Booked weekend: Bay Area Book Festival 2022 turns new page

Illustration of figure reaching for a book before a background of bookshelves and windows overlooking a bridge and water, by Angela Bi
Angela Bi/Staff

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Booked and busy from May 7 to 8, readers treated themselves and their shelves to this year’s eighth annual Bay Area Book Festival.

Whether they were turning to beloved dog eared books or checking out waxy new library copies, many turned to the comforts of reading amid the pandemic. Holding in-person programs for the first time in two years, Bay Area Book Festival 2022 marked a new, lively chapter for the yearly event.

In addition to offering accessible livestream programs, the festival presented more than 250 authors on 15 Downtown Berkeley stages, reuniting eager members of the literary community both on and offline. The gathering reminded readers that, while stories can offer people personal and independent solace, literature at its core — or, perhaps, spine — is meant to be shared.

The Daily Californian explored this jovial celebration of literature and learning: From addressing environmental wellbeing to the rise of cinema to social media, this year’s Bay Area Book Festival reminded readers of what happens when stories come off the page — a truly novel idea.

— Taila Lee

Saturday, May 7

Rebecca Solnit on ‘Orwell’s Roses’

“She doesn’t try to go the fastest way between two points, but sometimes the longest way between two points,” noted Deirdre English about Rebecca Solnit’s writing.

During the book talk at Freight & Salvage, English filled in for Geeta Anand after the dean of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism — Solnit’s alma mater — was called away for a family emergency. Nevertheless, English’s remarks highlighted an important aspect of Solnit’s style: It elliptically loops around itself, patiently surfacing the tensions that are part and parcel to the author’s subject matter.

However, there is a distinct structure to Solnit’s latest book “Orwell’s Roses,” as English pointed out. “I thought of it a little bit like a trellis,” English said. The book grows from a biography of George Orwell, branching out from the rose bushes he carefully maintained and into a discussion of the social and political role of roses in a global economy. One of the most fascinating stretches of “Orwell’s Roses” is about the “sweatshop” conditions Solnit witnessed at a Colombian rose farm. “They did not Google us, which was their mistake,” Solnit deadpanned, explaining how she got access to the farm.

Apropos of Solnit’s style and the structure of “Orwell’s Roses,” English and Solnit’s conversation was an exercise in detail without superfluity, abundance without circumlocution. Their conversation meandered with ease, and when English plucked a petal from Solnit’s book, Solnit went to work reconstructing the flower, branch and bush for her audience.

— Dominic Marziali

 

Keep calm and go quietly mad

Authors Molly Giles, Leslie Kirk Campbell and Sarah Moss are a picture of affability and serenity. Their kindly faces give no inkling to the twisted, terrifying stories they tell.

In this aptly named panel moderated by author Ethel Rohan, these fiction writers discussed their latest works where characters are pushed to dramatic extremes, redefining sanity and survival.

Campbell’s book “The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs” is a collection of short stories that explore how memories surface on the human body. “It’s about the way we hold our past on our bodies,” Campbell said.

Warmness aside, Giles stole the show with her quick wit and sharp humor. When asked about the mad characters in her book “Wife with Knife,” she quipped, “They’re just fine! They’re delusional and hear voices but fine.”

Moss also redefines “madness” in a time of pandemics and lockdowns. “What they do is sane to them in that moment,” Moss said of her characters in her book “The Fell.” “The weather between people’s eyes and ears — that’s what matters.”

In this dynamic discussion, all authors agreed that the concept of “madness” is an unfair one, inadequately encompassing the nuances of human emotion in the face of tragedy.

“Keeping calm is oppressive!” Moss said, much to the other women’s agreement. “Don’t go quietly mad — go loudly mad,” Campbell said.

— Vicky Chong

 

Young adult: Rumors and lies

Lockhart’s 2014 young adult fiction book “We Were Liars” took the internet by storm — exploding on TikTok (or BookTok) as one of the younger generation’s favorite thriller reads.

