An Appreciation of Ralph J. Gleason

City Lights welcomed Toby Gleason to celebrate the release of two books: Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason and Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews, both edited by Gleason and both published by Yale University Press. He was joined by Al Young.

Music in the Air: The Selected Writings of Ralph J. Gleason collects in one volume the best cultural criticism and music writings from Gleason. With a foreword by Jann Wenner and introduction by Paul Scanlon, the book collects the best of his essays, interviews, liner notes, correspondence, and books in sections covering Jazz and Blues; Folk, Rock, and Pop; Comedy; and Politics and Culture.

The co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine, Ralph J. Gleason was among the most respected journalists, interviewers, and critics writing about popular music in the latter half of the twentieth century. As a longtime contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, Down Beat, and Ramparts, his expertise and insights about music, musicians, and cultural trends were unparalleled, whether his subject was jazz, folk, pop, or rock and roll. He was the only music journalist included on President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List,” which Gleason himself considered “the highest honor a man’s country can bestow upon him.”

This sterling anthology, edited by Gleason’s son Toby, himself a forty-year veteran of the music business, spans Ralph J. Gleason’s four decades as popular music’s preeminent commentator. Drawing from a rich variety of sources, including Gleason’s books, essays, interviews, and LP record album liner notes, it is essential reading for writers, historians, scholars, and music lovers of every stripe.

Two-time Grammy Award winner Ralph J. Gleason (1917–1975) was the author of numerous articles and three highly regarded books on music as well as an acclaimed TV and documentary film producer. Toby Gleason is a veteran jazz radio producer, programmer, and host, and a former assistant editor at Rolling Stone.

Conversations in Jazz: The Ralph J. Gleason Interviews brings together for the first time rare and never-before-seen interviews between Ralph Gleason and fourteen of the greatest jazz musicians. These informal sessions, conducted mostly in Gleason’s Berkeley home, have never been transcribed and published in full until now. With a foreword and introductory noted by Ted Gioia, this collection gathers in one place remarkably candid conversations with many of the jazz greats of the twentieth century, from Coltrane to Parker to Mingus and Gillespie.

During his nearly forty years as a music journalist, Ralph J. Gleason recorded many in-depth interviews with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. These informal sessions, conducted mostly in Gleason’s Berkeley, California, home, have never been transcribed and published in full until now.

This remarkable volume, a must-read for any jazz fan, serious musician, or musicologist, reveals fascinating, little-known details about these gifted artists, their lives, their personas, and, of course, their music. Bill Evans discusses his battle with severe depression, while John Coltrane talks about McCoy Tyner’s integral role in shaping the sound of the Coltrane quartet, praising the pianist enthusiastically. Included also are interviews with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, Jon Hendricks, and the immortal Duke Ellington, plus seven more of the most notable names in twentieth-century jazz.

Toby Gleason is the son of Ralph J. Gleason.

Al Young is a poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, educator, and former Poet Laureate of California. Muriel Johnson, Director of the California Arts Council declared: “Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice.” Mr. Young’s has produced numerous novels, collections of poetry, essays, and memoirs. His work has appeared in literary journals and magazines including Paris Review, Ploughshares, Essence, The New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature, Chelsea, Rolling Stone, Gathering of the Tribes, and in anthologies including the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and the Oxford Anthology of African American Literature.

 

Brynn Saito, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Percival Everett

Percival Everett, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Brynn Saito celebrating the release of Saito’s new collection of poetry, Power Made Us Swoon (published by Red Hen Press), at City Lights.

A lyrical journey through family legacies, silenced histories, and the possibilities of transformation, guided by the ruthless, witty, and vulnerable voice of a mythic woman warrior.

Guided by the character of the Woman Warrior–witty, swift, and ruthless in her wonder–readers of Brynn Saito’s second collection of poetry travel the terrain of personal and historical memory: narrative poems about family, farming towns, and the bravery of girlhood are interspersed with lyric poetry written from the voice of a stone found in a Japanese American internment camp during the wartime incarceration. What histories can be summoned with poetry? What are the forces shaping an American life in the 21st century? Car accidents, patriarchy, and television fall under this poet?s gaze, along with the intergenerational reverberations of historical trauma. As with The Palace of Contemplating Departure, Saito’s first award-winning collection, Power Made Us Swoon strives for wonder and speaks–in edgy and vulnerable tones–of the fraught journey toward a more just world. “Learn to lie to survive,” sings the woman warrior, “Learn to outlast the flame / learn the art of surprise.”

