A roadmap to Berkeley’s literary scene

Andrew David King, a poet and the editor of UC Berkeley’s “Berkeley Poetry Review”, explores Berkeley’s literary scene

For the last few months, poet and UC Berkeley student Andrew David King has been dissecting Berkeley’s literary zeitgeist by figuring out which famous authors have lived here, which books have been set here, where writers draw inspiration for their work, where their tomes are published, and where they can be purchased.

The result is a delightful and comprehensive overview of the Berkeley literary scene, published today in Ploughshares Literary Magazine. The series on “literary boroughs,” strives to “explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally.”

And as King’s research shows, Berkeley is thriving. Here is what he has to say about the writers who have lived here:

“Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin both graduated from Berkeley High in 1947, though they weren’t acquainted at the time; other literary graduates of Berkeley High include Thornton Wilder and Ariel Schrag. Writers and creative people affiliated with the city or university include Robert Penn Warren (who earned his MA there in 1927), Leon Litwack, Robert Hass, Larry Eigner, William T. Vollman, Rebecca Solnit, Mona Simpson (Steve Jobs’s sister), Frank Norris, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Joan Didion (“Berkeley is so much a part of who I am…” she writes in There Was Light, a book of essays about the university collected by Irving Stone), Barbara Guest, Michael Pollan, June Jordan, Czeslaw Milosz, Josephine Miles, Lincoln Steffens, Robin Blaser, Michael Chabon, Ishmael Reed, Pauline Kael, Terry McMillan, Robert Pinsky, Landis Everson, and many more. In 1947, Philip K. Dick moved into a converted barn at 2208 McKinley Avenue, which he shared with Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, and Gerald Ackerman. Allen Ginsberg lived in a cottage behind 1624 Milvia Street for a time (he wrote parts of Howl there; also, see his poem “A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley”), and Jack Kerouac stayed at 1943 Berkeley Way.”

King made a map of some of the locales of famous writers when they lived in Berkeley. Here is where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Philip Dick lived (2208 McKinley Avenue)

 He is what King writes about literary references to Berkeley:

“A heap of literary works take Berkeley, California as their background or incorporate it in some way. Here’s a sampling of some noteworthy titles: The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer; The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and “The Lucky Dog Pet Store” (ostensibly autobiographical) by Philip K. Dick; The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon; Songs Without Words by Ann Packer; The Drifters by James Michener; Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby; “The Cabinetmaker” by John Sayles (in his collection The Anarchist’s Convention and Other Stories); Prizes by Erich Segal; Cop Out, A Dinner to Die For, and other books in Susan Dunlap’s crime series featuring Jill Smith, a Berkeley detective; The Fortress of Solitude and Guns with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem; many books by Jack London; Queen of Dreams and other books by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni; Imaginary Speeches for a Brazen Head and You Didn’t Even Try by Philip Whalen; Pageant of Youth by Irving Stone; The Last Days of Louisiana Red by Ishmael Reed; The Men’s Club by Leonard Michaels; The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac; My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary; Love, Stars and All That by Kirin Narayan; When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka; The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers; Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives by Greil Marcus; Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book by Maxine Hong Kingston; Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The White Album by Joan Didion; The Red, White, and Blue by John Dunne (Didion’s husband); The Case of the Seven of Calvary by Anthony Boucher; Reality Sandwiches and Howl by Allen Ginsberg; The Year of the Hunter by Czeslaw Milosz; Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; Changing Places by David Lodge; The Western Shore by Clarkson Crane; Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker.

More recently: The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman; Mathematicians in Love by Rudy Rucker; Lola, California by Edie Meidav; Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (forthcoming).”

He goes on to talk about coffee shops, places to write, bookstores, publishers, literary magazines, events and festivals, and more.

King has become enmeshed in the Berkeley scene because he is an integral part of it. Only 20, his first book of poems, a chapbook titled, The Forever Thirst, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He is the new Editor-in-Chief of the Berkeley Poetry Review, and was a fellow at Bucknell University’s Seminar for Younger Poets this June. His poems, essays, and commentaries have appeared in The Rumpus, San Francisco Chronicle, Spillway, and Poetry, among other places.