In a jovial conversation with moderator and author Jessica Lee, Lockhart discussed her journey as a writer and her latest title “Family of Liars” (a prequel to “We Were Liars,” which brings readers back into the world of the central Sinclair family). 

Almost immediately, there was a sense of friendliness as Lockhart took the stage. She was all smiles and hand gestures, completely animated in her discussion and captivating in her ease.

She started with the story of how her bestseller “We Were Liars” came to be.

“It was a departure for me,” Lockhart said. “I’ve mostly written comedies before that.”

This departure turned out to be absolutely worth it. Lockhart’s enthusiasm for her work radiated as she spoke about the power of social media. Published in 2014, “We Were Liars” didn’t gain quite as much traction as it eventually would during the height of the pandemic, when it emerged on BookTok as a must-read.

Lockhart is more than thankful for how social media has created a community for young adult readers.

“Being a young adult is about questioning yourself. In figuring out your morality as a teen, you make big mistakes,” Lockhart said. She affirmed that during these growing ages, support and community, especially in the form of books, are most important.

— Vicky Chong

Sunday, May 8

Writer to writer: Nadifa Mohamed and Douglas Stuart

Authors Nadifa Mohamed and Douglas Stuart sat as artists and translators, their conversation uncovering the metropolitan mysteries and complex histories that contribute to all that is “Hidden Britain.”

As part of the festival’s “Writer to Writer” series, Mohamed and Stuart held a productive and lively discussion about their recent works and past writing experiences. The two authors hail from and ground their ouvres in different parts of the United Kingdom, but both authors drew comparisons about British working class consciousness and affected fringe perspective.

Moderator Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize, deftly encouraged Mohamed and Stuart toward particular themes of nationalism and perspective. However, the authors’ conversation ensued naturally as they dove into dialogue about the evolution of their stories.

Stuart’s Glaswegian accent inflected his jaunty passages with charm, enlivening the already sensorial excerpt from his recent title “Young Mungo,” a story of a wee gay working class boy in Glasgow. Mohamed read a passage from “The Fortunate Men,” retelling the real-life story of Somali man wrongfully accused of murder in 1950s Cardiff — slowly detailing the complex introspection of an immigrant in unfamiliar surroundings. 

Like a beautiful wine and cheese pairing, Mohamed and Stuart complemented each other with seamless style. As they sit respectively in the shortlist and at the top of the 2020 Booker Prize, the two truly continue Britain’s good literary name — but strictly depart from the classical repertoire of privileged, banal bildungsromans. Instead, the two offered a hopeful perspective of the future of British talent: centered around and coming from communities finally receiving their deserved visibility.

— Francesca Hodges

 

Mother, daughter, collaborators: The Lappés

This Mother’s Day, the Bay Area Book Festival celebrated by hosting mother-daughter duo Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé at Freight & Salvage. In their conversation with Davia Nelson of The Kitchen Sisters, the Lappés explored the kindred relationship between not only mother and child, but between humankind and the environment.

In her book “Diet for a Small Planet,” written in Berkeley in 1971, Frances revolutionized the way people thought about food, documenting the ways in which meat production contributes to world hunger and environmental degradation. Four decades later, Anna wrote “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It,” updating her mother’s ideas to the current state of the climate crisis. Together, the Lappés utilize statistics and storytelling to reframe the narrative of modern food systems, showing how the human diet plays an integral role in environmental well-being.

Throughout their conversation, the Lappés embraced the spirit of collaboration. According to Anna, in the process of co-writing “Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet” with her mother in 2002, she used to draw cheese in the margins if she thought Frances was being too cheesy. In their work itself, the Lappés focus on creating real, sustainable change, looking to democratic movements around the world as inspiration.“Hope is not what we find in evidence,” Frances concluded. “It is what we become in action together.”

Ripe with familial and environmental love, the Lappés served the Bay Area Book Festival with some important food for thought.