Brynn Saito is the author of the poetry collection The Palace of Contemplating Desire, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and forthcoming from Red Hen Press in March, 2013. Her poetry has been anthologized by Helen Vendler and Ishmael Reed; it has also appeared in Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Pleiades, and Drunken Boat. Brynn was born in the Central Valley of California to a Korean-American mother and a Japanese-American father. She received an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in religious studies from NYU. Currently, Brynn lives in the Bay Area and teaches in San Francisco.

Percival Everett is the author of fourteen novels and three collections of short fiction including re:f(gesture), published by Red Hen Press. He is the recipient of the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature (for his 1996 story collection Big Picture) and a New American Writing Award (for his 1990 novel Zulus). He has served as a judge for, among others, the 1997 National Book Award for fiction and the PEN/ Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1991. He currently teaches fiction writing, American studies, and critical theory  at the University of Southern California. He has worked as a musician, a ranch hand, and a high school teacher.

Maxine Hong Kingston is the aclaimed author of three novels and several works of non-fiction about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in the United States. She is the winner of the National Medal of the Arts and was awarded the Northern California Book Award Special Award in Publishing for her anthology Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace.

Julien Poirier

Julien Poirier came to City Lights to celebrate the release of his latest poetry collection, Out of Print, No. 14 in City Lights Books’ Spotlight Poetry Series. He was joined by Elaine Kahn, author of Women in Public (No. 13 in the same series).

The third full-length collection by Julien Poirier, Out of Print is a truly bicoastal volume, reflecting the poet’s years in New York as well as his return to his Bay Area roots. Consider it a meetinghouse between late New York School and contemporary California surrealism, a series of quips intercepted from America’s underground poetry telegraph, or an absurdist mirror held up to consumerist culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julien Poirier is the author of several poetry collections, including El Golpe Chileño (Ugly Duckling, 2010), Stained Glass Windows of California (Ugly Duckling, 2012), and Way Too West (Bootstrap, 2015) and Out of Print (City Lights). In 2005, he published an experimental newspaper novel, Living! Go and Dream (Ugly Duckling). He is also the editor of an anthology of writing by Jack Micheline, One of a Kind (Ugly Duckling, 2008), and a book of travel journals by Bill Berkson, Invisible Oligarchs (Ugly Duckling, 2015). A founding member of Ugly Duckling Presse Collective, Poirier edited the newspaper New York Nights from 2001 to 2006. He has taught poetry in New York City public schools and at San Quentin State Prison. He lives in Berkeley with his wife and two daughters.

Interview with Julien Poirier

Poet Julien Poirier sits down with City Lights poetry editor Garrett Caples to discuss his beginnings as a poet, as well as read several selections from his latest poetry collection, Out of Print (published in City Lights Books’ Spotlight Poetry Series).

Viet Thanh Nguyen & Maxine Hong Kingston

City Lights welcomed Viet Thanh Nguyen and Maxine Hong Kingston to discuss Nguyen’s new book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, published by Harvard University Press.

All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. From the author of the bestselling novel The Sympathizer comes a searching exploration of the conflict Americans call the Vietnam War and Vietnamese call the American War—a conflict that lives on in the collective memory of both nations.

From a kaleidoscope of cultural forms—novels, memoirs, cemeteries, monuments, films, photography, museum exhibits, video games, souvenirs, and more—Nothing Ever Dies brings a comprehensive vision of the war into sharp focus. At stake are ethical questions about how the war should be remembered by participants that include not only Americans and Vietnamese but also Laotians, Cambodians, South Koreans, and Southeast Asian Americans. Too often, memorials valorize the experience of one’s own people above all else, honoring their sacrifices while demonizing the “enemy”—or, most often, ignoring combatants and civilians on the other side altogether. Visiting sites across the United States, Southeast Asia, and Korea, Viet Thanh Nguyen provides penetrating interpretations of the way memories of the war help to enable future wars or struggle to prevent them.

Drawing from this war, Nguyen offers a lesson for all wars by calling on us to recognize not only our shared humanity but our ever-present inhumanity. This is the only path to reconciliation with our foes, and with ourselves. Without reconciliation, war’s truth will be impossible to remember, and war’s trauma impossible to forget.

