daily californian logo


Apply to The Daily Californian!

Books, brews, Baez: 2023 Bay Area Book Fest champions counterculture, change

article image



We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

From May 6 to 7, Downtown Berkeley transformed into a literary hub as eager readers gathered for the ninth annual Bay Area Book Festival.

With a program consisting of 15 stages and more than 300 authors, the beloved celebration offered free daytime events around Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park and inside some of Berkeley’s intimate venues. Eager volunteers worked booths near the BART station, and independent booksellers such as Pegasus and Green Apple helped facilitate book sales and signings. From the dusky Noir at the Bar to the forward-thinking Fiction and Technology panel, Bay Area Book Festival packed the weekend with no shortage of subjects and thinkers.

As the sun set on Saturday, Bay Area resident and counterculture icon Joan Baez sat down at Freight & Salvage for a candid discussion about her life, music and political activism. The next night, W. Kamau Bell arrived to discuss taking action against racism. Even though the festival centers literary pursuits, this year’s run embraced the spirit of change. Read on for The Daily Californian’s highlights from Bay Area Book Festival 2023. 

An Evening with Joan Baez: Trailblazing Musician, Artist and Activist

Joan Baez has seemingly done it all. From performing with Bob Dylan at Newport Folk Festival to marching with Martin Luther King Jr., she has a strong legacy of artistry and activism, and at the age of 82, she shows no signs of stopping. On the evening of May 6, Baez and close companion Greg Sarris appeared at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage to discuss her latest book release: “Am I Pretty When I Fly? An Album of Upside Down Drawings.”

As Baez and Sarris sat on two plush armchairs, a series of Baez’s drawings were projected on the screen behind them. Created upside down and often with her nondominant hand, the black and white images evoked a sense of wonder, humor and mystery. Through Baez’s eyes, the world is upended, inverted and charged with introspective possibility; it is rapidly changing as a result of human activity, but one can still find a sense of beauty and stillness. In a particularly endearing anecdote, Baez spoke of her “counselor”: a tree near her Woodside home she speaks to as an alternative form of “therapy.”

At the end of their discussion, Baez and Sarris opened up the floor to questions, during which a 17-year-old asked for advice for young artists terrified by the state of the world. “Make good trouble,” Baez responded. “Just risk everything.”

Lauren Harvey

Noir at the Bar

As the front of Cornerstone Berkeley overflowed with beer, burgers and basketball fans, the back room transformed into a dusky jazz bar. Under the dim lights, a group of mystery writers and emcee Randal Brandt from The Bancroft Library gathered for the festival’s annual Noir at the Bar event.

Attendees spilled into the balcony above as they sipped their drinks and nodded along to the book readings. Seated across the stage, each writer took a turn to stand spotlit at the center of the stage, reeling in audience members as they unspooled their respective mysteries. The only exception was Rina Ayuyang, who sat to the side as she projected scenes from her graphic novel and even began to sing. Between readings, Brandt would insert subtle yet highly appreciated humor: “We won’t hold it against him,” he joked after indicating that T. Jefferson Parker was from Orange County.

Whether they were hearing about rural Minnesota’s dark side from Marcie Rendon or punk rock, lesbian nuns from Margot Douaihy, spectators hmm’d and laughed along to each excerpt. Particularly engaging was Mary Robinette Kowal, who used her experience as an audiobook reader to bring her characters to life. The theme was noir, but the energy at Cornerstone was nothing but warmth. 

Lauren Harvey

Pursuing the Impossible: Poetry and Translation

Amidst dim, colorful lighting, the cozy ambience of The Marsh Cabaret welcomed three artists. Moderator CJ Evans, current editor in chief of Two Lines Press, introduced the authors of the evening, translators Olivia E. Sears and Forrest Gander. 

“This book is hallucinogenic,” Sears remarked as she read aloud the first line of poet Ardengo Soffici’s “Rainbow” in Italian, asking the audience to close their eyes and follow Soffici’s voice. In his collection of poems, “Simultaneities and Lyric Chemisms,” Soffici used forms of colors, shapes, sound and smells to evoke sensation within his words. “Space / Is a twilight worm coiled in a drop of phosphorus,” she read, and indeed, the velvet imagery gently caressed the senses of the audience. 

