This spring I didn’t leave San Diego for a minute, and I experienced a multitude of cultural and art events. Here I review the top 20:
1. A Play of The Bluest Eye @ Moxie Theater. What a great rendition, a lighthearted and fun retelling of a classic story. And one of the lead actresses goes to SDSU! Go Aztecs! The Moxie theater is right by campus, and is an intimate but professional space. Ticket prices were very reasonable, so I went to Urban Solace beforehand!! mmmmmm
2. Salon and Reading with poet Matthew Zapruder, at San Diego State. This guy is up there on the list of famous living poets, and was a truly engaging speaker. He leveled with the audience and talked to us like we were old friends, telling us all about his company, Wave Books, and the process of starting it. Most interesting was how he described and brought examples to illustrate the evolution of the Wave Books cover designs. Check them out here!
3. Next up was the Student Research Symposium at San Diego State. It was great to see all of these students doing projects outside of what is required. No “productive apathy” here. I presented a paper and had a great time learning from other participants and then engaging with them and the professorial respondents during my Q + A time.
4. One of my favorites: a Living Writers Series lecture by Sheree Rose, performance artist. Sheree really ruffled the feathers of her audience, and I’m pretty sure that was what she hoped to do. In her talk “Bad Girl and Sick Boy: The Art, Life, and Times of Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan” she told us (and showed us, with pictures and videos so graphic that some audience members had to duck out) all about her life as a kink/BDSM (bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadism, and masochism) themed performance artist. She weighed in on why kink was her personal brand of feminism- something along the lines of “men have always been in power, its time to take the power back.” Rock on, Sheree!!
5. On Valentines Day I was surprised with a ticket to an Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong Tribute Night at 98 Bottles. It ended up being an incredible night of live music in the amazing “back-room” of 98 bottles which is one of the most speak-easy feeling places I’ve ever been. Black curtains divided the room from the rest of the restaurant/bar, the VIP seating is 4 or 5 leather couches that surround the stage, but every table was a good table. The crowd ranged from 30-something scene-sters to people old enough to be my grandmother- and we all loved it just the same. The service, the food, and the drinks were exquisite and I’d highly reccomend you check this classy place out, and soon!
6. “Occupy the Page” A Salon and Reading with Alissa Valles and Dominic Luxford. Alissa’s and Dominic’s work overlaps in the McSweeney’s Anthology Poets Picking Poets. This was part of the Living Writers Series and also sponsored by Poetry International. The two answered questions that two other students and I had prepared and then asked in a moderation style “conversation”. We touched on how translation, editing, literature (including poetry) could be considered activism, and though Alissa didn’t necessarily agree with the word activism, she did agree that they were quite important for remaining inquisitively powerful! Later, the two read both their own poems and selections from Poets Picking Poets.
7. Presentation by Penn State Professor Melissa Wright. Melissa tied together how language used to describe those in U.S. Mexico border-towns (criminals, cockroaches) is closely tied to the justification of their removal by developers hoping to move in and ‘revitalize’ these areas. And if we see someone as worthless, its easy to justify their being forced out, even if the avenue of removal is as extreme as murder- which Melissa theorizes is one of the parts of the drug war that goes too often ignored. I went home and read her incredible book which is just an absolute must-read for cultural studies scholars.
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a play @ New Village Arts in Carlsbad. This play had my friend and I in stitches. Altogether hilarious and yet also deeply meditative. The actors were incredible, we were chillingly close to the stage– which isn’t even raised– and the booming sound effects and music added so much to the experience. A story of madness, a story of Americans caught in a web of failing to meet societal expectations, and a story of the consequences of that… if you haven’t read the book, start there! There was a also a Cukoo’s Nest themed art show in the lobby with some very interesting pieces! And the front desk switched some seats around so my friend and I could sit together. SO nice of them!
9. Student Sustainability Conference. A day of worm composting, a stop in from Rob Greenfield (a San Diegan about to start bicycling across the country to raise awareness for sustainability), and a keynote speech by author of The Nature Principle Richard Louv. Other talks in-between, like mine, about creative approaches to the E-waste issue! Free breakfast and lunch from the Olive Oil Cafe. I’ll be back next year!!
10. A Salon and Reading with Kjell Espmark, Monica Espmark, and Mariela Griffor. Wow, blessed to even be in the audience of these established writers. Kjell is a distinguished professor, longtime writer and poet, and on the committee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Monica, his wife, is also a writer who focuses on bibliography and has interviewed many important minds. Mariela founded and runs Marick Press and is also a wonderful poet. The three talked about publishing a bit and then took questions from the audience, giving tons of advice to young writers. Mariela and Kjell read poems from their latest works to a small audience later that night.