Viet Thanh Nguyen is an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, as well as a member of the steering committee for the Center for Transpacific Studies. He has won numerous teaching and service awards. He is the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002.) His articles have appeared in numerous journals and books, including PMLA, American Literary History, Western American Literature, positions: east asia cultures critique, The New Centennial Review, Postmodern Culture, the Japanese Journal of American Studies, and Asian American Studies After Critical Mass. His short fiction has been published in Manoa, Best New American Voices 2007, A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross-Cultural Collision and Connection, Narrative Magazine, TriQuarterly, the Chicago Tribune, and Gulf Coast, where his story won the 2007 Fiction Prize. Visit: http://vietnguyen.info/

Maxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese American author and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1962. Kingston has written three novels and several works of non-fiction about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in the United States.

 

 

Ali Eteraz

Ali Eteraz reads from his novel, Native Believer (published by Akashic Books), at City Lights. He is joined by Vanessa Hua.

Ali Eteraz’s much-anticipated debut  is the story of M., a supportive husband, adventureless dandy, lapsed believer, and second-generation immigrant who wants nothing more than to host parties and bring children into the world as full-fledged Americans. As M.’s world gradually fragments around him—a wife with a chronic illness; a best-friend stricken with grief; a boss jeopardizing a respectable career—M. spins out into the pulsating underbelly of Philadelphia, where he encounters others grappling with fallout from the War on Terror. Among the pornographers and converts to Islam, punks, and wrestlers, M. confronts his existential degradation and the life of a second-class citizen. 

Darkly comic, provocative, and insightful, Native Believer is a startling vision of the contemporary American experience and the human capacity to shape identity and belonging at all costs.

Ali Eteraz is based at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. He is the author of the coming-of-age memoir Children of Dust (HarperCollins) and the surrealist short story collection Falsipedies & Fibsiennes (Guernica Ed.). Eteraz’s short fiction has appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, storySouth, and Crossborder, and his nonfiction has been highlighted by NPR, The New York Times, and the Guardian. Recently, Eteraz received the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize judged by Mohsin Hamid, and served as a consultant to the artist Jenny Holzer on a permanent art installation in Qatar. Eteraz has lived in the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and Alabama. Native Believer is his debut novel.

Vanessa Hua is an award-winning writer and journalist. For nearly two decades, she has been writing about Asia and the diaspora. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award for Fiction, and is a past Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, FRONTLINE/World, Washington Post, Guernica, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. A former staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, she has filed stories from China, South Korea, Panama, Burma and Ecuador. Deceit and Other Possibilities, her debut story collection, will be published this fall (Willow Books).

Jonathon Keats on Buckminster Fuller

Jonathon Keats celebrates the release of You Belong to the Universe: Buckminster Fuller and the Future (Oxford University Press) at City Lights.

A self-professed “comprehensive anticipatory design scientist,” the inventor Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) was undoubtedly a visionary. Fuller’s creations often bordered on the realm of science fiction, ranging from the freestanding geodesic dome to the three-wheel Dymaxion car to a bathroom requiring neither plumbing nor sewage. Yet in spite of his brilliant mind and life-long devotion to serving mankind, Fuller’s expansive ideas were often dismissed, and have faded from public memory since his death.

You Belong to the Universe documents Fuller’s six-decade quest to “make the world work for one hundred percent of humanity.” Critic and experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats sets out to revive Fuller’s unconventional practice of comprehensive anticipatory design, placing Fuller’s philosophy in a modern context and dispelling much of the mythology surrounding Fuller’s life. Keats argues that Fuller’s life and ideas, namely doing “the most with the least,” are now more relevant than ever as humanity struggles to meet the demands of an exploding world population with finite resources. Delving deeply into Buckminster Fuller’s colorful world, Keats applies Fuller’s most important concepts to present-day issues, arguing that his ideas are now not only feasible, but necessary.

From transportation to climate change, urban design to education, You Belong to the Universe demonstrates that Fuller’s holistic problem-solving techniques may be the only means of addressing some of the world’s most pressing issues. Keats’s timely book challenges each of us to become comprehensive anticipatory design scientists, providing the necessary tools for continuing Fuller’s legacy of improving the world.

Jonathon Keats is a writer, artist and experimental philosopher. He is recently the author of the story collection The Book of the Unknown (Random House), winner of the American Library Association’s 2010 Sophie Brody Medal, as well as Virtual Words: Language on the Edge of Science and Technology (2010) and Forged: Why Fakes are the Great Art of Our Age (2013), both published by OUP.

Tony Serra 2

City Lights hosts Tony Serra as he celebrates the release of his debut novel, The Scaffold: A Treason Death Penalty Trial, published by Grizzly Peak Press.

