CITY LIGHTS AT 60: SUBTLE CHANNELS - An OuLiPo Laboratory: Present, Past, and Future
November 6,7,9, 2013, City Lights Bookstore, Mechanics' Institute Library, San Francisco Art Institute


City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in conjunction with the Mechanics' Institute Library and the San Francisco Art Institute present

SUBTLE CHANNELS - An OuLiPo Laboratory: Present, Past, and Future

Since 1961, the OuLiPo — ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or workshop for potential literature — has been borrowing mathematical and scientific theories to develop new structures for literary creation. In its explorations, the workshop has rejuvenated age-old forms, such as the sonnet, the sestina, and the lipogram, and created new delights like the subway poem, the N+7 technique, and the first choose-your-own-adventure fiction in history.

In its first half-century, the Oulipo has been home to such luminaries as Raymond Queneau, François Le Lionnais, Marcel Duchamp, Italo Calvino, Georges Perec, Jacques Roubaud, and Harry Mathews; as it evolves, the oulipian project continues to carve out new paths for creative exploration of constraint, extending beyond the literary to engage music, visual arts, architecture, and much more.

This multi-day celebration, presented by City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in conjunction with the Mechanics' Institute Library and the San Francisco Art Institute, brings together members of the Oulipo and West Coast creators to trace potential literature from its origins to the present day and into the future, with discussions, readings, and participatory workshops.

*Please address all inquiries to

*Wednesday, November 6 | City Lights Bookstore

Brief multimedia presentation of the group's origins and trajectory by Daniel Levin Becker, followed by a panel discussion involving Oulipians Paul Fournel and Hervé Le Tellier, moderated by Peter Maravelis. Q&A follows.

261 Columbus Ave. 7 p.m. Admission free.


*Thursday, November 7 | Mechanics' Institute Library

Oulipians Paul Fournel, Hervé Le Tellier, and Daniel Levin Becker, as well as Seattle writer Doug Nufer, and translator Rachel Galvin, read or perform oulipian or Oulipo-inspired texts from the group's first half-century.

57 Post St. 6 p.m. Admission $12, members free.


*Friday, November 8/ Green Apple Bookstore

Oulipians Paul Fournel, Hervé Le Tellier, and Daniel Levin Becker read from the newly released Winter Journeys, an ongoing, collectively authored serial novel based on a 1979 short story by Georges Perec. More information here.

506 Clement St. 7 p.m. Admission free.


*Saturday, November 9 | San Francisco Art Institute

Members of the Oulipo conduct hands-on classes (in English and in French) introducing a variety of forms and structures; cartoonist Roman Muradov and sound theorist Marc Weidenbaum follow suit in their respective media. Participants will share their work at an evening show-and-tell event.

800 Chestnut St. Workshops 2 to 5 p.m.; show-and-tell 7 p.m. Admission free with sign-up.

A sign-up sheet will be available at the front counter of City Lights Bookstore beginning Tuesday, October 1. Or, you may  e-mail your preferences to:


Writing (English): Daniel Levin Becker will lead participants through a variety of constraints, forms, and structures, from alphabetical restrictions to imposed vocabulary to variations on time-honored poetic forms.                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Writing (French): La même chose, mais en français. Led by Paul Fournel and/or Hervé Le Tellier.

Cartooning: This workshop, led by Roman Muradov, will start with a few simple individual constrained cartooning exercises featuring pre-set first/last words and constrained panel breakdowns. It will finish with an infinitely expanding collaborative comic involving each participant. 

Sound: Led by Marc Weidenbaum. Participants will produce a variety of original works in response to concise instructions, such as a medley of everyday noise, a fragmenting autobiography, and an exercise in municipal minimalism. Musicians and non-musicians are welcome. 
To make the best use of the time, please bring a smartphone or other device capable of recording sound, and a laptop with Audacity or another sound-editing tool pre-installed. Basic ability to manipulate (cut, paste) audio would be beneficial, but tutorial assistance will be available on site.


Paul Fournel is a writer. He spent several years as a publisher at Ramsay and Seghers, among others; he has also been president of the Society of Men of Letters of France, served as a cultural attaché in London and in Cairo, and directed the Alliance Française in San Francisco. Now he is a full-time writer, a full-time cyclist, and full-time president of the Oulipo.

Hervé Le Tellier is a writer, journalist, mathematician, food critic, and teacher. He is a daily contributor to the website of Le Monde and one of the personalities on the radio quiz show Les Papous dans la tête; he has been a member of the Oulipo since 1992. His published works in English include Electrico W (Other Press, 2013), Enough About Love (Other Press, 2011), The Sextine Chapel (Dalkey, 2011), and A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) (Dalkey, 2011).

Daniel Levin Becker is reviews editor of The Believer, the author of Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature (Harvard, 2012), the translator of Georges Perec's La Boutique Obscure (Melville House, 2013), and the youngest member of the Oulipo. He lives in San Francisco.

Rachel Galvin is an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Humanities Center of Johns Hopkins University. Her poems and translations appear in journals including Colorado Review, Drunken Boat, Gulf Coast, McSweeney's, and the New Yorker. She is the author of the poetry collections Zoetrope, Pulleys & Locomotion, and Lost Property Unit. Most recently, Hitting the Streets, her translation of Raymond Queneau's Courir les rues, was published by Carcanet Press.

Roman Muradov is an illustrator and cartoonist from Russia, currently living in San Francisco. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, and other nice places. He loves tea, books, and long aimless walks.

Doug Nufer is the author of more than half a dozen novels and three books of poetry, all of which employ Oulipian methods. The poetry collection We Were Werewolves (Make Now, 2008) and the novels Never Again (Black Square, 2004), Negativeland (Autonomedia, 2004), and By Kelman Out of Pessoa (Les Figues, 2011) are the most constraint-driven of these books. He's also responsible for a lounge act, Lounge Acts (forthcoming from Insert Blanc), and The Dammed, a geographic homophonic narrative poem he wrote and performs, on stage and in a movie by Amy Billharz. He lives in Seattle, where he runs a wine shop.

Marc Weidenbaum has written on sound, art, and technology for Nature, the website of the Atlantic, and Boing Boing. Over 350 musicians from around the world have created more than 2,500 online recordings since January 2012 as part of the Disquiet Junto group, which he founded to explore restraint as a springboard for creativity and productivity. He has commissioned compositions from such musicians as Scanner, Steve Roden, and Stephen Vitiello, and collaborated with the artists Jorge Colombo and Paolo Salvagione. He also lectures on the role of sound in the media landscape.