"I was in New York on September 11," Justin Hudnall says, "and one of the things that I hesitate to tell people, but that's absolutely true—is that it was the most alive I've ever felt."
Hudnall is the executive director of So Say We All, a nonprofit literary arts collective that puts on written-word showcases throughout San Diego. Before founding the organization in 2008, the native San Diegan was attending New York University for playwriting when the 9/11 attacks happened. Heís never forgotten the drama and emotions that played out on a day that showed no mercy.
On Sept. 11, "the air was never sweeter, the sky was never bluer, because I knew I might have not been alive, and I knew people who weren't. Suddenly, being alive meant so much more to me."
Last Night on Earth is inspired by Hudnall's experience of taking life for granted until it flashed before his eyes. Hudnall, along with creative director and co-editor of the book, Ryan Bradford, did a call for submissions on So Say We All's blog and selected 23 stories from around the world—including The New York Times best-selling author Amelia Gray—to form a dawn-to-midnight account of what the end would look like in novel form.
Hudnall is the narrator of the story, writing the ins and outs that tie it together. He had to set up some guidelines to make it all work and so that individual stories didn't contradict the book as a whole. There would be no mass hysteria, just the knowledge of a looming end, restricted transportation and spotty cell reception.
Almost all of the stories are based on authors' real lives, Hudnall says, and since guidelines prohibited them from traveling far, they ventured inward. These stories aren't about naked skydiving before the end of the world; most offer an intimate look at the author's personal weaknesses as told in their final hours.
"What happened organically was, as the end got closer and night came on, the stories became more frantic and more intense and more desperate," Hudnall says, adding that the end story by Wade Pavlick perfectly sums up the catastrophic plot and conveys acceptance. As soon as he read it, he knew it would be the novel's finale, Hudnall says.
Last Night on Earth will be published in tandem on Oct. 20 with So Say We All's annual horror-story anthology, Black Candies, created by Bradford and co-edited with Hudnall. While Last Night on Earth is composed as a novel, Bradford's post-apocalyptic collection features six authors and 45 pages of text alongside vivid illustrations by artist Adam Vieyra.
(Disclosure: Bradford and Vieyra are CityBeat staffers; Hudnall has been a contributor to the paper.)
"I'm obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories—Mad Max movies to '70s sci-fi," says Bradford, who adds that the timing couldn't have been better for the organization to release the pair of books whose content came from open calls.
"We take great pride in what we publish," Bradford says. "It's very important for us to publish voices in San Diego that wouldn't otherwise be heard."
Double header: UCSD's Revelle Forum will bring two literary giants to town. On Sept. 22, Salman Rushdie will be at UCSD's Mandeville Center to talk about his upcoming autobiography, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, about the years after the fatwa issued against him by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Tickets are $40, or $60 for two, and include a copy of the book. On Oct. 22, T.C. Boyle will talk about his new book San Miguel, the name of the island off Santa Barbara where two families struggle to survive during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tickets are $25. revelleforum.ucsd.edu
Authors galore: The 7th Annual City College International Book Fair is free to attend and happens Oct. 1 through 6 on campus (1313 Park Blvd., Downtown). Authors Reyna Grande, Susan Straight, Zohreh Ghahremani, Chris Baron and more will discuss and sign their books. Readings from the authors of books banned in Arizona include: Rudy Acuña, author of Occupied America, Anything But Mexican and Corridors of Migration; Matt de la Peña, author of Mexican White Boy, Ball Don't Lie and We Were Here; and Herbert Sigüenza, author of Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy. Find a schedule of events at sdcitybookfair.com.
Punk-rock priestess: The Godmother of Punk Rock, Patti Smith, will read from her National Book Award-winning memoir Just Kids on Oct. 13 at Spreckels Theater, Downtown. The book is set in New York in the late 1960s when Smith, along with her love, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, lived at the infamous Chelsea Hotel and were immersed in the up-and-coming arts-and-culture scene. Tickets are $35. Prior to the reading, ArtPower will host a dinner at Zanzibar Café (707 G St., Downtown), which includes a signed copy of the book, for $55. artpwr.com
Inspiration for writers: The Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series at SDSU has a lineup of critically acclaimed authors and award-winning alumni reading from their works and leading workshops and discussions in Love Library (Room 301). Talks are on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and include journalist and historian Jeff Biggers on Oct. 3; poet Marilyn Chin on Oct. 17; poet Camille Dungy on Oct. 24; and Pushcart Prize winner Lance Olsen on Nov. 28. A celebration of SDSU MFA alumni featuring Chris Baron, Heather Eudy, Cali Linfor and Savrina Youmans takes place on Nov. 7. All talks are free and open to the public. mfa.sdsu.edu