Ursula K. Le Guin has said that her father, Alfred Kroeber, studied real cultures, while she made them up. Indeed, many of the writer’s most celebrated novels are set in intricately imagined realms, from the sci-fi universe of Ekumen to the fantasy archipelago of Earthsea.
Arts + Letters
Berkeley alumni are a prolific bunch. They all have something to say, and many are moved to put it in writing. What is unusual is to not only publish your own book but to print it yourself, bind it by hand, and cart it to the bookstores on your own. Add in that the author/publisher has a day job at Google, and we think you’ll agree that Matt Werner ’07 is unusual even for a Berkeley grad. We caught up with Matt via email to ask him a few questions about why, and how, he released his book—Oakland in Popular Memory, a collection of interviews with Oakland artists—the hard way.
My son, Danny, returned from an exchange semester at Berkeley and treated me to a recitation of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s Hadda Be Playing on the Jukebox. Robert Haas’s American Poetry class had introduced Danny to the Beats, and he wanted to know whether I had read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I hadn’t.
I first heard the Admiral’s name spoken by a corrupt police inspector in 1982. He was a local potentate in Sumatra, the Indonesian island that cuts like a scimitar through the eastern Indian Ocean, separating it from the Strait of Malacca. Sumatra is a strange, unsettling place, more than 180,000 square miles of malarial swamp and jungle broken by 35 active volcanoes. On the unbearably humid coast, clothes and bedsheets are never dry; even at night the temperatures hover in the 90s.
Huston Smith was at Berkeley working on his Ph.D. in 1945 when he stumbled upon the work of Gerald Heard, a British writer and philosopher—a man who would later be called “the grandfather of the New Age movement.”
On mornings he can’t sleep, Ed White will brew up a pot of coffee, wander out to his studio, and paint through sunrise. Insomnia or no insomnia, he’s out there at least three days a week. He compares painting to digging. “You dig and you dig and you get to that point where you hit hardpan. And you just gotta keep digging.” On this particular morning, the “excavation” involved an old pickup truck Ed once saw abandoned near the beach on Kauai, its bed converted to a planter and overgrown with flowers. As he worked, the stereo played.
You won’t find a vampire in a Beverly Cleary book. There are no zombies, witches, warlocks, or wizards in the world inhabited by Ramona and Beezus Quimby, Ellen Tebbits, Henry Huggins, Henry’s dog Ribsy, or any of the fictional gang on Klickitat Street in Portland, Oregon. Hardcore drug use and teenage pregnancy are not addressed, and no one seems to suffer eating disorders. There are no celebrities or inside looks into the fabulous world of Manhattan’s elite. No major crimes get committed and no major natural or manmade disasters occur. There is zero texting.
The light is fading on a bitter-cold December afternoon in Berkeley, and Trevor Paglen is talking about spy satellites. Specifically, he’s explaining how hard it is to photograph them—not just because our government doesn’t want us to know they’re there but also because they’re a long way away. “You’re basically trying to shoot something the size of a car on the other side of the Earth, but actually it’s even farther,” he says, his words dissolving into a machine-gun laugh.
It was the insects that got to her first. Sylvia Sellers-García says family legend has it that even as a baby in Central America, the bugs made quite an impact on her. “They are very different from insects here,” says Sellers-García, a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American history at Berkeley. “They are un-ignorable.” She remembers the skin-crawling horror of coming home after dark when the light had been left on. That scene finds its way into her debut novel set in Guatemala, When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep:
Every April Fool’s Day, the San Francisco Public Library showcases a rather sizable but little-known archive within its holdings—the Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor, or SCOWAH. It’s said to be one of the largest such assemblages in the world. And though it’s safe to say that few San Franciscans are aware of all this mirth in their midst, fewer still know anything about the man who stockpiled it.