Pulitzer Prize winner Gander introduced his co-translated work (along with Tomoyuki Endo) of “Names and Rivers,” hailing from Japanese contemporary “far north poet” Shuri Kido. Deeply Buddhist and influenced by American poets such as Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snider, Kido was inspired by the famous rivers running through his hometown, Kitakami. 

Evans encouraged the two authors to describe their individual motivations to immerse themselves within their respective works. For Sears, the first Soffici poem she encountered in an anthology was “hallucinatory, colorful” and “overstimulating” — the poem spoke so intensely to her that she decided the book deserved to be rescued. 

“I found that exciting,” Gander noted, when deliberating over which elements of the syntax to preserve during translation. Unlike in English, it is easy to write without a specified subject in Japanese, therefore leading to some unconventional use of syntax in Gander’s translations. Similarly, Sears added, the art of translating also lies in letting the translators choose what meanings they would like to perceive. 

Likewise, translators have to sometimes sacrifice semantic meaning to capture a poem’s sonic meaning. As Gander explained, humans process sounds first, making emotional meanings before processing semantics, emphasizing the tonal and rhythmic qualities of a poem. 

Each language can seem to be like a distinct personality, and the humility in translation is to sometimes give up control, as Gander noted. To concede control to the music in someone else’s mind, and to bring that sound back, is ultimately both the difficulty and the art in translating. 

Alyssa Chen

Fiction and Technology: What Hath AI Wrought?

In 1844, the first ever telegram was sent. “What Hath AI Wrought?”, the title a play on the contents of the telegram, brought together authors Akil Kumarasamy, Josh Riedel, Nina Schuyler, Allie Rowbottom and Colin Winnette, each of whom explores the implications of technology and artificial intelligence on industries such as their own. 

When moderator Noah Stern asked about the authors’ take on the use of AI models such as ChatGPT, Schuyler emphasized its use as a research tool, a functionality she utilized herself for her newest novel, “Afterword.” To add onto the conversation, Kumarasamy asked the audience to reimagine what collaboration with AI entails, and what ownership of music, art, literature and more looks like under the expansion of artificial intelligence.

As a society and individually, we all interact with technology in our daily lives, whether we realize it or not, a standard reflected in each of the authors’ novels. As Stern pointed out, there are algorithms in our lives that we don’t even recognize. However, as Rowbottom noted, it is important to curate our own experiences with technology and social media, and recognize that potential for goodness. 

Alyssa Chen

YA Thriller Superstars: Marie Lu, Nick Brooks, Angeline Boulley

Marie Lu, Nick Brooks and Angeline Boulley collectively emanated warmth akin to the radiant sunshine that shone upon downtown Berkeley during the 2023 Bay Area Book Festival. Tucked in a ballroom inside the Residence Inn, the three writers offered insight regarding their craft that inspired a packed room full of aspiring authors and voracious readers.

“You are not your book,” Lu said. Though Lu is a staple figure in the world of young adult literature, she has nonetheless experienced pain from early rejection as a writer. Her perseverance aided the publication of her dystopian “Legend” trilogy — a young adult series that took the world by storm in the early 2010s. Now, the 38-year-old writer is exploring the nuances of contemporary young adult literature, pushing boundaries with her new “Mission: Impossible”-esque novel, “Stars and Smoke.” 

Brooks echoed Lu’s insight on the struggles of writing, urging writers in the room to not be afraid to write poorly: “Writing is rewriting,” he said. Brooks’ novel “Promise Boys” reflects his experience as a teacher, candidly exploring racism and inequality within the education system. Laughing, he described his first draft as being “red all over,” compounded with ink from his editors. 

Each of the writers emphasized the importance of editing in the writing process. “I write to preserve my culture and I edit to protect it,” Boulley expressed. Her latest novel “Warrior Girl Unearthed” chronicles the plight of a young woman dedicated to returning stolen cultural artifacts back to their proper place. Boulley’s thriller is a personal, poignant narrative that, like those of Lu and Brooks, demonstrates the power of young adult literature in reflecting the tumultuous reality of late adolescence. 

Through these earnest reflections on both the chaos of writing and the future of YA literature, the trio provided hope and support to a room of readers who resonated with the writers’ enthralling, multifaceted characters.

— Sarah Runyan

Contact Lauren Harvey at 


MAY 18, 2023