Arts + Letters

Biographer in the Bancroft: Writer Pursues Clues to Ms. Didion, in the Library, With a Pen

In 1976, Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner tapped Joan Didion to cover the Patty Hearst trial. What a match-up. What a saga. California royalty caught in surreal counterculture chaos, narrated by a star of the New Journalism, herself a daughter of the Golden West.

Didion signed on, and announced that she wouldn’t be spending much time in the courtroom. Read more about Biographer in the Bancroft: Writer Pursues Clues to Ms. Didion, in the Library, With a Pen »

Preludes and Fugues: Choreographer Twyla Tharp Still Laying Down Her Legacy

“I had to become the greatest choreographer of my time,” Twyla Tharp has declared. “That was my mission, and that’s what I set out to do.”

With a reputation as a workaholic and perfectionist, Tharp has indeed become a world-renowned choreographer and is currently marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of her dance company with a 10-week, 17-city tour. But this is no mere retrospective—at age 74, Tharpis determined to keep expanding her oeuvre and laying down her legacy. Read more about Preludes and Fugues: Choreographer Twyla Tharp Still Laying Down Her Legacy »

Totally Radical: A New Initiative from Cal Performances Aims to Gather New Audiences.

Venezuela’s Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of two international orchestras at just 34 years old, is often called the poster child for how early exposure to music and the arts can nourish and lift one toward a better life. Growing up with musician parents likely helped shape his career path, but Dudamel credits much of his success to El Sistema, a Venezuelan program started in 1975 that offers musical access to all. Read more about Totally Radical: A New Initiative from Cal Performances Aims to Gather New Audiences. »

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Coming to a Theater Near You! Again: Do We Live Vicariously Through Reboots and Sequels?

The Transporter: Refueled is coming out on Friday, and it’s the fourth reboot in the Transporter franchise (if you don’t count the television series reboot of 2012). It rehashes the same concept of a man transporting something, with a few changes—one of those being Ed Skrein taking the place of Jason Statham, the actor who created the role of Frank Martin and played him in the other three Transporter movies released between 2002 and 2008. Read more about Coming to a Theater Near You! Again: Do We Live Vicariously Through Reboots and Sequels? »

To Hear History: High-Tech Project Will Restore Recorded Native Americans Voices

Decades of wear and tear haven’t been kind to the 2,713 wax cylinders in UC Berkeley’s Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology, which linguists and anthropologists have used for over a century to study the languages and cultural practices of Native California. But a new project promises to revitalize these old, fragile recordings — the first of which was recorded by famed anthropologist Alfred Kroeber in 1901 — with cutting-edge optical scanning technology. Read more about To Hear History: High-Tech Project Will Restore Recorded Native Americans Voices »

Trading in Tropes: Video Mashup Shows What TV Writers Think of “Berkeley”

As the 2015 enrollment data shows, the real UC Berkeley is an extremely diverse place. But UC Berkeley as depicted on television? Not so much.

TV Land has been slow to surrender its use of Berkeley as code for Birkenstock-wearing, bean-sprout-loving, radical feminist tree-huggers. Only a few shows are acknowledging the contemporary reality of an institution perennially ranked at or near the top of the public universities worldwide. Read more about Trading in Tropes: Video Mashup Shows What TV Writers Think of "Berkeley" »

On the Money: Which Bill Is Fitting for a Woman? And Which Woman Fits the Bill Best?

Your Facebook feed has probably already told you this, but the public response to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s decision to feature a woman on a redesigned $10 bill has been overwhelming—he says the Treasury has received nearly a million and a half comments and tweets about it. Not everyone is happy, particularly those who campaigned to get a woman on the more popular $20, and are still fighting to change his mind. Read more about On the Money: Which Bill Is Fitting for a Woman? And Which Woman Fits the Bill Best? »

Sex, Drugs, Revolution: 50 Years On, Barbarians Gather to Recall The Berkeley Barb

The inaugural edition of The Berkeley Barb hit streets on Friday, August 13, 1965—incendiary times. It was the first days of the Watts riots, and the conflict in Vietnam was beginning to play out in living rooms on the nightly news. That week TV viewers watched as American GIs casually torched Vietnamese villages with their flamethrowers and Zippo lighters. Meanwhile, all across the United States, disillusioned young men were beginning to take those Zippos to their draft notices. Read more about Sex, Drugs, Revolution: 50 Years On, Barbarians Gather to Recall The Berkeley Barb »

Revolutionary Thought: Two Cheers for the George on the Wrong Side of Independence

Ever since I was a little boy I’ve been in love with history, especially American history, and my favorite holiday has been the Fourth of July.

It has everything a little boy could want—heroes, like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson; and villains, like that awful King George III. Read more about Revolutionary Thought: Two Cheers for the George on the Wrong Side of Independence »

Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World’s Languages

You’ve probably experienced that unique combination of loss and rage when your computer’s hard drive suddenly crashes, erasing years of work files, financial records, and precious photos in an instant. What if that happened, asks linguist Laura Welcher, of the nonprofit Long Now Foundation, on a civilizational scale?

“Over the span of millennia, you have to expect there to be upheavals in society, times when knowledge is lost,” she says. (Think the Library of Alexandria.) How do we safeguard human knowledge from these future upheavals? Read more about Speech Saver: Anticipating Upheavals, Project Aims to Preserve the World's Languages »

From the Summer 2015 Confronting the Future issue of California.

When Cancer Strikes Twice: “Being a Dancer Has Saved My Life in So Many Ways”

Brianna Mercado is tired of telling the same old story.

“It’s a cookie-cutter cancer story and I’m so much more than that,” she told a crowd last year at a TEDx talk.

Today, the 24-year-old UC Berkeley graduate and inspirational speaker has been asked to tell the story so many times that it’s become rote. But how can you truly express the fears and pain of knocking on death’s door not once, but twice? How do you verbalize it in a way that can make people understand the trauma and the terror? Read more about When Cancer Strikes Twice: "Being a Dancer Has Saved My Life in So Many Ways" »

Saving Carnaval: The Woman Enticing the Mission’s Tech Newcomers into the Samba Spirit

Raffaella Falchi is the epitome of a Renaissance woman: The quadrilingual dancer, architect, educator, and director is artistic director of the Sambaxé Dance Company, which will be parading through San Francisco’s Mission District during this weekend’s Carnaval. For the past decade, Carnaval has become a place where she can combine all of her artistic interests and professional strengths. Read more about Saving Carnaval: The Woman Enticing the Mission's Tech Newcomers into the Samba Spirit »

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