Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Radical Storytelling: Howard Zinn Book Fair photos and video

Here are some photos and video from Sunday's (2nd annual) Howard Zinn Book Fair, held at the Mission campus of City College of San Francisco.

At the fair I shared a table with authors Kate Raphael and Barbara Rhine; and participated in a panel titled Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism into Fiction with Diana Block, Kate Raphael, and Starhawk.

Setting up our table

Anticipating the crowds: Barbara Rhine (Tell No Lies), Kate Raphael (Murder Under the Bridge), and me (Consequence)

Before the panel began

Kate introducing Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction (see/hear Kate's intro on YouTube).

Here's what I had to say about Consequence in my allotted ten minutes, including a reading from Chapter 31:

Kate reads from Murder Under the Bridge

Not an empty seat in the house

Starhawk spoke generously about Murder Under the Bridge and Consequence (she had not yet read Diana's Clandestine Occupations), then read from her forthcoming novel City of Refuge, a sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing 

Great conversations, all day long...

Thanks especially to James, and to Andy and Patrick of The Green Arcade bookstore, for organizing a terrific book fair. I'm looking forward to #3!

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Howard Zinn Book Fair returns to San Francisco on Sunday Nov 15th
Launch party photos
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: staving off catastrophe

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for his always-excellent and reliable photojournalism...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Howard Zinn Book Fair returns to San Francisco on Sunday Nov 15th

I wouldn't miss this year's Howard Zinn Book Fair, even setting aside Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction -- the HZBF panel in which I will participate with three other Bay Area authors; and even if it weren't for the table I've reserved to offer Consequence to attendees alongside a co-panelist and yet another fellow-author. Let me explain why, then I'll plug Radical Storytelling...

The Keynote Conversation at 12:30 pm between Dr. Claybourne Carson and Alicia Garza couldn't be more important or immediate. The Stanford University history professor, who has directed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute and the MLK Papers Project for thirty years, will discuss Black Lives Matter: Past Present and Future with the co-founder of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Don't miss it.

The program is too rich to detail in its entirety here, so I'll settle for listing five of the panels I wish I could attend (I may get to see one of the only-three listed below that don't overlap with my own 11-12 panel ... but only if my fellow-authors will spell me at our table). Here's my list:
  • Stolen Land: Primitive Accumulation and the Dispossession of Native Americans, 11-12 (Ragina Johnson)
  • Changing Natures in the Capitalcene, 11-12 (Andrej Gurbacic, Eddie Yuen, Michelle Glowa)
  • Capitalism Papers, 1:45-2:45 pm (Jerry Mander)
  • Reinventing Left Publications With Jacobin, 3-4 pm (Bhaskar Sunkara)
  • The Legacy of ACT-UP, 4:15-5:15 (Laura Thomas, Mike Shriver, Lito Sandoval, Rebecca Hensler, Eric C. Ciasullo)
Three of the five include panelists I know and respect from activism past, present, and future: from the anti-apartheid movement of the mid-1980s, AIDS activism in the eighties and nineties, anti-torture work of the aughts, and climate activism today. While I've admired Jerry Mander for decades, since reading his epic Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, I've never seen him speak. And I'd be fascinated to hear what Bhaskar Sunkara has to say about building a new generation of engaging, invigorating publications for a twenty-first century left.

Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction

The panel in which I'm participating kicks off at 11am in the Carlo Tresca Room (a.k.a. room 315), and features discussion and reading with debut novelists and longtime activists Diana Block (Clandestine Occupations: An Imaginary History), Steve Masover (Consequence) and Kate Raphael (Murder Under The Bridge); and author/activist Starhawk, whose novel City of Refuge is forthcoming. You can check out my description of Kate's and Diana's books in a blog I posted last month, Activist Fiction: it's about engagement, not The Issue. Here's the capsule description for Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction:
Behind the marathon meetings, the hours of diligent preparation, and the methodical work involved in making social change,  heartbreaking, hair raising, life affirming stories lie hidden. Too often these stories remain invisible or are co-opted by the corporate media in sensationalistic ways to serve the status quo.  How do we as activists transform our lived experiences into page-turning, imaginative fiction that can move both activist readers and people who have never participated in a social movement? How do we move beyond the sound bytes and rhetoric that sometimes limit activism to portray characters and situations that have psychological and political depth, and tell radical stories that are compelling to a broad variety of readers?
If you plan to come, please RSVP for Radical Storytelling... on Facebook. I hope you'll be there! And please do come by our table before or afterward to say hello, meet Kate Raphael and Barbara Rhine (Tell No Lies), and pass on the best of what you've seen and heard at the panel discussions we had to miss!

