In 1974, Small Press Traffic was established in the back of a bookstore, Paperback Traffic, in the Castro district of San Francisco. The bookstore, owned by Donn Tatum and Steve Lowell, held primarily gay content and hosted readings, music, and art shows. Key organizers were James Mitchell, Beau Beausoleil, and Denise Kastan, who served as SPT director for many years.
The reading series started in 1978, curated by Robert Glück, with the intention of promoting work by innovative writers and bringing different audiences together in the same room. Glück led his well-regarded writing workshops at this time, which drew in members of the emerging New Narrative movement. With a decline in NEA funding in the mid-80s, Small Press Traffic moved to 24th and Guerrero, under the directorship of Katharine Harer, where it remained until the bookstore’s closure in 1993.
In 1995, director Dodie Bellamy spearheaded Small Press Traffic’s move to New College of California and organized vibrant readings and events with poets and artists active in the Bay Area at this time. The crucial event Expanding the Repertoire: Continuity and Change in African-American Writing (2000) was organized by Renee Gladman and giovanni singleton during Bellamy’s time as director, and was presented when Jocelyn Saidenberg was acting director. Elizabeth Treadwell, director from 2000 to 2007, organized Coordinates: Indigenous Writing Now (2002), edited the magazine Traffic, and hosted years of diverse poetry readings and Poets Theater festivals. Dana Teen Lomax served as interim director from 2007-2009, and programmed the visionary book and event project Kindergarde: avant garde literature and plays for children (2013). Director Samantha Giles (2009-2019) ran the SPT reading series at CCA’s Timken Hall, Artists’ Television Access, and other locations throughout the Bay Area, organized the annual Poets Theater festival, offered online workshops and dinner talks, retreats and residency opportunities, produced The New Narrative Walking Tour on the occasion of the New Narrative conference Communal Presence, and organized an annual marathon reading Endless Summer.
From historical offerings such as the Left/Write Conference (1981–1982) and Gloria Anzaldúa’s reading series El Mundo Zurdo, to the Bay Area Shorts video series produced in the spring of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Small Press Traffic remains the Bay Area home for poets and artists who push the boundaries of their form and practice.