Beginning with an outline as a young lawyer around 1960 and finally completed in prison as a tax resister, 50 or so years later, J. Tony Serra presents his first novel, The Scaffold: A Treason Death Penalty Trial. The story takes  place during the Second World War in the South Pacific with U.S. P.T. Boats and Japanese zero attack planes juxtaposed against an island paradise. At the center is a court martial trial filled with Serra’s legal career experiences but also an example of life as absurdity. All aspects of living are viewed as metaphors of absurdity. Intellectual discourse is explored as an expression of the Theater of the Absurd. The message is: war is absurd; treason is absurd; the death penalty is absurd and platonic love is humanity’s only redemption.

A native son of San Francisco, Tony Serra has dedicated his life to defending society’s outcasts.  After hearing a Philosophy degree from Stanford University, Serra went on to graduate from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in the 1960s, an era he calls “the golden age of law.”  In his more than 45 years of practice, Serra has helmed a number of noteworthy cases, including Huey Newton, Bear Lincoln, Chol Soo Lee, the Hell’s Angels, Hooty Croy, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the White Panthers, Bari & Cherney v. FBI and more. Serra has been honored with awards from, among others, NORML, ACLU, American Lawyer Magazine, San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. Although he has been admitted to practice in 45 separate federal and state jurisdictions in 28 different states, Serra still calls San Francisco home. His first two books are Walking The Circle and Tony Serra published by Grizzly Peak Press.

Omar Musa

Omar Musa comes to City Lights to perform rhymes and then read from his novel, Here Come the Dogs, published by the New Press. Mighty Joe opens the show.

In small-town suburban Australia, three young men from three different ethnic backgrounds—one Samoan, one Macedonian, one not sure—are ready to make their mark. Solomon is all charisma, authority, and charm, a failed basketball player down for the moment but surely not out. His half-brother, Jimmy, bounces along in his wake, underestimated, waiting for his chance to announce himself. Aleks, their childhood friend, loves his mates, his family, and his homeland and would do anything for them. The question is, does he know where to draw the line?

Solomon, Jimmy, and Aleks are way out on the fringe of Australia, looking for a way in. Hip-hop, basketball, and graffiti give them a voice. Booze, women, and violence pass the time while they wait for their chance. Under the oppressive summer sun, their town has turned tinder-dry. All it’ll take is a spark.

As the surrounding hills roar with flames, the change storms in. But it’s not what they were waiting for. It never is.

Omar Musa is a Malaysian Australian rapper and poet from Queanbeyan, Australia. The author of Here Come the Dogs (The New Press), he has opened for Gil Scott Heron and performed at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City. He attended University of California, Santa Cruz. He has released three hip-hop albums and two poetry books, and he received a standing ovation at TEDxSydney at the Sydney Opera House.

Shobha Rao

Shobha Rao comes to City Lights to celebrate the release of her short story collection, An Unrestored Woman, published by Flatiron Books.

shobhaunrestoredThe twelve paired stories in Shobha Rao’s An Unrestored Woman trace their origins to the formation of India and Pakistan in 1947, but they transcend that historical moment. A young woman in a crushingly loveless marriage seizes freedom in the only way left to her; a mother is forced to confront a chilling, unforgiveable crime she committed out of love; an ambitious servant seduces both master and mistress; a young prostitute quietly, inexorably plots revenge on the madam who holds her hostage; a husband and wife must forgive each other for the death of their child. Caught in extreme states of tension, in a world of shifting borders, of instability, Rao’s characters must rely on their own wits. When Partition established Pakistan and India as sovereign states, the new boundary resulted in a colossal transfer of people, the largest peacetime migration in human history. This mass displacement echoes throughout Rao’s story couplets, which range across the twentieth century, moving beyond the subcontinent to Europe and America. Told with dark humor and ravaging beauty, An Unrestored Woman unleashes a fearless new voice on the literary scene.Shoba

Shobha Rao moved to the U.S. from India at the age of seven. She is the winner of the 2014 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, awarded by Nimrod International Journal. She has been a resident at Hedgebrook and is the recipient of the Elizabeth George Foundation fellowship. Her story “Kavitha and Mustafa” was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories 2015. She lives in San Francisco.

Wes “Scoop” Nisker

Wes “Scoop” Nisker came to City Lights to celebrate the release of his latest book, You Are Not Your Fault And Other Revelations, published by Soft Skull Press.