Here's the logistical lowdown for the Howard Zinn Book Fair:
Date: Sunday 15 November, 2015
Time: 10 am to 6 pm
Place: San Francisco City College's Mission Campus, 1125 Valencia St. @ 22nd (map; 24th St. BART)
See you Sunday...

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Activist Fiction: it's about engagement, not The Issue
Sticking your neck out
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Northern California mobilizes for climate action as Paris talks near

People across Northern California are determined to voice their demand that the U.S. government do the right thing at the COP21 talks beginning in Paris later this month. "COP21" is the 21st annual meeting of the "Conference of Parties" under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Since early summer I've been working with a diverse coalition of labor, social justice, environmental, and faith groups under an umbrella we call the Northern California Climate Mobilization. We're organizing a march and rally in Oakland, California on Saturday November 21st, and we're expecting a tremendous crowd. Details on the web site if you're local to the Bay Area; RSVP on NCCM's Facebook event page.

What do we want? Here are the highlights from the mobilization's Points of Unity:
Challenging climate catastrophe
the Northern California Climate Mobilization demands

A global agreement to implement
dramatic and rapid reduction in
global warming pollution

Keep fossil fuels in the ground!
100% clean, safe, renewable energy!

End all fracking, tar sands mining and pipelines, offshore drilling, arctic drilling.
Stop expansion of the extractive economy. Wind, solar, geothermal power now.
No coal exports or crude-by-rail bomb trains in Northern California.

A dramatic and rapid reduction in global warming pollution is necessary to create:
  • A world united to repair the ravages of climate change
  • A world with an economy that works for people and the planet
  • A demilitarized world with peace and social justice for everyone; where Black Lives Matter; with justice and respect for immigrants and migrants; where good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities belong to all
350.org is calling for a Global Climate March on the weekend directly preceding the start of COP21, Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S. -- and people across the world are mobilizing. (Because we judged it would be harder to turn out a crowd on Thanksgiving weekend, NCCM decided to hold our mobilization the weekend before, on November 21st).

At this stage of global dialog, not to mention current global awareness of climate change induced or inflected crises -- from California's drought to Syria's war and its associated, harrowing migrant crisis -- it's hardly necessary to recap the fact that humans have induced a set of existential threats to our entire biosphere.

But it's probably worth pointing out some of the circumstances and threats that make climate change and climate justice local issues for the Bay Area (cribbing liberally here from a set of talking points that NCCM is developing):

  • The Bay Area, with the rest of California, is enmeshed in a four year drought. Our air has been smoky all summer from wildfires burning through our treasured wilderness, farms lie fallow for lack of water, residents are radically conserving at home (this last is not a bad thing, but its necessity is noteworthy).
  • El Niño conditions may relieve the drought by the end of the coming winter, but warming water and storms have already begun to wreak havoc on our offshore ecosystems: dead whales and emaciated seal pups are washing up on our beaches in unprecedented numbers. Untold damage is being done to our fisheries. On October 15th, a "1,000 year rainfall event" dumped torrents of rain on Southern California in an hour, causing a mudslide over Highway 5 (the principal north/south route along the entire west coast of the U.S.) that closed the interstate for 45 miles of its critical length.
  • Transport of volatile crude oil on "bomb trains" to refineries in Richmond California, and a local developer's attempt to railroad the City of Oakland into allowing transport of dirty coal from Utah through Oakland's port, endangers every family who lives in neighborhoods bordering rail routes.
  • We in the Bay Area have families in the Philippines, Pakistan, Africa, Syria, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New York, Alaska, and other places where extreme weather events are taking lives and displacing people today. Climate change and climate justice are global issues, and everyone is impacted, everywhere.

