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.”
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”.
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