 

In You Are Not Your Fault and Other Revelations, Wes draws on his diverse experiences delivering a collection that brims with the insight, humor and wisdom he is famous for.

Compiled for the first time, Wes’ best-known essays as well as a selection of recent and never before published work, Wes takes readers on both a cultural journey (a tour through the sixties, through the modern

environmental movement, the surge of Buddhism to the West) and a more personal one, exploring the motivation behind humanity’s search for spiritual enlightenment.

WES “SCOOP” NISKER is an award-winning broadcast journalist and commentator, a renowned Buddhist meditation teacher, a best selling author and a captivating performer. He is the author of the enduring classic Crazy Wisdom and the widely acclaimed Buddha’s Nature, and the editor of the Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind. An enduring San Francisco celebrity, having been on Bay Area radio for more than twenty-five years, Nisker is a teacher of Buddhist meditation and philosophy, and is located prominently in the group of our country’s most influential voices of spiritual transformation. He lives in Berkeley.

Elizabeth Percer

City Lights welcomed Elizabeth Percer to celebrate the release of her novel, All Stories Are Love Stories, published by HarperCollins.

percer2All Stories Are Love Stories follows a group of survivors thrown together in the aftermath of two major earthquakes that strike San Francisco within an hour of each other. Among the survivors are a motley crew of about a dozen individuals who have found shelter in the auditorium of the Nob Hill Masonic and Performing Arts Center.

There is Max, who is still haunted by an abandonment long ago; Vashti, who has lost several people in her life…but she can’t stop thinking about one in particular: Max, the one who got away; and Gene, a geologist from Stanford who knows too much about the earthquakes happening around them. As the night goes on, and fires begin around the city, Max and Vashti, trapped in the Masonic Temple, have to finally confront each other while Gene embarks on a frantic search around the city to find his partner, Franklin, who isn’t answering the phone. By morning nothing will look the same. A beautiful, lyrical novel about the power of nature, the resilience of survival, and most importantly, love.

Percer

Elizabeth Percer is the author of An Uncommon Education. Her poetry has been published widely, and she has been twice honored by the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation and nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. She received a B.A. in English from Wellesley, a Ph.D. in arts education from Stanford University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship for the National Writing Project at Berkeley. Percer’s academic publications on art, the education of the imagination, and writing have been published and presented internationally. She lives in California.

Jonathan Lee

Jonathan Lee comes to City Lights to celebrate the release of his novel, High Dive. He is joined by author Colin Winnette in this event co-sponsored by Electric Literature.

In September 1984, a bomb was planted in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England, set to explode on the day Margaret Thatcher and her entire cabinet would be staying there. High Dive takes us inside this audacious assassination attempt, and also into the hearts and minds of a group of unforgettable characters. Nimbly weaving together fact and fiction, comedy and tragedy, the story switches among the perspectives of Dan, a young IRA bomb maker; Moose, a former star athlete gone to seed, now the career-minded deputy hotel manager; and Freya, his teenage daughter, trying to decide what comes after high school. A novel of laughter and heartbreak, this is an indelible portrait of clashing loyalties, doubt, guilt, and regret, and of how individuals become the grist of history.

 

Jonathan Lee is a British writer whose recent short stories have appeared in Tin House, Granta, and Narrative, among other magazines. High Dive is his first novel to be published in the U.S. He lives in Brooklyn, where he is an editor at the literary journal A Public Space, a contributing editor for Guernica, and a regular contributor to The Paris Review Daily.

 

Colin Winnette is the author of several books, most recently, Haints Stay (Two Dollar Radio) and the SPD best seller COYOTE. He is the associate editor at PANK magazine. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Believer, Lucky Peach, and numerous other publications. He lives in San Francisco.

Electric Literature is an independent publisher whose mission is to guide writers and readers through a rapidly evolving publishing landscape. By embracing new technologies and mixed media, collaborating with other publishers, and engaging the literary community online and in-person, Electric Literature aims to support writers while broadening the audience of literary fiction, and ensure that literature remains a vibrant presence in popular culture.”

Of Poetry and Protest

City Lights celebrates the release of Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, a stunning new anthology that illuminates today’s black experience through the voices of our most transformative and powerful African American poets. Michael Warr, one of the editors of the anthology, hosts the event, which features readings by Devorah Major, D. Scott Miller, and others.

