Our Speakers for the 2019 San Francisco Writing For Change



Brooke Axtell is the Founder and Director of She is Rising, a healing community for women and girls overcoming rape, abuse and sex-trafficking. Through her mentorship programs, retreats and workshops, Brooke helps survivors become leaders. She is passionate about inspiring young women to reclaim their worth and express their power to create a more compassionate world.

Her work as a human rights activist led her to speak at The 2015 Grammy Awards, The United Nations and the U.S. Institute for Peace. She is a member of the Speaker’s Bureau for Rape, Abuse, Incest, National Network (R.A.I.N.N.), the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the U.S., and an Advisor for Freedom United, global initiative to end human trafficking.

Her work as a writer, speaker, performing artist and activist has been featured in many media outlets, including the New York Times, LA Times, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal and CNN. Brooke has published several award-winning poetry books and released three CDs of original music to critical acclaim.


NINA AMIRis an international speaker, award-winning blogger and journalist, bestselling author, and one of 300 elite Certified High Performance Coaches in the world. Known as the Inspiration to Creation Coach, she helps people Achieve More Inspired Results. Amir is the author of How to Blog a BookThe Author Training Manual, and Creative Visualization for Writers, and she has 12 ebooks toher name as well. She created the Author of Change Transformational Coaching Program and founded National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMO) and the Nonfiction Writers’ University (NFWU). She also developed two proprietary training programs, one for aspiring authors and author coaches and another for authors who want to plan all aspects of their careers.

 JIM AZEVEDO is the marketing director at Smashwords, the largest distributor of self-published ebooks serving over 130,000 independent authors, publishers, and literary agents. Since 2008, Smashwords has helped authors around the world release more than 470,000 titles to top ebook retailers, subscription services, and public libraries.. For best practices: Smart Author Podcast at smashwords.com/podcast or another podcasting service, @smashwords, Jim@jazzervedo.

JOEY GARCIA created opportunities through her book tour, including gigs as a Relationship Expert for a network television station and as an iHeart Media talk show host. Her print and online advice column “Ask Joey” has inspired 300,000 readers each week for more than 21 years. Born in Belize, she is the founder of the Belize Writers’ Conference where writers vacation with literary agents while learning how to succeed as authorpreneurs. www.joeygarcia.com

MELISSA HART is Contributing Editor at The Writer Magazine. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Rumpus, The Boston Globe, Orion, High Country News, The Advocate, Adbusters, Hemispheres, The Normal School, Fourth Genre, The Chicago Tribune, and many other periodicals. She started publishing at 14, with two rhyming poems in Cat Fancy and a short story in Scholastic Voice Magazine which taught her never to name her characters after her crush.

BRENDA KNIGHT began her career at HarperCollins, working with Marianne Williamson, Huston Smith, and Paolo Coelho. Brenda was Publisher of Cleis Press and was awarded IndieFab’s Publisher of the Year in 2014.  She is the author of Wild Women and Books, Be a Good in the World, and Women of the Beat Generation, which won an American Book Award. She is the cofounder of PI: Promotional Intelligence for Authors, Publisher and other Creatives and Publishing Consultant to Mango Media.

GINA MULLIGAN began her writing career over twenty years ago as a freelance journalist for national magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Star 82 Review and Storyacious, were performed at Stories on Stage Sacramento, and were included in the anthologies Tudor Close: A Collection of Mystery Stories and Not Your Mother’s Book…on Dogs. She’s won awards from the Abilene Writers Guild, San Francisco LitQuake, and the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition.

After her own diagnosis, Gina founded Girls Love Mail, a charity that collects handwritten letters of encouragement for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. She was honored for her charitable work on the nationally syndicated talk show The Steve Harvey Show.

MICHAEL WARR –  Michael’s books of poetry include Of Poetry & Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (W.W. Norton & Company, 2016), and from Tia Chucha Press The Armageddon of FunkWe Are All The Black Boy, and others. In 2017 the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library named him a Library Laureate. In 2015 he received a Creative Work Fund award for his digital poetry project “Tracing Poetic Memory in Bayview-Hunters Point,” where he spent his early childhood. Working with digital artist Mark Sabb, Michael is integrating his own poetry with digital visual platforms (video, photography, social media, archival materials, etc.), he is searching for and telling his family story, starting at the top of the Hill on Dormitory and Kiska Rd., while also working with youth and their families, at the Bayview YMCA to create their own mixture of poetic storytelling with digital images.

