The Bay Area Book Festival Serves Literature with a Side of Activism

The Bay Area Book Festival Serves Literature with a Side of Activism

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Here in the Bay Area, we like our literary scene with a side of activism, so it's fitting that this year's Bay Area Book Festival remains resolutely political yet hopeful.

The fourth annual festival, taking place Apr. 28-29, is infused with the very values omnipresent in the region's literary conversations — those of political power on the page, the power of literature to transform, and how books can spark social change.

Here are five events you cannot miss during this packed weekend.

Native Voices Changing the Story

Sat., Apr. 26. The Brower Center - Goldman Theater (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley). 11:45am - 1:00pm. More information and tickets here.


Tommy Orange just published a New Yorker story that is a stunning preview of his forthcoming novel, There There, the strength of which would force me follow him to the ends of the earth. Orange joins Katharena Vermette for a reading and conversation. Vermette is the author of The Break, a thriller that pieces together the pain and trauma that women inherit. The first 100 audience members to arrive receive an excerpt of Orange’s book, which the rest of us mortals will have to wait for until June. This is bound to be a comet of an event.

Viet Thanh Nguyen on Art and Politics

Sat., Apr. 26. Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley). 1:30pm - 2:45pm. More information and tickets here.

This is not a drill: Viet Thanh Nguyen (whom we can claim as ours because he is a UC Berkeley doctoral alum) will be speaking about art and politics with Karen Tei Yamashita. Yamashita is the author of the incandescent and deliciously experimental I Hotel. Viet Thanh Nguyen received the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, The Sympathizer. You can expect gems from their conversation, like this one from Thanh Nguyen's Nothing Ever Dies: "All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.”  Nguyen and Yamashita will discuss the role of the writer in society, the importance of art in politics, and the power of the written word.

Lidia Yuknavitch in Person: On Fearlessness, Truth, and Misfits

Sat., Apr. 28. Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley). 5pm - 6pm. More information and tickets here. 

Lidia Yuknavitch's had me bewitched with her memoir The Chronology of Water. Recently, she has bewitched two million people with her TED talk, The Beauty of Being a Misfit. Yuknavitch speaks beautifully about not fitting in:

There's a myth in most cultures about following your dreams. It's called the hero's journey. But I prefer a different myth, that's slightly to the side of that or underneath it. It's called the misfit's myth. And it goes like this: even at the moment of your failure, right then, you are beautiful. You don't know it yet, but you have the ability to reinvent yourself endlessly. That's your beauty.

The Misfit's Manifesto is Yuknavitch's latest and is based on this powerful talk. She will be interviewed by Daphne Gottlieb, the fierce performance poet and author of Pretty Much Dead.

The Impact of Angels in America on LGBTQ Literature

Sun., Apr. 29. Berkeley Repertory Theatre, School of Theatre (2071 Addison St, Berkeley). 11:45am - 1:00pm. More information and tickets here.

While this year’s Bay Area Book Festival programming offers a slew of panels dedicated to the power of women and to issues of immigration, activism, and the environment, queer perspectives are largely missing. This event, therefore, deserves special mention. Featuring Baruch Porras-Hernandez, K.M. Soehnlein, Brian Thorstenson, and Sarah Rose Leonard, this panel promises to be a fascinating roundtable discussion about Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, and how this momentous play, which unabashedly portrays gay men as heroes, impacted LGBTQ literature. Angels in America is currently playing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, so opportunities abound to engage, or re-engage, with this play.

Smart Activism: History and Hope, with L.A. Kauffman and Rebecca Solnit

Sun., Apr. 29. San Francisco Chronicle Stage in the Park at 2:30pm - 3:45pm. Free.

There is no one you want to learn about activism from more than these two. No matter the circumstance, Rebecca Solnit’s wit, powers of observation, and literary prowess always point to true north. There hasn’t been a Solnit book that I have not wildly enjoyed. She is the author of the activist handbook Hope in the Dark, as well as the mordantly clever Men Explain Things to Me, and more recently, The Mother of All Questions — a sharp essay collection about the contemporary state of feminism. L.A. Kauffman’s first book, Direct Action, is a history of protest of which Vice's Philip Eil wrote, “If direct action is ‘a laboratory for political experimentation and innovation,’ as Kauffman argues in the introduction, then this is the lab report.” Kauffman and Solnit will discuss how past movements used tactics to catalyze change, how to hope in the dark, and how to act on that hope.

For the full schedule, visit Bay Area Book Festival online.

The Spine is a bi-weekly column. Catch us here back in two weeks.