King’s article contains hundreds of literary references, some of which he gleaned while he was working at the Bancroft Library researching the obscenity lawsuit filed against the publication of Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl”, he said.

“Between May and now I kept up a continual stream of research, ” siad King. “I paid attention to things that I saw, things that I noticed. Most of the information comes from just paying attention to the writing community of the East Bay.”

King said that he thinks that much of the literary activity in Berkeley centers around Cal, giving it a center of sorts. The literary scene in San Francisco, while thriving, is more diffuse, he said.

Berkeley is “a crazy but wonderful ecosystem.”

Read the entire Plougshare’s article “Literary Boroughs #9 Berkeley, CA”.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Guest

    I know it is hard to include all important writers, but he missed a few.

  • http://berkeleyside.com Tracey Taylor

    Don’t keep us in suspense. Who did he miss?

  • Charles_Siegel

    There was an interesting article in the Planet years ago with the addresses of some writers from Berkeley history.  http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2004-08-20/article/19484?headline=Worshipping-at-City-s-Literary-Shrines-By-JOE-EATON-Special-to-the-Planet–By-JOE-EATON-Special-to-the-Planet

    I noticed that it gave the exact address of all the writers it mentioned – except Anthony Boucher.  Instead, it just said that Boucher lived for many years on Dana Street.  Boucher’s exact address was apparently unknown.

    I tried tracking this down on the internet, and I found an internet forum, where someone wrote that he met Boucher:

    “one afternoon in
    Berkeley, at his home, during a family trip to California in 1956, after I sold
    a short story to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (which they
    eventually published in 1957). The magazine’s editorial address in Berkeley, on
    Dana, turned out to be his home address. … He was a wonderful person, and one
    of the first authentic bohemians I ever met who answered the door
    barefoot….”

    So I went to the stacks of the UC library, where the bound copies of F&SF had the address of 2643 Dana St. on the masthead until 1958 – which is obviously where Boucher lived.  My contribution to Berkeley literary history.

  • Virgil Starkwell

    And what are Aydelette Waldman and Michael Lewis, chopped liver?

  • Andrew David King

    Thanks for reading. The post is by no means meant to be conclusive; it is, as I say, “a very incomplete list.”

    I left out, for instance, most of the UC Berkeley faculty. And, as someone here mentioned, Ayelet Waldman (wife of Chabon) and Michael Lewis (who’s guest-contributed to Berkeleyside). Like the Berkeley faculty, they’re highly visible locally–whereas I figured many more people wouldn’t know, for instance, who Larry Eigner was.

    I offer it as a starting point for conversation.

  • sky

    *idly wonders how many of these books were written by people who sat on the sidewalk*
    Because, you know, bohemians do that.
    Berkeley: a crazy but wonderful ecosystem. I wish more people would get that. You know what happens when you mess to much with ecosystems…

  • Dave Hyde

    As Philip K. Dick is a San Francisco writer I thought I’d bring to your attention the upcoming Philip K. Dick Festival at San Francisco State University over weekend of September 22/23 2012. Check it out here: www.philipkdickfestival.com 

  • Chimene

    Anthony Boucher was my grandfather. If you want to include him and have questions, I’m happy to help if I can.

  • Phil Kennedy

    Should cookbooks count given that Alice has penned several?

  • andrew

    fyi…recently released Amazon Kindle work centered on CAL alum who returns to Berkeley during a mid-life crisis. Perhaps a fun holiday read ?

    http://www.amazon.com/HIGHLIGHTS-LIFE-QUIET-DESPERATION-NOVELLA-ebook/dp/B00H4IPAFG/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1386468690&sr=1-2

  • P. Neumeyer

    Interesting. Perhaps a little implausibly, Spicer sort of picked me up spiritually, set me on my feet, when I was a pretty lost 17 year-old German refugee kid at UC. We were all in “Occident” in those years–onetime I was on the board. Peter Neumeyer

  • Roger Conley

    Thanks for confirming the address!