A Reading in the Redwoods with Ayodele Nzinga + a special announcement

This year, for California Writers Week, I once again assembled a group of poets and authors to read out the works of early California Writers on behalf of the California Writers Club. I stood at the top of the Cascade, which finally began to flow again earlier this month, and oriented guests of "A Reading in the Redwoods" to the legacy of this wooded slope. 

"It was not just a few famous writers who gathered, here," I said, sharing the image of a hillside swarming with seekers of inspiration that had filled my imagination just hours before when browsing the vivid Joaquin Miller archive. "This hill was a commune of creatives, nearly a century before Hippies were invented, a spectacle and a sanctuary." 

Terry Tierney read first, choosing two perfect poems by Miller: Sea Blown (which seemed, to me, to be about an unpublished writer, a perfect companion to Columbus) and Mount Shasta, an ode to the white mountain. He followed with a delightful poem called Why Trees Stay Outside.

Lin Gentry followed, reading Jack London's account of the variety of poppies that once covered the hills, and excerpts from her memoir, Episodes in a Cultural Revolution, about preparing for her job interview as Oakland's first female fire fighter. She chose a wonderful passage about working as a gardener in that very park, sweeping those very stairs, with a funny, honest admission at the end. 

Suchandrima Banerjee made her CWC debut with a poem by George Sterling and her own poem about a beautiful sunset afternoon.

And finally, Oakland Poet Laureate Ayodele Nzinga graced us with a reading of Ina Coolbrith's poem, California. She reflected on the difference between herself and Coolbrith, and their common reverence for PLACE. She gave background on how "Love Life" became Oakland's official motto, and a new poem by that title she'd performed the day before at the first annual Love Life day She also read two other new poems, voicing these times of violence, this season of spooks and grief. Listen to the sheer power of her poetry here

Diane Swan also read I Observe Old Crows and Jordan Pastor read San Pablo Avenue Mustang.   

And now the big announcement...

I have been researching the trees in the Writers Memorial Grove, and discovered a few things. First, that all the trees on the left seem to be named for male writers. The ones on the right are dedicated to female writers. And second, not all the trees seem to be named, at least according to the map in my CWC files.

A necklace? Kind of.  Is it lungs? Absolutely. Lady parts? Well...

Two un-named sentinel redwoods at the top of the right stairs look over Oakland, and over the theater. "If anyone deserves a tree here," I said, "Who would it be? Who's missing?"

"Ina," said Ayo. California's first poet laureate, the glue that held all poets together, Miller's mentor who suggested he take the name Joaquin. 

"And Ayo," I said, "Oakland's first Poet Laureate. Your tree can see the Lower Bottom from here."

We dubbed those two trees "Ina and Ayo," Bob Haus pouring out a libation from his water bottle. Ayodele spoke of the honor and significance. She'd dreamed of having a legacy since she was five years old. A tree will outlive a person by centuries. And a redwood tree is eternal, its babies sprouting from its roots. 

The twin sentinels, Ina and Ayo

It will take some research and some politix to see if we can make this official, and to raise money for a marker for these trees. As part of this project, I intend to find out the names of all the trees and restore signage to the giants of the Writers Memorial Grove. Phase two of this project will be expanding the grove, planting trees for a new generation of writers. I am actively looking for partners in this creative, historical, civic work.

Read more Ayodele. Buy her books. Here's a great interview with her. 


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