Local Lit | August’s top literary happenings

Support four Bay Area-based independent publishers in August and beyond
During the pandemic, book lovers worked to keep local independent bookstores up and running with e-commerce and contactless pick-up orders. As in-store retail shopping returns, it’s a great time to deepen that support by investing more often at the foundational level: that is, seek books and literary products from local publishers.

Fortunately, it’s easy to do that in the Bay Area. These four highly recommended publishers offer a notable, diverse array to get started: Berkeley’s Creston Books, with award-winning children’s picture and YA books largely written by local authors; Berkeley-based Heyday Books, offering an extensive list celebrating California Native American culture and history, nature, and social justice activism and policies; San Francisco’s City Lights Publishers; featuring contemporary and cutting edge fiction, poetry, memoirs, literary translations and books on social and political issues; and Chronicle Books, based in San Francisco and offering bestselling adult and children’s books, along with literary stationery and unique and expertly designed gift products for all ages.

Nawaaz Ahmed, author of Radiant Fugitives, and Nina McConigley, August 12
Local notable and Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris indirectly works her way into Nawaaz Ahmed’s debut novel, Radiant Fugitives. While that razzle-dazzle might attract a few readers, what will keep them turning pages is Ahmed’s lyrical prose and fine command of a complex narrative. Three generations of a Muslim family struggle with life in the West as they confront illness, differences in religious beliefs, shifting sexual identities, the eminent arrival of a newborn, and long-held resentments, misunderstandings and betrayals. Binding the characters in cross-woven strands of love and devotion, the novel “is infused with the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats and verses from the Quran,” according to publisher notes.

Ahmed was born in Tamil Nadu, India. Before turning to writing, he was a computer scientist, researching search algorithms for Yahoo. He holds an MFA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and is the winner of several Hopwood Awards. He currently lives in Brooklyn. August 12; 6-7 p.m.; free, virtual; register HERE.

Jaime Cortez, author of Gordo, in conversation with Rebecca Solnit, August 17
Jaime Cortez’s debut short fiction collection, Gordo, offers a profoundly moving platform for voices of marginalized migrant workers in the West. The short stories revolve around life in a workers camp located in California near Watsonville, in Steinbeck Country. Gordo, a young (likely gay) boy who in the 1970s must don a wrestler’s mask and throw punches to battle his way from childhood to manhood, meets an astonishing cast of characters. Through humor, family drama, and intimate details, Cortez tells the tale of who belongs in America, how a boy coming of age learns decency from adults who fear for their lives and livelihoods, and the struggles and victories of migrant workers as they work to balance family security and well-being. Cortez is a graphic novelist, visual artist, writer, teacher, and occasional performer who uses art and humor to explore issues relating to sexuality, social justice, HIV/AIDS, and Chicano identity.

Rebecca Solnit is a well-known and award-winning Bay Area writer, historian, activist, and the author of more than twenty books. The event is produced by City Lights Publishers. August 17; 6-8 p.m.; free, virtual; register HERE.

Jaime Lowe, author of Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires, August 19
Journalist and writer Jaime Lowe spent years getting to know dozens of women who have participated in West Coast fire camp programs. The result is her new book, Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires, a rare look at how fire camps actually operate. Breathing Fire includes insights gleaned from interviews with the all-female inmate firefighters, as well as their captains, family and friends, correctional officers, and camp commanders. As California’s fire season grows increasingly extreme every year and thousands of firefighters battle California’s blazes, we learn that roughly 30 percent of the on-the-ground wildland crews are inmates earning a dollar an hour. Approximately 200 of those firefighters are women.

Lowe is the author of Mental, a memoir about lithium and bipolar disorder, and Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB, a biography of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. She is a frequent contributor to the New York Times magazine and other national and international publications. August 19; 7-9 p.m.; free, virtual; register HERE

Melanie Gideon in conversation with Natalie Baszile, August 19
Bay Area writer Melanie Gideon’s new novel, Did I Say You Could Go, follows her previous best-selling titles that include Valley of the Moon, Wife 22, and the memoir, The Slippery Year: A Meditation on Happily Ever After. Her new book features Ruth, a wealthy divorcée, who hopes for a fresh start for herself and with her daughter, Marley. When most parents at the school in which much of the action takes place are turned off by Ruth’s wealth, she forms an unlikely and rocky relationship with Gemma, a widow and a single mother to her daughter, Bee. The role of friendships between two families twists and turns in familiar and unsettling ways as Gideon manages once again to unroll a realistic, emotional, and suspenseful narrative.

A conversation with Gideon and writer Natalie Baszile (Queen Sugar, a novel adapted for television by writer/director Ava DuVernay and co-produced by Oprah Winfrey for OWN and We Are Each Other’s Harvest) promises to be enriching, humorous, and substantive. Aug. 19; 7 p.m.; free, virtual; details HERE from Montclair’s A Great Good Place for Books.

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