Michael has also received a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award (BCALA), Gwendolyn Brooks Significant Illinois Poets Award, and an NEA Fellowship for Poetry. His poems have been widely anthologized in books, journals, and recordings, both nationally and internationally. His digital photo/poetry performance, Poetic Aperture – An African American Interprets Africa, based on his poetry and photojournalism in Africa, debuted at The Field Museum in Chicago. Currently his poetry is being translated into Mandarin as part of the “Two Languages / One Community” project in collaboration with poet, novelist, translator, and scientist Chun Yu.

OG Rev HARRY LOUIS WILLIAMS II  (MDiv, Palmer Theological Seminary) is an ordained minister and the author of several books, including No Easy Walk, Street Cred, and the best-selling urban fiction book, Straight Outta East Oakland. He serves the poor, addicted, homeless, and formerly incarcerated in Oakland, California.

In 2015, Williams was awarded a proclamation from the Oakland City Council for his efforts to heal street level violence and aid victims of human trafficking in Oakland, California.

Watch this video from the “OG Rev” on how to address community gun violence.


PETER BEREN is a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) and a book publishing consultant to authors, self-publishers and independent publishers. Formerly Vice-President of Publishing at Insight Editions, Publisher of Sierra Club Books, Publisher of VIA Books, an Acquisitions Editor for Jeremy Tarcher and Executive Editor at And/Or Press, Inc., he has more than four decades of experience in the book publishing industry. At Sierra Club he received three Benjamin Franklin Awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), at VIA Books, the book publishing division of the California State Automobile Association. Beren was awarded the Merit Award for Excellence in Communication by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

KARLY CASERZA -Associate Agent Karly Caserza was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Northern California as a child. She obtained her Business Marketing degree and has been a Freelance Graphic Designer for over 10 years. In addition to designing a wide range of print and web promotional material for clients, Karly creates book covers for Short Fuse and promotional graphics for Fuse authors.
Professionally, Karly began her career in the publishing industry as a reader for Tricia Skinner at Fuse Literary. Her responsibilities quickly grew and she was promoted to Literary Assistant, a role that also included a spot on the production team of Short Fuse.
Karly is also the Marketing Coordinator of the San Francisco Writers Conference, held every President’s Day weekend. In her spare time, Karly is an Adobe Technical Trainer, freelance graphic designer, Young Adult author, video game geek, and art noob.
Karly has a deep love for characters with a strong voice and seeks out stories she can get lost in. Diversity in genre fiction is a major bonus. She specializes in middle grade and young adult genre fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary).

LAURIE McLEAN is the co-founder and partner of Fuse Literary, actively creating the literary agency of the future and igniting author careers. Laurie ran her own eponymous publicity agency for 20 years and then spent 8 years as an agent before forming Fuse in 2013. Laurie specializes in adult/young adult/middle grade genre fiction, but also listens to pitches at conferences for the entire agency of 8 agents. Query her at Laurie@FuseLiterary.com.


TANYA EGAN GIBSON is the author of the novel How To Buy a Love of Reading (Dutton – 2009), and a freelance editor, consultant, and writing teacher. She has written for such magazines as The Writer, Parents, and Writer’s Digest, which will publish her latest article, “10 Things Your Freelance Editor Hasn’t Told You—But Should” in its May/June 2013 issue.

WENDY TOKUNAGA is an award-winning writer, independent editor for novels and memoirs, writing teacher and acclaimed cat servant. Her novels include Midori by MoonlightLove in TranslationFalling Uphill, His Wife and Daughters and No Kidding. Her non-fiction title is Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband. She received her MFA from University of San Francisco and teaches for Stanford’s Certificate Program in Novel Writing. Her latest book is the first in a series of short story collections called Postcards From Tokyo. 

MEGHAN STEVENSON – My entire career has been in trade book publishing. I worked as an editor at Simon & Schuster (Touchstone) and Penguin (Hudson Street Press and Plume) before launching my own business in 2012. I have a Masters of Science in Publishing from Pace University, and Bachelors of Arts degrees in Communication Studies and English Writing from Winona State University in Minnesota.

My mission is to help people transform their stories and expertise into books that readers enjoy and benefit from. I have spent the last decade helping authors navigate every stage of the publishing process, from cultivating book ideas and querying agents to fine-tuning a manuscript before it goes to press. Whether your intent is to reach an agent, attract the attention of an editor, reach millions of readers—or all of the above—it would be my privilege to help you along your journey.

MARY RAKOW, Ph.D.’s name appears in the acknowledgments of Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, long-listed for the National Book Award, and Gregory Boyle’s Amazon bestseller Barking to the Choir. “Rakow is a legendary editor,” says Tupelo Prize winner Ilya Kaminski. A San Franciscan, Mary also meets with clients. Her latest novel, This Is Why I Came, received outstanding reviews in the Washington PostBoston GlobeAtlanticHarvard Divinity Bulletin, and Christian Century, maryrakow.com, thisiswhybook.com.