— Lauren Harvey

 

Buster Keaton and the dawn of cinema

David Thomson is one of today’s foremost film critics, but as Bay Area Book Festival Founder and Executive Director Cherilyn Parsons noted, “Dana (Stevens) is kind of on his heels.” This introduction set the stage for the final event of the 2022 festival: a discussion between Thomson and Stevens.

Their conversation centered on Stevens’s debut book, “Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century.” It’s a long title, the two of them noted in the course of the talk, but not without reason. Stevens’s book juggles not only the making of Buster Keaton, the titan of early cinema, but it contextualizes him within the advent and rise of cinema as a culturally dominant medium in the early twentieth century.

Keaton is a character particularly suited to the task. Stevens and Thomson discussed the particulars of how Keaton’s birth and early upbringing occurred in time with cinema’s ascension. Keaton’s family started putting him in their circus shows when he was five years old. Soon, his brilliance as a stuntman and performer outclassed that of his parents, and by virtue of Keaton’s curiosity about all things cinema, his talents made their way onto the burgeoning silver screen. It’s a charming tale, especially through the eyes of Stevens and Thomson — whose curiosity and admiration for Keaton glimmered throughout their conversation.

— Dominic Marziali

 

Publishing: Who calls the shots?

The publishing industry might seem like a formidable titan, but panelists Jayne Allen, Angela Engel, John Freeman, Traci Thomas and moderator Brooke Warner opened its doors with a lively discussion about its evolution in the 21st century.

Speakers discussed the many facets of modern publishing, from the way social media has affected literary marketing to the inclusion of authors of color in traditionally white and male publishing spaces.

 For Freeman, it’s about challenging traditional decision making from the inside. As an executive editor at Knopf, he expressed his commitment to elevating voices of color and using his power to pivot underrepresented authors into the limelight.

As the host of The Stacks podcast, Thomas also acknowledged the shift in the literary market. With the recent resurgence of social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter, she has seen an increased demand for books by authors of color.

“White guilt is a very powerful marketing tool!” Thomas said.

Indeed, marketing goes a very long way. According to Allen, her firsthand knowledge in marketing and building brands is what made her books “Black Girls Must Die Exhausted” and “Black Girls Must Be Magic” successful. Allen insists on being a voice that advocates for authors, especially authors of color such as herself.

“It’s about not being a gatekeeper,” Allen said.

Engel, publisher and founder of Collective Book Studio, agrees with this sentiment wholeheartedly. Known as a disruptor in the publishing space for redesigning the traditional publishing business model, Engel affirmed the importance of lifting authors’ voices.

“Change has always come from books,” Engel said.

— Vicky Chong

 

Revolution then and now

In a panel now more relevant than ever, legendary activist Judy Gumbo discussed radical change spanning the last five decades with moderator and author Dante King.

Small in stature but large in her spirit and hunger for justice, Judy Gumbo is a formidable name in a time of revolution. She is described by the FBI as “the most vicious, most anti-American, the most anti-establishment and the most dangerous to the internal security of the United States.” In her memoir “Yippie Girl: Exploits in Protest and Defeating the FBI,” Gumbo describes her life of riveting activism.

Gumbo’s radical roots run deep — she is associated with many activist groups such as the Youth International Party, or the Yippies, and the Black Panther Party.

When asked about the state of today’s social climate, Gumbo recognized the human desire for freedom and justice.

“Everybody is just fighting,” Gumbo said.

Loyal to the women’s pro-choice movement, Gumbo affirmed the importance of continuing to protest injustice. Believing in action first and foremost, she spoke with the audience about the necessity of the choice and her own abortion, sharing her seven-point program in protesting the prospect of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

“If you don’t do it, who will? If not now, when?” Gumbo asked.

— Vicky Chong

Taila Lee is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @tailalee.
Lauren Harvey is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].
Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected]. Tweet her at @fh0dges.
Contact Dominic Marziali at [email protected].
Contact Vicky Chong at [email protected].