Arts + Letters

Sun Mad: Ester Hernández, One of the Bay Area’s Las Mujeres Muralistas, Takes on Agribusiness

Ester Hernández’s Sun Mad is her best-known piece, the one she’s most associated with. It now forms part of the San Francisco Legion of Honor exhibit, “Wild West: Plains to the Pacific,” through September 11.

Jim Ganz, who curated the show with Colleen Terry, says when they were looking for some political art to include in the show—and in their collection—Sun Mad seemed perfect. He says this print, alongside Matt Black’s photos of farm workers, adds a lot. Read more about Sun Mad: Ester Hernández, One of the Bay Area's Las Mujeres Muralistas, Takes on Agribusiness »

‘Happy Birthday’ Suit Resolved: The Most-Sung Song Is Free for All

In a rare victory for the commons, “Happy Birthday to You” enters the public domain today, finally freed from a copyright long claimed by Warner/Chappell Music. Though Judge George H. King of the federal district court in Los Angeles initially ruled last September that the copyright was not valid, the company battled on, perhaps because with no rival as the most widely recognized and frequently sung song in the English language, the tune has steadily generated some $2 million a year for the publishing company. Read more about 'Happy Birthday' Suit Resolved: The Most-Sung Song Is Free for All »

Famous in Guinea-Bissau: In Africa, Berkeley Band Becomes ‘Non-Militarized Face’ of USA

 Drenched in sweat, I rushed to pack up my cello before the crowd stormed the stage again. It was dark, and all the dancing had filled the hot air with reddish dust. We’d just finished our set, and I couldn’t wait to get my gear locked up in the van so I could relax. But as I knelt down to pick up my rosin, the mob of kids rushed my bandmate Brendan and slammed his back against the wall. By the time I turned, a sea of hands and fingers were rippling over his entire body. Read more about Famous in Guinea-Bissau: In Africa, Berkeley Band Becomes 'Non-Militarized Face' of USA »

From the Summer 2016 Welcome to There issue of California.

You’re Out: ‘The Return’ Documents the Release of Former Three Strikes Prisoners

Lock ’em up and throw away the key: For several generations California’s response to rising crime rates consisted of a variation on this theme, culminating with 1994’s severe Three Strikes law. But for the past two decades, violent crime in California has been falling, and by 2012, California voters took the unprecedented step of approving Prop. 36. For the first time in American history, voters passed an initiative that ran counter to the tough-on-crime movement. Serving as a key to long-locked prison doors, Prop. 36 enables hard-time convicts to petition for early release. Read more about You're Out: 'The Return' Documents the Release of Former Three Strikes Prisoners »

Following the Yellow Brick Road to Obsession: Berkeley Librarian is All About All Things Oz

Peter Hanff was 3 years old when he stumbled across the Land of Oz; his father had 10 Oz titles and began reading them to his son before bed. The boy quickly became entranced by L. Frank Baum’s stories and the illustrations. It was the start of an obsession that would lead him to his current role as deputy director of UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, and to a life of avid Oz book collecting, research, and celebration. If ever an Oz wiz there was, Hanff would be it. Read more about Following the Yellow Brick Road to Obsession: Berkeley Librarian is All About All Things Oz »

An Unusual Life Unfolding: Noted Bear Biologist Gains Acclaim in Origami World

Bernie Peyton is profoundly dyslexic, and that made his early years growing up in New York City difficult. School was hellish: He struggled to read, he was bullied, and it was hard to make friends. Then when he was 9, his stepfather gave him a book that changed his life.

Peyton still has the book—a beautifully illustrated instruction manual on origami by Isao Honda that contains examples of various works pasted to the pages. He recently opened the volume in his Berkeley home, and thumbed through it reverently. Read more about An Unusual Life Unfolding: Noted Bear Biologist Gains Acclaim in Origami World »

What Sparked This Pulitzer-Winning Novelist? Dual Life, ‘Mind-Blowing’ Berkeley & a Movie

For over 20 years—before 9/11 and Black Lives Matter and Trump’s wall-building scheme, before “white privilege” and “male privilege” were common phrases—Viet Thanh Nguyen was wrestling with questions of social justice and power. For years he dreamed of writing a novel that would explore these important concepts in a well-crafted, entertaining, even funny way. And that, in turn, would coax people to keep reading, even the parts that many Americans would like to ignore, and ultimately it would inspire them to look at themselves and the world with fresh eyes. Read more about What Sparked This Pulitzer-Winning Novelist? Dual Life, 'Mind-Blowing' Berkeley & a Movie »

Berkeley’s Bravest: The Cal Scholar Who Inspired Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War Hero

Six feet, two-and-a-half inches tall, rangy and handsome, Robert H. Merriman was 23 years old when in the fall of 1932 he began studying at UC Berkeley for a Ph.D. in economics. A fellow student in his department, John Kenneth Galbraith, called him “the most popular of my generation of graduate students at Berkeley. … Later he was to show himself the bravest.” Read more about Berkeley’s Bravest: The Cal Scholar Who Inspired Hemingway's Spanish Civil War Hero »

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

Opium Dreamland: Reporter Sam Quinones on Heroin, Pills and his Punk-Rock Roots

Punk rock, which was big during the years writer Sam Quinones spent at UC Berkeley, turned out to be more than just the background noise of an undergraduate life.

For Quinones, who double-majored in economics and American history, it provided an opportunity. He produced several punk shows while he was a student living at the now-shuttered Barrington Hall co-op, bringing in well-known bands such as The Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. “They were probably the biggest shows ever at Barrington Hall,” he said. Read more about Opium Dreamland: Reporter Sam Quinones on Heroin, Pills and his Punk-Rock Roots »

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Shooting on the Edge: War Photographer at Cal to Sharpen His Storytelling Skills

When Shawn Baldwin talks about the “discomforts and mishaps” of life, he doesn’t mean the little pebble-in-your-shoe inconveniences that annoy the typical American. He’s referring to the time he was kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq, blindfolded, and had a gun pushed against the side of his head, on and off, for about 12 hours. (A saga also relayed by his fellow captive, renowned New York Times journalist John F. Read more about Shooting on the Edge: War Photographer at Cal to Sharpen His Storytelling Skills »

From Cal Athlete to Ford Model to R&B Crooner: Being ‘Better Than Yesterday’

Until she was 18, Chloe Jean Jarvis lived with the secret that she had two moms: her biological mother, Deborah, and a woman she called “Aunt Jan,” who was staying for a really long time. The closeted relationship of her same-sex parents simply wasn’t discussed back then. Nor was it the only thing that distinguished young Chloe, a mixed-race child, from her classmates at Catholic all-girls St. Francis High School in largely white, suburban Elk Grove. “My existence as a young person revolved around trying to hide my true colors. I was filled with shame,” she recalls. Read more about From Cal Athlete to Ford Model to R&B Crooner: Being 'Better Than Yesterday' »

Creation, Preservation, Destruction: Chitresh Das Dance Presents “Shiva”

In the weeks after the sudden death of legendary kathak dancer, choreographer and guru Pandit Chitresh Das last January, the Bay Area company that bears his name seemed determined to forge ahead. Das was in the midst of completing a major new work, “Shiva,” which was scheduled to premiere for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall last March. But as his disciples started to come to terms with his loss, moving forward so soon after his passing at 70 seemed unthinkable. Read more about Creation, Preservation, Destruction: Chitresh Das Dance Presents "Shiva" »

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