Included in this extraordinary volume are the poems of 43 of America’s most talented African American wordsmiths, including Pulitzer Prize–winning poets Rita Dove, Natasha Tretheway, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Tracy K. Smith, as well as the work of other luminaries such as Elizabeth Alexander, Ishmael Reed, and Sonia Sanchez. Included are poems such as “No Wound of Exit” by Patricia Smith, “We Are Not Responsible” by Harryette Mullen, and “Poem for My Father” by Quincy Troupe. Each is accompanied by a photograph of the poet along with a first-person biography. The anthology also contains personal essays on race such as “The Talk” by Jeannine Amber and works by Harry Belafonte, Amiri Baraka, and The Reverend Dr. William Barber II, architect of the Moral Mondays movement, as well as images and iconic political posters of the Black Lives Matter movement, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party. Taken together, Of Poetry and Protest gives voice to the current conversation about race in America while also providing historical and cultural context. It serves as an excellent introduction to African American poetry and is a must-have for every reader committed to social justice and racial harmony.

Michael Warr received a Creative Work Fund award for “Tracing Poetic Memory.” He is deputy director of the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.

 

Jack Hirschman & Mahnaz Badihian

City Lights hosts Jack Hirschman and Mahnaz Badihian for a bilingual reading of the love poems of Rumi, in Farsi and in English.

JackHirschmanJack Hirschman is the former poet Laureate of San Francisco, a translator, and editor. His powerfully eloquent voice has set the tone for political poetry in the US for decades. Since leaving a teaching career in the ’60s, Hirschman has taken the free exchange of poetry and politics into the streets where he is, in the words of poet Luke Breit, “America’s most important living poet.” He is the author of numerous books of poetry, plus some 45 translations from a half a dozen languages, as well as the editor of anthologies and journals. Among his many volumes of poetry are All That’s Left, Frontlines, Endless Threshold, The Xibalba Arcane, and Lyripol (City Lights, 1976). Hirschman is a founding member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of San Francisco (RPB,2009), World Poetry Movement (WPM, Medellin, Colombia, 2011), and Member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA).

MahnazMahnaz Badihian is an Iranian born poet and translator whose work has been published into several languages worldwide, including Persian, Turkish, Italian, and Malayalam. She attended the Iowa Writer’s workshop with a focus on international poetry while practicing as a dentist in Iowa City. Her publications include two volumes of poetry in Persian and a best-selling translation of Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions into Persian. Her first English language book is a critically acclaimed book of original English language poetry, From Zayandeh Rud to the Mississippi. She has an awarding winning selection of poetry (XIV Premio Letterario Internazionale Trofeo Penna d’Autore, Tornio) translated into Italian by Cristina Contili and Pirooz Ebrahimi. Currently, she resides in Northern California where she runs an online multilingual literary magazine, MahMag.org, in an effort to bring the poetry of the world together.

Greg Jackson

Greg Jackson was at City Lights to celebrating the release of Prodigals: Stories, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, with a reading and a discussion.

Prodigals“People are bullets, fired,” the narrator declares in one of the desperate, eerie stories that make up Greg Jackson’s Prodigals. He’s fleeing New York, with a woman who may be his therapist, as a storm bears down. Self-knowledge here is no safeguard against self-sabotage. A banker sees his artistic ambitions laid bare when he comes under the influence of two strange sisters. A midlife divorcée escapes to her seaside cottage only to find a girl living in it. A journalist is either the guest or the captive of a former tennis star at his country mansion in the Auvergne.

Jackson’s sharp debut drills into the spiritual longing of today’s privileged elite. Adrift in lives of trumpeted possibility and hidden limitation, in thrall to secondhand notions of success, the flawed, sympathetic, struggling characters in these stories seek refuge from meaninglessness in love, art, drugs, and sex. Unflinching, funny, and profound, Prodigals maps the degradations of contemporary life with unusual insight and passion–from the obsession with celebrity, to the psychological debts of privilege, to the impotence of violence, to the loss of grand narratives.

Prodigals is a fiercely honest and heartfelt look at what we have become, at the comedy of our foibles and the pathos of our longing for home.

GregJacksonGreg Jackson grew up in Boston and coastal Maine. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Virginia Quarterly Review, and Granta. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Virginia and has been a Fiction Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center and a resident at the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A winner of the Balch and Henfield prizes, he was a finalist for the 2014 National Magazine Award in Fiction. Prodigals is his first book.

Leonard Pitt

Leonard Pitt comes to City Lights to celebrate the release of his latest book, My Brain on Fire: Paris and Other Obsessions, published by Soft Skull Press.

