Arts + Letters

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

A Rabbi, an Ex-Soldier, a Palestinian and Some Lesbians Walk into a Band…

The American filmmakers knew they were taking risks. They couldn’t expect to smuggle Israelis-passing-as-Americans in and out of the West Bank—not to mention pointing a camera at everything while they were there—without facing any consequences. So when they pulled their car full of women off the road in Nablus to film a b-roll shot, and looked up to see a man walking toward them with a machine gun, they kind of panicked.

As director Jen Heck recalls, “I thought to myself: Tonight is the night I’m going to jail in a Palestinian prison.”

Dawn of Reckonings: In Podcast, People Fess Up to Being Completely Wrong

Daniel Gallant was an arrant racist—a violent and unstable man who took great pleasure in hurting his fellow human beings. At one point, he made a promise to himself that he would assault at least one person from an “inferior” race daily. It was a vow that he was assiduous in keeping.

The Poll Slayer: New Book Argues that Surveys are Simplistic But Humans are Complicated

It’s virtually impossible these days to imagine an America without those vaunted interpreters of the national mood: polls. They help determine the fate of political contenders, shape social policies, and interpret the mood of the nation. The aggregator realclearpolitics.com lists no fewer than 22 public polls in the past week focused on the Democratic presidential primary alone.

But are polls as useful as we think?

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