11. My overall favorite: The Mountaintop, a play @ Lyceum Theater in downtown. The story- an exciting and inspiring look into an night of imaginary happenings, but leading up to the very real assassination of Dr. King. Set design and prop use was minimal (in the best possible way!) and the visual – video feed- and sound effects blew me away. The two actors were indescribably perfect. The night I attended was also this play’s very last showing, so I think they gave it a little something extra. Watch the preview clip of the final scene here, but you you won’t get the same chills I did when Camae yelled so loudly into the microphone, echoes added to her voice reverberated, and the veins in her head and neck throbbed as audience members wept. The Mountaintop is the type of play that without the right actors or the right effects, could fall flat, but here- it came alive, beautifully alive, and I’m glad I was able to experience it in that way.
12. Madea Benjamen came to San Diego State as part of the Feminist Colloquim Series to talk about CODEPINK which she co-founded, as well as Drone Warfare, a serious issue. I was moved not just to become anti-drone (well, anti-drone in the hands of the wrong people or sans accountability) but to pick up my activist tools and get out there and do something for change. Madea is well known for her antics of disrupting well televised public events to get across a variety of CODEPINK messages. She was also promoting her book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, an important study of a technology that is becoming more and more widespread, often being used for actions that she considered major humans rights violations, and after her talk, I’m inclined to agree. Great audience participation and discussion, with great commentary from a local San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice representative.
13. The 2013 Annual Meeting of the California American Studies Association. San Diego State was this year’s host, and panelists from all over the U.S. came to present on their work in American studies. The two panels I saw were exciting and showed incredibly vast range and quality of American studies scholars. The talk that really excited me was on gender in hobo-punk subculture!! I’ll be sure to post about any upcoming conferences that promise to be as exciting as this one.
14. Publishing Salon with Kerry Shawn Keys. Kerry brought in a heap of books that he had had a “hand” in, quite literally as he has been hand-making books for something like 30 years now. An author and poet who has lived all over the world, he had both lighthearted chapbooks from foreign authors to serious novels to works that had been hand-done by him and Robert Bringhurst, of Elements of Typographic Style fame. He encouraged young people to keep crafting books, not just for the art of it, but because handing out the books are a great way to both network and give gifts to people. He had a wonderful story with much to show!
15. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen- a series put on by San Diego State’s Love Library Special Collections (<– a great interview with them). First up was Greg Bear, then Larry McCaffery, and then Vernor Vinge. All are authors that are connected to San Diego State by attendance or professorship. Each talk was wildly different, a mix of San Diego and Comic-Con history, memoir type look at the intertwined history of post-modern technology and fiction, and predictions about the future. All three authors held Q+A’s and also book signings- what a great series. Thanks, Special Collections!!!
16. Figment San Diego. Figment is a crowd-sourced arts festival based around bringing participatory art and culture to cities all over the U.S. From interactive sculptures to sound installations to body painting to hula hooping, people of all ages and ethnicities were enjoying this organic festival in Chicano Park. You must go next year, or check out one in another city in the meantime.
17. Poetry and Art Night at the Museum of the Living Artist. With readings from local Professor Jennifer Minniti-Shippey and more, this art-museum turned live reading event was awesome, and free for anyone who brought a bottle of wine?! How cool. One of the poets was reading about a struggle with cancer, and I’m not going to lie, there were tears in the audience, the presentation was that moving. An open mic followed but most people had left by then, so we too moved on to the next party.
18. Publishing Salon with James Matlock Rainey. An professional young man who just absolutely loves to write. A guy whose novel- Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves– got rejected by nearly 100 publishing houses, so he decided to self-publish; that’s how much he wanted to share the story. He told us about that process, but most meaningfully about the book’s reception, showing us pictures of a classroom of kids that had read the book, and a wall they had decorated with art they had made regarding it. Not only was this guy enthusiastic, he was warm and kind, and has offered to meet several of my colleagues for coffee to talk even more about the self-publishing process. What a guy!
19. “Under the Green Moon” was a multimedia presentation by Paul Turounet. You know a lecture is going to be good when the speaker walks in with a power drill! This Fulbright scholar, fine art photographer, and local community college professor is not just a great artist, but an articulate one. Walking us through the process of being wait-listed for a Fulbright, graduating from Harvard while going through a divorce, and guiding us through his journey as a photographer not just taking photos of the border but installing the work on border fences and elsewhere. Paul then took questions and as a graduate student I was quite impressed with not only the amount of engagement, but the quality of the questions Paul was then happy to answer- no matter how personal. Then we all got to go up and see his work, that had been in the cases he opened up with the power drill. He will be showing at Mesa college in the fall- can’t wait!
20. Master of Arts in Liberal Arts and Sciences (MALAS) 25th annual Commencement. With a speech by Ryan Schneider, Purdue University, titled “Madness and Delinquency… or, What Would You Do if Carlos Fuentes and Michel Foucault Showed up at Your MALAS Graduation Party?”
It is not happening until the morning, but I am posting this now because I guarantee you it will be good. Update: awesome ceremony, review to come in its own post! I am in the MALAS program and I can’t wait to go in and help my friends and colleagues celebrate their graduation in such a cool customized way. Congratulations to all my fellow students!
That’s it, that’s the list! Until next time- a summer season review? Or should I review more often?
*Note: Eli Clare’s reading at San Diego State would have made my list, but I already reviewed that here.