California Writers Circle: A Circle of Voices

The California Writers Club's annual literary picnic, "A Blanket and a Basket of Chow," was blessed this year by the first good rain of the season. 

The last time, and every other time, writers have gathered in this space, we've been shaded by tall trees. This January, they fell like dominos in the devastating New Year's storm. It cost the city six thousand dollars to have all the wood removed. 

Ten months later, the meadow looks as if it's always been open, the light is welcoming, and an enormous stump remains, a natural stage in its own right.

Our event, which overlapped with the Friends of Joaquin Miller Park annual meeting, was the perfect occasion to re-christen the Fire Circle as the California Writers Circle. Plans are afoot to re-configure the Fire Pit, which was erected some time in the 1960s or 1970s, guessing from the modular cement design, but until then, a makeshift stage will do. 

Three panels were constructed from reclaimed wood by a volunteer, Horace Mann Elementary school teacher and former Sequoia Elementary School Dadz Club leader, David Caven (and blogger, and devoted husband of this writer!) These portables create a proof of concept and a temporary resource for small groups towards the evolution of a community area for performances not quite ready for the Woodminster Amphitheater.

At the event, FOJMP Treasurer Bonnie Sherwood explained how her she's updated Google Maps, not only with the California Writers Circle but the Park's bathrooms, drinking fountains, and other points of interest, plus updating Sequoia Point to be called Rinihmu Pulte’irekne. In total, her mapping has invited over 500,000 views, helping Park users with phones find what they need, and making it so much easier for groups like ours to meet. Until now, the paper maps provided by Friends of Sausal Creek have been the only option.

Six members of the Berkeley Branch of the CWC took their place with me on the platform with Bonnie and FOJMP President Dale Risden, including CWC President Keith Gaboury. The crowd voted for us to popped a bottle of bubbly rather than smash it on the cement, and I and poured some onto the stage and then into plastic cups. We toasted to a new era. 

Christening the California Writers Circle

The idea of this reading series, which has taken place since 2016, when it was created as an event to gather together the literary tribes of the East Bay to honor California Writers then and now. 

But this year it rained. There were tents. And our languid afternoon reading did not, sadly, take place on the makeshift stage. After a stop for hot coffee at L'Acajou, It moved to an indoor venue down the hill (my basement), where the readings took place to an audience of other readers.

In the Rancho Deluxe Groovy Grotto, where writers often gather to generate words or to celebrate...

Keith Gaboury
read "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsburg (Berkeley 1955) and his own "Birth Head," Ginsburg's Beat response to Whitman's Leaves of Grass about our neon-lit produce was a vivid setup for Gaboury's sweetly surreal story about beloved babies with heads of lettuce.

Jay Hartlove read excerpts from Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs along with excerpts from his own novel, Mermaid Steel. The connecting theme was looking back on origin stories of love, from a present place of conflict. 

Bob Haus read a poignant scene from Julie Osaka's When the Emperor Was Divine, paired fresh writing from his novel in progress, Rebuilding the Bug.  Although the story of a Japanese family being sent to an Internment camp might not seem to have much themery in common with a homeless musician rebuilding his own identity as he restores a car, both were tender reflections about unwanted people.

Chase Anderson read first from Jack London's White Fang and then from his own short story, The Application of Lycanthropy as a Novel Treatment for Gender Dysphoria.  Both scenes took place after someone had been mauled by wolves (or werewolves, in the second instance). London's external descriptions of two gritty outdoorsmen, wrapped in animal furs against the cold, transporting a body through Alaska on a dog sled, was a universe away from the internal sensations of a body changing from one known form into a mythical creature.

Cristina Deptula read "My California" by Lee Herrick (poet laureate of Fresno) from the 2012 volume Garden of the Secrets of the Dead. Then she slayed us all with her own astonishing poem, "I Am From Hayward", which she originally read at the amazing literary series, Bay Area Generations. Both poems were a meditation on the diversity of California, a place where all the world converges, not only from immigration and visitation but in realms of thought.

I wrapped up the event with "Ellie Bay of the East Bay," a fun terrible poem I wrote on a lark years ago, fashioned after Joaquin Miller's purple poetry (I read a typical forgettable poem of his), wrapped in a story wrapped in a story wrapped in a smile. Seeing the box of 'zines I've been compiling over the past few years, Chase told me about a new platform where digital creators like me can host downloadable things. Today I posted the 'zine there. 

Tomorrow I will go pick up the stage from the park. 

So this was, in the end, a day that started and ended with platforms.


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