Homeless in Berkeley, one tweet at a time

Twitter novelist Doug Sovern

“Sat on grass right under sign that says ‘no sitting on median’. No1 seems to care as long as u have asiago/roma/arugula slice in hand.”

Most Berkeleyans can probably pinpoint the reference in that Tweet to the median strip on Shattuck next to the Cheeseboard. What’s more surprising is those 134 characters are part of the Twitter era’s equivalent of an epistolary novel (think Samuel Richardson and Clarissa and Pamela), written by KCBS Radio journalist Doug Sovern. TweetHeart is written in the voice of Zoe, a young woman living rough on the streets of Berkeley.

Sovern decided to write a novel all in tweets after he crashed his bike on Grizzly Peak and was recovering with some broken ribs. There have been numerous other novels written on Twitter, but Sovern reckons his is the first to attempt a novel that consists entirely of tweets, just as Richardson wrote novels consisting entirely of letters in the 18th century). He started the novel on January 11 and plans to finish on November 11 (11/11/11).

“I had a friend who fell into living on the streets, substance abuse, homelessness,” Sovern said. “I thought it would be interesting to give people a glimpse of a world they usually walk past.”


Sovern is tweeting the novel five or six days a week, in bursts of seven or eight tweets a day. “At this pace, it will only be about 100 pages long by 11/11/11,” Sovern said.

Although Sovern works as a journalist, he said he has always been interested in writing fiction. “When I was five and everyone else wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman, I said I wanted to be a novelist,” he said. TweetHeart, however, is his first attempt at a novel.

You can follow TweetHeart on Twitter, or Sovern’s tweets about politics, sports and whatever else catches his fancy at SovernNation.