The idea, the notion behind this place, is not exclusive. There have been two recent, successful Grotto spinoffs. One is in the Castro district, called the Sanchez Grotto Annex, with nine writers. Another is in Oakland, seeded by grotto dwellers who moved over the bridge - that one has five writers and room for plenty more. 

our completely nondescript building

We like it because it gets us out of the house. We like it because these days, editors don't have the luxury of holding our hands or bailing us out of our crises of confidence, so we support each other. We read each other's work, we pass along contacts, we cooperate on projects. We do not compete with each other. We all have chores, (cleaning the deck, maintaining the DSL, etc.)

The Grotto's official web site is here

An essay, "Do Writers Need Community?," that is part of a chapter from What Should I Do With My Life?