Five years ago, Rebecca Grove, then an English teacher and fundraiser for Oakland public schools, started hosting small literary salons for her friends — gatherings where people read snippets of stories, discuss books, write short plays, and act things out, just for each other. "It was in my living room, but it was a way to build momentum and offer people a pub-like setting to celebrate literature in any form," Grove said.
But sometime during the last year, she realized two things: First, the salon was beginning to mean a lot more to people than she expected. "If you're working hard on your job, you're slogging, and you get a chance to get in front of a microphone and talk about it in whatever way — people love that," she said. "To express yourself in that way, it makes you feel like you've done something." Second, the Oakland transplant realized that Uptown, with its ever-growing crop of bars, restaurants, galleries, and cafes, was missing a venue that could combine all these things, as well as act as a dedicated literary space.
"San Francisco has Viracocha," said Grove, referencing the quaint Mission District retail shop, which peddles all manner of antique furniture and bric-a-brac on its top floor, but also houses a cozy underground stage where musicians, poets, comics, actors, and dancers can flex their creative muscles to a small, but captive, audience. And the Octopus Literary Salon — currently wrapping up a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo and slated to open by early next year — will be a similarly multifaceted space in Uptown: a fully-functioning cafe, restaurant, bookstore, and performance venue. "I want it to be a place where people can stop by for a coffee or a beer, and catch a reading or an open mic while they're there," Grove said.
In the meantime, Grove — who quit her day job and is now working on opening the space full-time — is continuing to host the small salons that inspired the space to begin with. Join her this Friday, July 12, at the historic Borax Smith Red House (817 24th St., Oakland) for a night of musical performances, comedy, and a "1 Minute Storytelling" rapid-fire open mic, the theme of which is "An Evening of Songs and Storytelling About the Sea."
And what was the inspiration for selecting the salon's eight-tentacled namesake? Books, of course. "The octopus is an epic character in literature; it's got so many different facets!" Grove said. "Sometimes it's evil, sometimes it's good, sometimes it's a link to outer space — but it's always intelligent and creative. It has all the attributes that we want the space to have." 7 pm.-midnight, $20. OaklandOctopus.org