Arts + Letters

He Left El Salvador as a Boy. He Returned Home a Poet.

Javier Zamora, a Salvadoran-American poet who lived for most of his life sin papeles, doesn’t care too much for labels. Or borders for that matter.

Born in El Salvador and educated at UC Berkeley, Zamora immigrated to the U.S. when he was only 9 years old. Since then, his literary success has earned him new titles—immigrant activist, hero of the American Dream, and very recently, with his new EB-1 visa, a person with “an extraordinary ability.”

From the Fall 2018 Culture Shift issue of California.

This Cal Grad Is Out to Change The Rules of Comedy

Comedian and Cal grad Zahra Noorbakhsh is a self-described “pork-eating, alcohol-drinking, premarital sex-having, bisexual feminist Iranian Shi’a Muslim.” That is, she doesn’t fit neatly into any one box.

Spanish Professor Speaks the Language of the Blues

UC Berkeley grad and Spanish professor at Diablo Valley College, Marina Crouse has recently found remarkable success in her long-forgone passion for music. With the release last month of her debut album Never Too Soon (Little Village Foundation), the late-blooming singer is starting to earn national attention. And in just a few short years Crouse has become one of the most powerful new voices in the Bay Area music scene.

Q&A: Writes Barbara Jane Reyes, “I Am Not Your Ethnic Spectacle”

As a successful, Filipina-American, experimental feminist poet, Barbara Jane Reyes is something unusual. Her poetry, which she describes as “Filipina affirming work, Filipina centric work, in which the definition of Filipina must be complex and manifold,” is being featured at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, through the month of August. She joins poet Al Robles as part of the Pilipinx American Library, a non-circulating library in the museum’s Resource Room.

Q&A: Roberta Grossman on the Untold Story of the Warsaw Ghetto

In 1940, a Polish historian named Emanuel Ringelblum and a group of 60 scholars, journalists, and local leaders, known as the Oyneg Shabes, set out to record Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Nazis had taken over, and, unbeknownst to Ringelblum, a plan for the “Final Solution”—the systematic extermination of the Jewish people—was beginning to formulate.

Going Green: Artist Chroma-Keys in on White Political Narratives

What can historical garments tell us about today’s political climate? Berkeley Art Practice professor Stephanie Syjuco has some ideas.

This November, Syjuco will present a selection of her projects at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. Her works have typically dealt with global issues, but lately she has turned her attention to the political and social drama unfolding across the U.S. stage.

For the Love of Process: On Curating Cecilia Vicuña’s New Show

Art critic and professor Julia Bryan-Wilson likes process. So when she and Andrea Andersson co-curated About to Happen , a solo show by artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña, she photographed Vicuña gathering materials along the Louisiana coast for a site-specific sculpture at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. Bryan-Wilson thought those photos would enhance the exhibition.

West Edge Opera: No Suit, No Tie, No Problem

Music director Jonathan Khuner ’70, M.A. ’73, has been a shaping force for West Edge Opera company since the mid-1980s, when he began conducting for this vibrant troupe. In his choice of repertoire, his own tastes and uncompromising outlook helped define the company’s aesthetic, first in its original incarnation as Berkeley Opera and now as West Edge.

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

The Musical Mathematics of Rob Schneiderman

The best jazz musicians can bend and twist time, changing meter mid-phrase to fold a melody back on itself, or stretching a beat so that it seems to hang, pregnant, in mid-air. As a first-call pianist in New York City, Rob Schneiderman spent more than a decade expanding and compressing music’s temporal dimensions with jazz legends such as trumpeter Chet Baker, trombonist J.J. Johnson, and saxophonist James Moody, while also recording a series of critically hailed albums under his own name.

Five Questions for Richard Schwartz

1. You’re a building contractor who has written several historical works, including Berkeley 1900; Eccentrics, Heroes, and Cutthroats of Old Berkeley; Earthquake Exodus, 1906; and most recently The Man Who Lit Lady Liberty: The Extraordinary Rise and Fall of Actor M. B. Curtis. Do you think of yourself as a builder who writes, or as a writer with a day job?

From the Summer 2018 Our Town issue of California.

Making Broadway History With the Play She Never Wanted to Write

Later this month, Young Jean Lee will make history as the first Asian-American woman to have a play staged on Broadway. Yet, what would presumably be a cause for celebration actually makes for a confusing time: the Korean-American playwright will be achieving this feat with her play, Straight White Men.

10 Questions for Cal Football’s Favorite Bookworm

Cal running back and rising senior Patrick Laird is known for more than just his walk-on career and impressive collection of awards. An avid reader since childhood, Laird isn’t afraid to flaunt his bibliophilia—on the football field and now, in the classroom. With the support of Cal Athletics, he’s using his platform as a standout football player to encourage younger students to pick up a book (or four, or six) this summer.

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