And so the Bay Area is turning out on November 21st, as COP21 approaches. What's mobilizing where you live?

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Pope Francis' environmental encyclical in four core themes
Oil trains, coal trains: extractive economics vs. people and place
The fossil fuel industry and the free sump that is our atmosphere: Zing!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Activist fiction: it's about engagement, not about The Issue

Mysteries are about solving fictionalized real-world puzzles, most often crimes. In fiction categorized as "romance" characters seek, find, lose, and rediscover fulfillment through relationships with an often-idealized other. "Christian fiction" aims to promote behavior, ethics, and beliefs that align with the author's concept of Christianity. "Cli fi" (climate fiction) portrays a world as the author perceives it has been or or anticipates it will be affected by climate change / global warming. Eco-fiction prominently features any of a range of environmental or ecological issues -- recently, I've become interested in a Google+ Group that exchanges posts on these topics; Eco-themes in literature and the arts.

These are all helpful categories. People who want to explore characters and situations that orbit crime, romantic love, Christianity, climate change, or environmental themes can more easily find books they want to read by sifting through their category of choice, as opposed to slogging through the vast and chaotic universe of 129,864,880 books (as of ~5 years ago) from which one could conceivably choose reading material.

But "activist fiction" is an ill-defined category with an unfocused and prejudicially skewed reputation.

Some might say a story whose characters are political activists is "activist fiction" (think Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist, Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang, Neal Stephenson's Zodiac, or Ruth Ozeki's All Over Creation). Others might assert that if a novel's theme is politically charged and the characters, narrator, and/or author more-or-less take a position, it's "activist fiction" (think Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, George Orwell's 1984, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, or Darragh McKeon's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air). Perhaps the narrowest and least helpful definition of the category is one that casts any novel written by an author who is also a political activist as "activist fiction" (think James Baldwin, Jean Genet, or Nadine Gordimer).

To me, "activist fiction" tells stories about people who engage with the world from a point of view that seeks to understand (and often influence) its political dimensions.

Of course, "about people who engage with the world" is a generic definition of almost any story with a character and a setting. And my definition isn't very helpful until the word "political" is unpacked a bit. What I mean by it, in this context, is close to how Merriam Webster defines politics in the word's broadest senses and as it is least closely bound to formal government:
2: political actions, practices, or policies
5a: the total complex of relations between people living in society
The key for me: "activist fiction" is about a type of person and a range of modes of engaging with the world, rather than about any particular issue. It's about the human experience of those engagements ... not the war, environmental disaster, or draconian government that provides a situation or setting that anchors the fiction.

To give illustrative examples, I'm going to use three books published or scheduled for publication this Fall ... the authors, not coincidentally, are three of four panelists slated to discuss Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction at this year's Howard Zinn Book Fair in San Francisco. One of those authors is yours truly.

Clandestine Occupations: An Imaginary History, by Diana Block, describes pivotal relationships and dramatic decisions taken by women who support the Puerto Rican independence movement and those imprisoned for their part in it. Love, loyalty, risk, succor, abandonment, fear, betrayal, and forgiveness are the human dimensions of stories that play out in interlinked episodes over the course of forty years. The novel's drama revolves around and is propelled by the characters' involvement in a political struggle, but commitment to an independent Puerto Rico is the ocean Block's characters swim in -- they don't spend a great many pages explaining that the ocean is wet.

