Adventures at the Oakland Book Fest – Keeping it Real

I looked forward to attending my first book festival as an “out” writer.  I thought the Oakland Book Fest would be the perfect coming out venue for me.

Fred Soderberg. Oakland, California, 1900. San Francisco: 1900. Color lithograph. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Fred Soderberg. Oakland, California, 1900. San Francisco: 1900. Color lithograph. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

It’s a one-day festival.  It’s small-ish, it’s local, and the East Bay NaNoWriMo group was in attendance.  The panel discussion I was most interested in attending was chaired by Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of NaNoWriMo.


Grant Faulkner, Executive Director, NaNoWriMo
Grant Faulkner, Executive Director, NaNoWriMo Photo credit


There were so many concurrent panels and talks, I could have spent the entire fest sitting indoors and listening, but I would have missed much of the essence of the fest.  So, I restricted myself to one discussion, led by the intrepid Grant Faulkner, and featuring Jennifer Devere Brody, a professor in Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University; Michael Ray, editor of the award winning Zoetrope: All-Story and screenwriter; Michael Sturtz, a sculptor, teacher, designer, and facilitator of creative thinking.

The discussion was titled “The Labor of Creativity”.  The four panelists recounted and explored the evolutions of their creative lives from childhood to the present; acknowledged the struggles inherent in being a “creator” in the modern world, where making ends meet can involve a daily grind of multiple jobs and a constant struggle to pay bills and take care of the necessities; and shared some ideas for making your life a creative one in the face of those struggles.

This topic, in Oakland in the year 2016, is a quixotic one.  Oakland is a potential victim (or possibly better termed a victim-in-progress) of the rise and spread of the new Creative class exemplified by the spread of Silicon Valley and Social media tech professionals to San Francisco, with an attendant erosion of tenants rights and callousness toward the growth of housing crises and homelessness in the city.  With Google’s thirst for real estate unsatiated and Uber’s recent purchase of the moribund Sears building, fears rise that it’s a matter of time before the Creative class descends upon Oakland for housing and entertainment. One need only look across the bay to see how the immigration could play out.

This tension was displayed in the discussion with the panel.  Laurence Schectman, a long-time organizer in the Bay Area whose championship of Peer to Peer food growing cooperatives and day labor collectives like OWC put him at cross purposes with some members of the panel (and at odds with some audience members).  He wants to see unions, co-ops and neighborhoods view their situations as a single struggle, and wants to build an organization that will address and coordinate that struggle.

With only 7% of the labor force in unions today, he wants to talk about new directions.  If you’d like to talk or write to him, contact him at Laurenceofberk (at) aol (dot) com.

Laurence is looking for a technically savvy individual who can write a data base program for the neighborhood part of the equation.

The writing advice that most resonated for me in the talk was this:

  • As a writer, leave some open space in your story that allows the reader to relate by inserting their own experience-based empathy and understanding.  It’s these spaces that help novels written in the 18th and 19th centuries to maintain relevancy in the 21st century.  In writing near-future science fiction, as I do, obsolescent dreamed up technologies are a hazard of the trade, but the stories themselves can remain relevant long after the technologies have been overtaken
  • Give yourself space and time to be creative, but don’t wait for the Muse to speak.  Write today.  Write every day.  Write even when you don’t know what to write.  Give yourself deadlines if the world doesn’t give them to you.
  • Travel.  Get out of your zip code and away from  your email.  Your mind will churn with ideas when distracting inputs and day to day life  are shut down or slowed down.  When a full getaway isn’t feasible, then get out into nature or people-watch at a park.  Bring a notebook, but leave the electronics.

This was only 90 minutes of my day at the fest, though.  I eventually found the NaNoWriMo booth after walking past it on 4 separate occasions.  The booth’s location was impossible to miss, so I suspect interdimensional shenanigans were in play.  I walked past a number of booths dedicated to small press offerings.  As one would expect, activism and intersectionality were recurrent themes.  Local and regional settings were common.  I am not the only person who likes to write about places I know so well, they are old friends.

My favorite part of the fest, though, was the outdoor amphitheater.  Poets and story writers from all over the Bay Area were present to present their stylings.  The performance that will live with me, and be foremost in my mind anytime I think about this fest was by a young poet and poetry teacher.  Some of her students were there for her performance.  I wish I had caught her name.  I’ve searched online for the poem, but so far haven’t found it.  The poem was about the bombing of Dresden, and how a young man seeing the destroyed city, with its angels on tall pillars scorched, cracked, and in many cases fallen and shattered, was haunted by the horror throughout his subsequent life.

This may be a poem – an experience – where I will never be able to fill in the details, where I will be left with the hypnotic rise and fall of the performer’s voice as she created haunting, horrifying imagery of a city bombed to rubble, over and over again, and how the memory of the city’s destruction twisted in a witness’s gut for a lifetime.


10/10.  Would attend again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.