Dorothy Bryant: Teacher, novelist, playwright and inspiration to others

Dorothy Bryant, a teacher, novelist, and playwright who was honored by the Berkeley City Council in 2017, died Dec. 21 from complications related to cancer.

Dorothy was born in San Francisco on Feb. 8, 1930, to Italian immigrant parents, Giuditta (“Judy”) and Giuseppe (“Joe”) Calvetti. Dorothy attended Mission High and San Francisco State, earning a B.A. in music and an M.A. in creative writing. She taught music and English for many years at Lick-Wilmerding High School, Continuation High School, and Contra Costa College.

Dorothy first married in 1949 and had two children, John and Lorri Ungaretti. The marriage ended in divorce after about 12 years. Dorothy met Robert Bryant in 1968, and they were married after a few months. They loved each other very much and were married for 49 years. Dorothy and Bob built a house in Berkeley in 1980 and stayed there for 37 years.

Dorothy, a real maverick, defied the “rules” of life and opened doors for others to do the same. She was first to create a “black studies” class at Contra Costa College in 1965. She participated in civil rights marches and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. And she began self-publishing long before it was popular.

Dorothy began writing in her late 20s. She wrote reviews and essays for The Freedom News, published in Richmond, in the 1960s. Her first novel, Ella Price’s Journal, was published by Lippincott. After Dorothy married Bob, they worked together to pioneer self-publishing, founding Ata Books in the 1970s. The first book she self-published was The Comforter, which sold well through word of mouth and was eventually published by Random House under the title The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You. Dorothy went on to write and publish eight other novels, a nonfiction book, Writing a Novel, and a collection of essays and short stories. Some of her books are still available through Feminist Press.

In 1991, Dorothy’s play Dear Master, about the 13-year long correspondence between George Sand and Gustave Flaubert, was performed at the Berkeley City Club, using sets designed by Bob. The play was held in a back parlor of the club and could only seat 67 people, and it was a sell-out from the start. The success of the play led Dorothy and others to create the Aurora Theatre Company, now one of the region’s most well-regarded theater companies. In 2016, on its 25th anniversary, Aurora produced Dear Master again. Several of her seven plays were performed by various theatre companies.

The Berkeley City Council declared Jan. 24, 2017 the “Dorothy and Bob Bryant Day,” for the couple’s longstanding contributions to Berkeley. The proclamation mentioned Dorothy’s literary accomplishments and Bob’s design and construction skills, as well as his many photographs of artists he took over the years.

The Northern California Book Reviewers awarded Dorothy the Fred Cody Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 for her outstanding contribution to literature.

Dorothy’s work and teaching left their mark on many in the Bay Area.

Ella Price’s Journal was a transformative book for me in the 70’s,” one person wrote on Dorothy’s obituary at “Admired her work so much! Condolences to the family.”

Confessions of Madame Psyche is one of my all-time favorite books, and whenever I find a copy I buy it and give it to a friend,” wrote another fan. “I never knew a thing about her life, but was enthralled by her work.”

Dorothy’s son, John, died in 1994. She is survived by her loving husband, Bob; her daughter, Lorri; her stepdaughter and long-term caregiver, Victoria Bryant; her stepson, Lorenzo Bryant; and her step-grandchildren, Robert and William.

No services are planned, although a memorial will be planned for the future. (For more information, please contact Lorri Ungaretti, P.O. Box 640076, SF, CA 94164; or lorrisfATcomcastDOTnet.)

To honor Dorothy’s life, enter a brick-and-mortar bookstore and buy a book! Or donate to your local library.

For more information, visit Dorothy’s website.