This is Leonard Pitt’s story of growing up the misfit in Detroit in the 1940s and my-brain-on-fire50s. In a later age he would have been put on Ritalin and paraded before psychiatrists because he couldn’t pay attention in school. In 1962, at the end of a misguided foray towards a career in advertising he took the ultimate cure, a trip to Paris. He thought it would only be a visit. He stayed seven years. There in the City of Light, Leonard’s mind exploded. And it hasn’t stopped since.

Studying mime with master Etienne Decroux and living in Paris were the university he never knew. This inspiration unleashed a voracious appetite to understand the “why” of things. He asked a simple question, “Why did the ballet go up?” While building a theatre career performing and teaching, he embarked on a quest to study the origins of the ballet, the history of early American popular music, the pre-Socratic philosophers, early modern science, the European witch hunt, the history of Paris, and more. To his unschooled mind it all fits together. Who would see a historical arc between Louis XIV and Elvis Presley? Leonard does. And he’ll tell you about it.

Pitt-Leonard1

 

Leonard Pitt is an actor and author. He has written two books on Paris, Walks Through Lost Paris and Paris Postcards: The Golden Age, plus A Small Moment of Great Illumination, about the life of 17th century healer, Valentine Greatrakes. He currently co-directs The Flying Actor Studio, a conservatory for the study of physical theater located in San Francisco. He has performed and taught around the world and lives in Berkeley, California.

Joyce Carol Oates 2

National Book Award-winning and bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates was at City Lights discussng her latest novel, the critically acclaimed The Man Without a Shadow. In this recording, Joyce Carol Oates also conducts an interview with herself as both questioner and respondent.

This book examines the intimate, illicit relationship between neuroscientist Margot Sharpe and Elihu 87286100622230LHoopes—the “man without a shadow”—whose devastated memory, unable to store new experiences or to retrieve the old, will make him the most famous and most studied amnesiac in history. Their thirty-year relationship, both as scientist and subject and as objects of love, is an exploration of the labyrinthine mysteries of the human brain. Where does “memory” reside? Where is “love”? Is it possible to love an individual who cannot love you, who cannot “remember” you from one meeting to the next?

Jewelle Gomez

Award-winning author Jewelle Gomez returns to City Lights in honor of the Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition of her novel The Gilda Stories, recently published by City Lights. She read from the book in the main room.gilda_cover_full

This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next 200 years searching for a place to call home. An instant lesbian classic when it was first published in 1991, The Gilda Stories has endured as an auspiciously prescient book in its explorations of blackness, radical ecology, redefinitions of family, and yes, the erotic potential of the vampire story.

 

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

City Lights hosted an evening of discussion and readings with author Michael McGregor, John Beer, and S.T. Georgiou to celebrate the release of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, published by Fordham University Press.

RobertLaxA companion piece to Thomas Merton’s bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax tells the story of Merton’s best friend and early spiritual inspiration. Written by a close friend of Lax, Pure Act gives an intimate view of a friendship and a life that affected Merton in profound ways. It was Lax, a daringly original poet himself, who encouraged Merton to begin writing poetry and Lax who told him he should desire to be a saint rather than just a Catholic. To the end of Merton’s life, Lax was his spiritual touchstone and closest friend.

Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton’s best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post-war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people. Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers.

Written by Michael McGregor, who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life. Much more than just a biography, it’s a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.

Rob Roberge

Author Rob Roberge appeared for a City Lights event to celebrate the release of Liar, a darkly funny, intense memoir about mental illness, memory and storytelling, published by Crown Books. Joshua Mohr, who was scheduled to appear as well, was unable to attend and instead Gina Frangello joined Rob in conversation about his writing process, revisiting trauma, and grappling with mental illness in the modern world.Rob Roberge AP - Credit Dirk Vandenberg

When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at The Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.

As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Blackly comic and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California. As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.

Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff appeared again at City Lights to speak about his new book Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and to answer questions on all things pertaining to the effect of technology on culture.

87286100320950LWhen protesters shattered the windows of a bus carrying Google employees to work, their anger may have been justifiable, but it was misdirected. The true conflict of our age isn’t between the unem­ployed and the digital elite, or even the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Rather, a tornado of technological improvements has spun our economic program out of control, and humanity as a whole—the pro-testers and the Google employees as well as the shareholders and the executives—are all trapped by the consequences. It’s time to optimize our economy for the human beings it’s supposed to be serving.

