Arts + Letters

Uncertain Prospects

(Note: In this gritty diary, director Jesse Moss captures his challenges filming “The Overnighters,” which just received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for “intuitive filmmaking” at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Moss, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1993, thanked the festival for “believing in this film when we really needed someone to believe in it.”)


DAY 425

“Get off my property or I’ll shoot you.”

From the Fall 2013 Film Issue issue of California.

Finding Her Tribe

One glance at the promo for her TV show was enough to send her heart plummeting like an elevator with snapped cables. The ad depicted a female flight attendant—or stewardess, as they were once universally called—lying in bed, partially draped in a sheet, wearing only a jaunty Pan Am flight cap. To the show’s originator/executive producer, Nancy Hult Ganis ’78, M.J. ’81, it was the utter anti­thesis of her vision.

From the Fall 2013 Film Issue issue of California.

The SS vs. Shirley Temple

The collaboration of American movie studios with Nazi Germany was complex and multifaceted, and as the decade progressed, it evolved in a clearly discernible way. More and more, the Nazis dictated the terms of every encounter, and the studios, instead of leaving the German market, did everything they could to remain. As the years passed, fewer American movies were shown in Germany, but as long as the studios pandered to the whims of the Nazi regime, the collaboration remained as strong as ever.

From the Fall 2013 Film Issue issue of California.

The Heart of Everything

C.K. Ladzekpo never intended to stay in Berkeley. Now in his 40th year on faculty at Cal, the pioneering drummer, choreographer, and teacher didn’t foresee leaving West Africa at all. But a temporary teaching position abroad started to look more attractive after military officers came to his classroom at University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies, roughed him up in front of his students, and held him under arrest for four days.

From the Summer 2013 A New Deal issue of California.

The Empty Quarter

Some years ago, a major metro newspaper ran a series of articles on the “many Californias”—the socially and economically diverse states-within-the-state that conjoin, however uneasily, to create one of the most dynamic societies on the planet. The conceit was not inaccurate, even if it broke along predictable lines: the Lotus-Eating Southland, the Tech Empire of Silicon Valley, the Conservative Citadel of the Central Valley, and the Retiree Haven of the Sierra Foothills.

But there was one California the article didn’t address: the Empty Quarter.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

Song of Herself

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.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

In a Bind

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.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.

Out of the Gate

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.

From the Winter 2012 Culture Shock issue of California.

The Eunuch Admiral

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.

From the Fall 2011 The Good Fight issue of California.

Chasing the Divine

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.”

From the Spring 2011 Articles of Faith issue of California.

Being Big Ed

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.

From the Spring 2011 Articles of Faith issue of California.

Extraordinarily Ordinary: Beverly Cleary Still Making Magic for Young Readers

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.

From the Summer 2010 Shelf Life issue of California.

Strange Renderings: The Secret Geographies of UC Berkeley’s Trevor Paglen

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.

From the Spring 2010 Searchlight on Gray Areas issue of California.

Family Violence

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:

From the March April 2008 Mind Matters issue of California.

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