Oakland Book Festival uses public conversation to address inequity

Imad Pasha/Staff

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The annual Oakland Book Festival brought together authors, journalists, activists and readers at Oakland City Hall this last Sunday for a communitywide discussion on the theme of equality and inequality in the modern age.

A true cross-section of the Bay Area, the Oakland Book Festival included attendees representing a diverse collection of backgrounds and practically every age demographic. They gathered to address a plethora of topical questions – namely, issues such as fake news, racial profiling and global wealth disparities.

The festival featured a wide array of panels on topics ranging from the influence of memes in mainstream media to Trump-era race tensions, and attendees were encouraged to debate among their fellow community members and renowned experts in the hearing rooms of City Hall. Hundreds of festival-goers formed lines winding through downtown Oakland in hopes of attending these panels, the most anticipated of which presented a conversation on the topic of inequality between political activist Angela Davis and gender theorist and UC Berkeley professor emeritus Judith Butler.

The festival also included a diverse lineup of local authors and publishers gathered outside City Hall, interacting with fellow book enthusiasts. In the historic Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, local artists and youth groups engaged eager audiences with live music, poetry readings and dance performances throughout the day. Local authors and representatives of the Oakland Public Library performed live readings of children’s stories, while the Museum of Children’s Arts hosted craft workshops. In addition, Mayor Libby Schaff announced Lucy Flattery-Vickness as the 2017 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate following a set of live readings by the contest’s seven finalists.

One of the festival’s most intriguing events — entitled “I Wish to Say” — challenged community members to write a postcard to the president, conveying their thoughts to the nation’s leader. Artist Sheryl Oring, dressed in a striking red ensemble and seated on the mezzanine of City Hall, listened to individuals dictate their messages to the president and used a traditional typewriter to personally record each postcard.

There is an impressive multitude of questions regarding inequalities in race, gender and wealth that have been raised in the modern political sector, and the Oakland Book Festival approached the charged theme of equal opportunity by encouraging open discussion amongst a unique group of individuals gathered for a common appreciation of literature. In particular, the festival embraced a powerful, ambitious concept — presenting a variety of beliefs and ideas shared within the local community in an effort to evoke a new dedication to equality amongst its members.

In this way, the Oakland Book Festival served to highlight the very issues faced by the community it represents, introducing new perspectives to topical questions and supporting the implementation of equality along the way.

Manisha Ummadi covers video games. Contact her at [email protected].