In this groundbreaking book, acclaimed media scholar and author Douglas Rushkoff tells us how to combine the best of human nature with the best of modern technology. Tying together disparate threads—big data, the rise of robots and AI, the increasing participation of algorithms in stock market trading, the gig economy, the collapse of the eurozone—Rushkoff provides a critical vocabulary for our economic moment and a nuanced portrait of humans and commerce at a critical crossroads.

Jarett Kobek and Kevin Killian

City Lights welcomed Jarett Kobek, author of I Hate the Internet, for a discussion and Q&A, accompanied by guest speaker Kevin Killian.87286100650100L

What if you told the truth and the whole world heard you? What if you lived in a country swamped with Internet outrage? What if you were a woman in a society that hated women?

Set in the San Francisco of 2013, I Hate the Internet offers a hilarious and obscene portrayal of life amongst the victims of the digital boom. As billions of tweets fuel the city’s gentrification and the human wreckage piles up, a group of friends suffers the consequences of being useless in a new world that despises the pointless and unprofitable.

In this, his first full-length novel, Jarett Kobek tackles the pressing questions of our moment. Why do we applaud the enrichment of CEOs at the expense of the weak and the powerless? Why are we giving away our intellectual property? Why is activism in the 21st Century nothing more than a series of morality lectures typed into devices built by slaves?

Here, at last, comes an explanation of the Internet in the crudest possible terms.

Frank Lima Tribute

City Lights celebrates the release of Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New and Selected Poems, a collection of Latino poet and visionary Frank Lima’s most celebrated work, along with previously unpublished material. The evening included readings of Lima’s poems from editors Garrett Caples and Julien Poirier, and other guest readers including Cedar Sigo, Joseph Lease, Jackson Meazle, Rod Roland, Brian Lucas, and Chris Carosi.
This event was recorded in the Poetry Room at City Lights – toward the end of the reading (recorded on Mardi Gras), a band can be heard playing down in Kerouac Alley, which certainly added to the evening!


 

Protégé of Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, and Allen Ginsberg, the streetwise Puerto Rican/Mexican poet Frank Lima was tfrank limahe only Latino member of the New York School during its historical heyday. Born in Spanish Harlem in 1939, he endured a difficult and violent childhood, discovering poetry as an inmate of the juvenile drug treatment center under the tutelage of the painter, Sherman Drexler, who introduced him to his poet friends. Rubbing shoulders with everyone from Edwin Denby and Joe Brainard to Jasper Johns and the de Koonings, Lima appeared in key New York School anthologies and published two collections of his own with prominent publishers. In the late seventies, Lima left the poetry world to pursue a successful career as a chef, and though he rarely published, and his work fell out of circulation, he continued to write a poem a day until his death in 2013.

Incidents of Travel in Poetry is a landmark re-introduction to the work of this major Latino American poet. Beginning with poems from Inventory (1964), his installment in the legendary Tibor de Nagy poetry series, Incidents includes selections from Lima’s previous volumes, tracing his development from his early snapshots of street life to his later surrealist-influenced abstract lyricism. The bulk of the collection comes from his later unpublished manuscripts, and thus Incidents represents the full range of Lima’s work for the first time. Edited by poets Garrett Caples and Julien Poirier, and including a biographical introduction.

Homero Aridjis

Accompanied by his translator (and daughter) Chloe Aridjis, Mexican poet and activist Homero Aridjis makes another appearance at City Lights, this time to read from and answer questions on his latest book The Child Poet. 87286100983630L

Homero Aridjis has always said that he was born twice. The first time was to his mother in April 1940 and the second time was as a poet, in January 1951. His life was distinctly cleaved in two by an accident. Before that fateful Saturday he was carefree and confident, the youngest of five brothers growing up in the small Mexican village of Contepec, Michoacán. After the accident – in which he nearly died on the operating table after shooting himself with a shotgun his brothers had left propped against the bedroom wall – he became a shy, introspective child who spent afternoons reading Homer and writing poems and stories at the dining room table instead of playing soccer with his classmates. After the accident his early childhood became like a locked garden. But in 1971, when his wife became pregnant with their first daughter, the memories found a way out. Visions from this elusive period started coming back to him in astonishingly vivid dreams, giving shape to what would become The Child Poet.

Aridjis is joyously imaginative. The Child Poet has urgency but still takes its time, celebrating images and feelings and the strangeness of childhood. Readers will love being in the world he has created. Aridjis paints the pueblo of Cotepec — the landscape, the campesinos, the Church, the legacy of the Mexican Revolution — through the eyes of a sensitive child.