Bay Area Book Festival offers day (and night) of deep dives on national crises

Oct. 4 virtual mini-fest on Supreme Court, nonviolence, race, polarization.

This weekend, the virtual mini-fest Berkeley #UNBOUND, created by the Bay Area Book Festival, will rock screens with a star-studded line-up offering bold visions and strategies to help heal a broken world. Twenty-two renowned writers, thinkers and other changemakers, all connected with Berkeley, will appear in eight programs just a month before the election. Speakers include:

    • U.S. Representative Barbara Lee and Berkeley Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky on how to avert a Supreme Court takeover and impending Constitutional crises.
    • Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, Emmy-winning comedian W. Kamau Bell, and psychology professor Dacher Keltner talking politics, race, the role of sports in activism — and the vital importance of joy.
    • Radical theorist Judith Butler on how nonviolence is the only sane strategy in an interdependent world.
    • Renowned food activist and Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters on how to remake our failing food system.
    • Bestselling sociologist Arlie Hochschild and “othering and belonging” expert john a. powell on the roots of polarization and what real solutions may require.
    • World-renowned “NaNoWriMo” and leading children’s/YA writers on how youth can start writing their own stories.
BerkeleyUnbound

Why draw talent only from Berkeley?

Festival director Cherilyn Parsons says that residents already know that answer.

“When it’s a joke that Nobel laureates don’t also get a guaranteed parking space at the Berkeley Bowl [as they do at Cal], you know it’s a rather high-achieving place. This city is world-famous for intellectual brilliance, progressive action, literary innovation and the public square. Our computer screens will have to serve as a pandemic Sproul Plaza, and we hope that these voices resound in a 21st-century Free Speech Movement — or rather, a True Speech Movement. George Orwell talked about how lies are the precursor to fascism, and we’re well along that path.”


Parsons adds that Berkeley #UNBOUND intends to build a sense of solidarity and “grounded hope.”

“We’re all feeling near-overwhelming anxiety and shock from the litany of disasters. Plague, fire, floods, ruined crops, insurrection, modern lynchings, the potential demise of democracy — are locusts next? The 24/7 news cycle can be further traumatizing. We decided to try to help in the way we know best: creating meaningful, in-depth conversations among incredibly smart people who are truly informed.”

Berkeley #UNBOUND is a citywide effort, involving numerous organizations and individuals. Through brief segments between the main programs, leaders in local government, business, academia, the arts, community services, and more will share their own insights and strategies for a brighter future, as guided by their respective fields. Speakers include Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) Executive Director Donald Frazier, Revolution Books Manager Reiko Redmondo, and Cityside Co-Founder Tracey Taylor. See the full list, including time slots.

Program schedule

Berkeley #UNBOUND opens on Saturday night, Oct. 3, with a free-wheeling and personal conversation among three friends: Steve Kerr, head coach of the three-time NBA champs Golden State Warriors and a moral force in sports; W. Kamau Bell, Emmy-winner for CNN’s “United Shades of America” who uses comedy as a coping mechanism and vehicle for truth; and (as moderator) their buddy Dacher Keltner, UC Berkeley psychology professor and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center. This $10 curtain-raiser is titled “Politics, Race, and the State of Play in our Nation.” Tickets here ($10).

All the rest of the mini-fest is free. There are two tracks: five programs for adults from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two for youth from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.


On Sunday, Oct. 4, adult conversations start with a profound new understanding that can help us combat worsening cycles of violence. The Radical Necessity of Nonviolence” (11 a.m.) ranges from discussing the root cause of violence against BIPOC and other marginalized people — how these lives aren’t seen as “grievable” — to redefining nonviolence as the only sane strategy in a world that’s irrefutably interdependent (as the virus shows us). The upshot: hurting you means hurting myself. Prominent social theorist Judith Butler discusses the ideas in her new book, The Force of Nonviolence, with UC Berkeley English professor Stephen Best. Stay to the end to hear the best argument ever about masks.

The next program, “Writing a New World Into Existence: Lessons from Literary Futurism” (12:30 p.m.), brings fiction into the line-up. Kisky Holwerda, the festival’s Director of Literary Initiatives, notes, “We need new ways of defining what’s possible. We all know that reading fiction increases empathy, but can it also unlock a fresh blueprint for our future?” Four visionary novelists — Aya de Leon, Annalee Newitz, the legendary Ishmael Reed, and moderator Shanthi Sekaran — discuss how literature and the imagination can light the way.

Up next is “Embracing the Other” (2 p.m.), a live conversation between Arlie Hochschild, author of 2016’s National Book Award finalist Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, and john a. powell, UC Berkeley Law Professor and Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute, on the cultural and political divisiveness that has grown even deeper since Trump’s election.

Every living being needs to eat, so why do we keep damaging our own food supply? In “Food Is Fundamental” (3:30 p.m.), we’ll hear from Chez Panisse founder and author Alice Waters and Saru Jayaraman, Director of the UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center and President of One Fair Wage, moderated by Davia Nelson, co-host of award-winning Kitchen Sisters podcast. In a time of climate change, pandemic, and global hunger, they’ll offer strategies for totally overhauling our current food system before the earth’s larder is bare.

Sunday is capped off (at 5 p.m.) with “How the Constitution Can Save Us,” covering the issue that’s on everyone’s mind: the election and the Supreme Court, along with various Constitutional crises that seem more likely every day. Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky has written about the Court (and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) for decades, and he’s one of the nation’s preeminent Constitutional law scholars. His advice to RBG during the Obama administration, controversial at the time, is now unfortunately all too prescient. He has some new advice, which he’ll discuss with firebrand Congressional Rep. Barbara Lee, the highest ranking African-American woman in the United States Congress and, like RBG, someone who has said “I dissent” often, notably in her famous vote, 420-1, against granting the President unilateral powers for war in response to the 9/11 attacks. Her speech on the House floor then was also all too prescient.


For youth

Two youth conversations aim to help empower the next generation to build the world they want to see.

“Protest + Print: Girls Using Words and Pictures for Activism” (11 a.m.): Emily Pilloton, founder of Girls Garage, and Print + Protest instructor and artist HyeYoon Song will show how high school girls are using printmaking for visually arresting, participatory, and unapologetically activist art.

National Novel Writing Month’s “Unleash Your Creative Superpowers” (12 p.m.): Marya Brennan leads NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Programs, which engages hundreds of thousands of youth each year, worldwide. She’ll lead a conversation with R.C. Barnes, YA author of the Tattoo Teller series and former Disney exec, along with YA authors Shanthi Sekaran and Meridith Lackey, to inspire kids and teens to dive deep into their imaginations and tell their own pressing stories.

How to watch

For tickets to the Saturday, Oct. 3 event, and the full Berkeley #UNBOUND schedule of free programs taking place on Sunday, Oct. 4, please visit: www.baybookfest.org. You also can sign up for the Bay Area Book Festival’s mailing list.

All viewers will need to use the free, easily accessible Berkeley #UNBOUND portal to watch the streams. At their premiere times on Oct. 3 and 4, all programs will offer audience chat, and viewers can ask questions in the live program with Arlie Hochschild and john a. powell. All programs also will appear on the festival’s website at a later date, TBD, but without chat.

Sponsors of Berkeley #UNBOUND include Berkeleyside, the City of Berkeley, the Stephen M. Silberstein Foundation, Wareham Development, the 11th Hour Project (Schmidt Family Foundation), Reed Schmidt, Visit Berkeley, North Berkeley Wealth Management, the Literary Hub, KQED and others.