Murder under the Bridge: A Palestine Mystery, by Kate Raphael, is a straight-up detective story set in one of the most contested social and political environments on the planet: the Palestinian West Bank overlaid by Israel's occupation. The bones of Raphael's story follow the contour of most any detective story: a body is found; police go about discovering who murdered the victim. What makes her novel different from any murder mystery you're likely to have read is that the detective is Rania, a Palestinian woman with a young son and a life dedicated to building her people's governing institutions as a member of Fatah (the party of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas). Rania teams up with Chloe, a Jewish-American lesbian activist, to discover who done it. Grassroots activism occurs at the edges of the novel: a confrontation with bulldozers, for example, when Israelis are dispatched to uproot a grove of olive trees that belong to Palestinian farmers; or Chloe's attempts to ward off Israeli soldiers' attacks on unarmed Palestinian boys through her witnessing presence as "an international." But the real political power and fascination of Murder Under the Bridge occurs in its nuanced portrayal of daily routines and relationships among family members and villagers in the West Bank -- a view of everyday life that is hard to find in polarized media portrayals of occupied Palestine. Perhaps most gripping of all, readers are introduced to the sordid underbelly of human trafficking that satisfies Israeli appetites for service workers, nannies, and prostitutes, same old horrifying same old across continents and millennia; and the similarly familiar and discomfiting intimacy between war criminals and peace activists. Murder Under the Bridge is activist fiction because it portrays regular people butting their heads against social constraint, military control, and political power in pursuit of justice.

Consequence, by Steve Masover (a.k.a. moi), portrays a collective household of friends and political activists who engage in nonviolent "direct action" protest. The collective, dubbed the Triangle, engages in a diverse range of progressive political issues; in the novel's timeframe they are preparing to protest genetic engineering's environmental dangers, at an international meeting of biotech companies and scientists taking place at San Francisco's convention center. One member of the Triangle is drawn into a clandestine plot to destroy a agricultural biotech research facility under construction in the midwest. In Consequence, the issue (genetic engineering) is not nearly so central as the question of how grassroots activists can and should balance commitment to nonviolent tactics with actions that call dramatic attention to issues that won't get media attention unless and until protest escalates. As Oscar-nominated director Sam Green put it, "Consequence asks thorny, essential questions about personal responsibility and the role of violence in movements for social change."


To hear more from Diana, Kate, prolific author and celebrated activist-pagan Starhawk, and me about how books portray the engaged and engaging lives of activists please join us at our November 15th panel Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction at this year's Howard Zinn Book Fair at the City College Mission Campus in San Francisco (1125 Valencia St, near 24th St. BART; map).

Radical Storytelling: Writing Activism Into Fiction kicks off at 11:00 am on November 15th. I'll be tabling at the fair as well, so if you're in the Bay Area come by, say hello, and check out some of the other excellent books and panels on offer!

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Launch party photos
Sticking your neck out
Pre-apocalyptic fiction: staving off catastrophe
Robert Redford, the Weather Underground, and why we read books

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for the public domain image of the painting La liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Launch party photos

One of my old and dear friends nailed it. The launch party for Consequence was like a wedding: people from every corner of my life showed up for the celebration at Diesel Books in Oakland.

Here's what it was like, in pictures (there's video too, but that'll take a bit longer to stitch together and post):

Thanks to everyone who came out for a terrific afternoon!

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Launch Party at Diesel Books Oakland - Sunday 18 Oct at 3pm
Sticking your neck out
CONSEQUENCE has arrived
Hanging friends' art in fiction

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun and Quinn Dombrowski for the terrific photos!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Launch Party at Diesel Books Oakland - Sunday 18 Oct at 3pm

Diesel Books in Oakland is generously hosting a launch party for Consequence this coming Sunday, 18 October 2015, from 3:00 to 4:00 pm.

I'll read, I'll answer questions, I'll sign books (Diesel will have plenty on-hand).

Who will be there? Old friends, new friends, seasoned authors, authors with books coming out this Fall, complete strangers, family, seasoned activists, colleagues, artists, Tai Chi classmates, former housemates, and uncategorizable iconoclasts -- avid readers all. (Well, I don't actually know about the complete strangers, but why else would they show up at a book launch party?)

It would be great to see you at Diesel!!

