Arts + Letters

Now Showing: Celebrating Half a Century of Film at Berkeley

THIS YEAR, Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive celebrates its 50th anniversary—that is, in its physical form. While the PFA technically opened its doors in 1971, it actually came into being several years earlier, before it had any doors, born from the mind of writer Sheldon Renan.

From the Summer 2021 issue of California.

Joe Di Prisco Bet on Literature—and Won Big

WHEN HE WAS A GRAD STUDENT in Berkeley in the 1970s and ’80s, pursuing his Ph.D. in English, Joe Di Prisco would often duck out of Wheeler Hall to place bets on sports games from campus pay phones. It wasn’t the only angle he was working back then.

From the Summer 2021 issue of California.

Celebrating Children’s Literature Legend, Beverly Cleary

It was a quiet morning at Sather Gate Book Shop in Berkeley during World War II. Beverly Cleary, who was working at the shop, idly picked up a children’s book. “‘Bow-wow. I like the green grass,’ said the puppy,” she read, as she later recalled in a memoir. “How ridiculous,” she thought.

From the Summer 2021 issue of California.

A Formula for Funny: The Surprisingly Smart Humor of The Simpsons

FOR CENTURIES, FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM defied mathematicians to prove that there are, in fact, no natural numbers for x, y and z that can satisfy the equation xn+yn=zn when n is greater than 2. Countless great minds tried and failed, until 1995, when mathematician Andrew Wiles, after years of monk-like devotion, provided the undisputed proof once and for all. 

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Will AI Write the Next Great American Novel?

IN SEPTEMBER OF LAST YEAR, a startling headline appeared on the Guardian’s website: “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?” The accompanying piece was written by GPT-3, or Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, a language-generating program from San Francisco–based OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research company whose founders include Tesla billionaire Elon Musk and Berkeley Ph.D. John Schulman. “The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear,” the robotic author explained to readers.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

You Should Know About Ida Jackson

“Since I’ve gotten old, I have wondered how I did all the things that I did then,” Ida Louise Jackson reflected in 1984 at the age of 82. Jackson participated in some of the major movements of the 20th century: the Great Migration, school desegregation, the battles for equitable education and health, and the Civil Rights Movement. Some of her earliest activism began at Berkeley when she organized the second Black sorority on the campus (shortly after the founding of AKA’s rival Delta Sigma Theta).

From the Fall 2020 issue of California.

“Equal Parts Pain and Joy:” Fred Moten’s Life in Verse

When Fred Moten reflects on his childhood, he thinks of music. His mother once slipped a coat over his pajamas, so he could accompany her to a late-night concert by the jazz singer Joe Williams on the Las Vegas Strip. She also played the piano, collected jazz and blues recordings, and baked pies for legendary bluesman B.B. King.

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.

Black Cultural History at Cal: Sun Ra, James Baldwin, and More

UC Berkeley has historically been a magnet for African American activists, artists, and thinkers but never more so than during the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s. And with a little googling, many of these historical appearances can still be seen, heard, and savored online. In honor of the upcoming 45th annual Black History Month (February 2021), here’s a selection of Black speakers and cultural events that the Cal campus has played host to over the years.

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.

Artist, Activist, and Astrophysicist Nia Imara Keeps Her Eyes on the Sky

NIA IMARA ISN’T CONTENT TO JUST LOOK AT THE STARS, so she’s printing a 3-D replica of one she can hold in her hands. “We can’t actually touch these things,” says the astrophysicist and artist, but it’s about imagining the possibilities. “I’m a big believer in that; we can see things not as the way they are. We have the ability to project our vision of the world onto the world.” 

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.

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