Feel free to RSVP on the Facebook event page ... but in any case, I hope that if you're in the Bay Area you'll join me.

Need directions? Diesel is at 5433 College Avenue, about four blocks from Rockridge BART, between the station and Broadway. Here's a map:

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Sticking your neck out
CONSEQUENCE has arrived
Hanging friends' art in fiction

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sticking your neck out

I've had some interesting conversations lately about activist fiction. Yes, I have to acknowledge that those who focus on categorizing fiction might assume Consequence is aimed at a narrow demographic, fiction primarily written 'for' people who self-identify as political activists. But that's not how I conceived the novel, and early reviews on Amazon and Goodreads suggest my intention will be realized: that readers with much broader interests will feel rewarded once they find their way into its pages.

Given that the novel orbits a collective household of political activists, I think I ought to explain how and why I see a wider readership taking interest in it.

The thing is, I believe a broad, messy, scrappy variety of all kinds of people are quite a lot 'like' activists ... even though most would never think to call themselves that.

'Activist fiction', the way I read it, is a category of stories about people who are willing to stick their necks out.

Even if you're not that sort yourself, you probably know half a dozen people among family and friends who have stuck their neck out once or twice. Maybe you know people who stick their necks out regularly about some issue or problem or person they care about deeply. People who stick their necks out are legion, a ubiquitous part of our world. And when people stick their necks out, what they're up to is often pretty interesting. Captivating, even.

Here's my take from a 'sample interview' I drafted on the road to bringing out Consequence:
Q: What would somebody who isn’t politically active get from Consequence?

SM: Everybody decides how far to stick their neck out to confront the things they just can’t bear. Maybe you confront a school principal if your kid is getting bullied or shunned, or you go out of your way to buy something from a local business instead of on-line or from a national chain. Maybe you write a letter to the editor, or sign a petition, or support a political candidate who is trying to do something better than business as usual. Maybe you post an article or a meme about an issue you care about on Facebook or Tumblr or Twitter even if you expect it’ll rub some of the people you know the wrong way. Consequence is about people who are willing to stick their necks out regularly, around multiple issues, and to stick their necks out even further when hanging out in their comfort zone doesn’t get the results they’re after. I think most people can identify with that dilemma. Most of us go out on a limb about something we care about at some point in our lives, one way or another.
And another angle:

I swim regularly at the YMCA in Berkeley, and over many years I've met quite a few people outside my usual circles. Gyms are good for that. 'Everybody works out' may overstate the case, but you find a wide range of personalities in a gym that has 15,000 members.

One fellow-swimmer I talk with often is Jon P--, a commercial real estate broker, Rotarian, and grandfather. Recently, when I casually characterized Consequence in conversation as a novel about 'activists', Jon took sharp -- and well-considered -- exception. Not to the novel, which he hadn't read at the time. But to what he took to be my too-narrow definition of 'activist.'

"Look," he said, "everybody's an activist..." And then told me about a retired physician and member of the Berkeley Rotary Club who is in his mid-80s and remains passionate about eradicating polio. Bob, the physician, doesn't consider himself an activist, per se, Jon told me. People who know him don't think: oh, he's an anti-polio activist. People who know Bob see a doctor who has witnessed more than his share of suffering -- nature of the job, right? -- and is driven by empathy and compassion to do something to relieve a measure of that suffering.

So Bob works actively and passionately to accomplish a goal he holds to be a critically important public good.

Isn't that what activists do?

My friend Jon is right: maybe not everybody is an activist, but to draw a border between "activism" and passionate, goal-oriented activity aimed at realizing a public good -- that's not a very helpful or informative distinction. I'd venture the characters in Consequence would agree.

More or less everybody, sometime, sticks their neck out about something.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Radical conservatism vs the radical left
When authorities equate disobedience with violence
The Occupy Movement and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument
The desire to destroy is also a creative desire
Digging deeper holes

Thanks to Greg Willis for the image of giraffes, zebras, and springboks, via Wikimedia Commons.