Outside Voices: A Memoir of the Berkeley Revolution
By Joan Gelfand (San Francisco)
Post Hill Press (January 16, 2024)
Joan Gelfand on writing her memoir, Outside Voices
Berkeley in the early 1970s was the place to be, much like Paris was in the 1920s and Greenwich Village was in the 1960s, A young Joan Gelfand boarded a plane from the East Coast and arrived in Berkeley in 1972 during a moment of cultural and political tumult.
She drew inspiration from those around her, particularly the women who were breaking barriers and establishing new identities outside their traditional gender roles. Gelfand experimented, too, (which she details in her book) and emerged as a poet, editor, songwriter, lover, muse and friend.
Local News Matters asked Gelfand, who lives in San Francisco, about what those times were like.
What was the political and cultural atmosphere of Berkeley like in 1972? Did you move here specifically to immerse yourself in that environment? Why?
When I arrived in 1972 the atmosphere was very open. The entire Bay Area was so affordable – the rent for a room in a shared house was $50 – food was affordable. I originally came just for a holiday – three months maximum – so, no, I did not come with the intention of immersing myself.
Why were so many people living in communal households? How many did you live in? What were the good parts and bad parts? Was it really a lot of “sex, drugs and rock and roll?”
The spirit of the time was that our generation was hell-bent on creating community. We’d had enough of nuclear families, stringent rules and conventional lifestyles. We were a tribe of young hippies and artists who wanted to chart a new path for ourselves, save the world from itself and work together for peace and justice. And, yes, sure, there was ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll.” You could see bands at so many venues without taking out a mortgage. So many beloved clubs where we heard musicians for the first time are gone now but they helped to bring the music scene together. We were out and about all the time, going to readings, clubs, art openings, theater performances. It was quite idyllic. And, of course, women were making progress by leaps and bounds. We were starting our own businesses and that was very exciting.
Of course, there were good parts and bad parts. The good part was that culture, art and groups working toward change were accessible and open. For example, I was named poetry editor at Plexus, a women’s magazine, at the tender age of 19. I got to be an arbiter of culture! That was such a different modus operandi than in New York where you pretty much had to be famous to get a platform.
The bad part was that along with that openness, there were people who would pass through who might not have been the most stable; that was challenging but it was managed with compassion.
How did you discover you loved poetry? Was there anything particular about Berkeley that helped you find your voice?
I have to be honest. Poetry found me. In high school (where I was living through the trauma of losing my father) I found that poetry’s playfulness and depth was both a reflection of me and a mode of expression that I hadn’t experienced, it was uplifting and reassuring! Also, it was a relief to read other writer’s struggles with their inner lives expressed through poetry.
In Berkeley (this is in one of the opening chapters) I met a woman writer who admonished me: ‘type your poems.’ In Berkeley, women took their creativity and art very seriously! I am SURE that I would not have gone down such a serious path had I not been exposed to other writers who were putting themselves out in public, pushing boundaries and forms and writing about such deeply painful and personal subjects. Yes, there was Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich but, in my community, there was Judy Grahan, Pat Parker and Ntzoke Shange. There were women just like me, struggling to find their voice and confidence.
You have written three books of poetry, a how-to guide for writers which reached #1 on Amazon, and a novel, Extreme, set in a Silicon Valley start-up. Is it hard to move between genres? What prompted you to write a memoir?
I think I have always appreciated the various modes of communicating: poetry is intense and goes to the heart. And, poetry, as I’ve said, was my first foray into writing. When I learned that I could effect change and affect people with words, it was empowering. I was lucky enough to get encouragement and positive feedback, so I kept going.
But I also have a strong business background. I’ve worked in corporate sales and in advertising and learned that a winning strategy would be to treat my writing like a business. That’s where “You Can Be a Winning Writer” came from.
The novel…I always wanted to talk about women and class and who succeeds in business and why. “Extreme” was the exploration of that topic.
For the memoir, honestly? This is the story of my life. I never thought my personal journey would find an audience but when I told my publicist the story, he insisted it was viable for publication. I had been taking notes on this book for many years while I was working on the other books, and when a window of time opened, I wrote it.
You came for a holiday and stayed in the Bay Area the rest of your life. Why did you decide to stay?
I found my tribe here. My tribe of poets and artists and nature lovers and outdoorspeople. Believe me, this was not how I was raised. I was raised in NYC in a very urban environment. So, it was a confluence of things that compelled me to stay. And that compels me still! I believe that coming to the Bay Area in the 70’s exposed me to a way of living that informs me still: the way that one thing led to another, the way that artists helped one another, each applauding the other’s success – it was truly magical.
More new books, from Bay Area and Northern California authors, listed by release date
A Fragile Enchantment
By Allison Saft (Stanford)
Wednesday Books (January 2, 2024)
In A Fragile Enchantment, New York Times bestselling author Allison Saft creates a Regency-era fantasy world replete with magic and treachery. Niamh Ó Conchobhai, a working-class seamstress, has magical fingers that allow her to stitch emotions into the clothes she makes. When she travels to the neighboring kingdom of Avaland to make outfits for a royal wedding, she is put off by the groom, a pretentious prince named Kit Carmen. But Niamh eventually realizes Kit is being married off to strengthen a political alliance. They fall in love, but a scheming gossip columnist threatens to out them unless Niamh reveals some royal family secrets.
By Adam Plantinga
Grand Central Publishing (January 2, 2024)
Kurt Argento is a former Detroit cop whose luck has run out. An attempt to be a Good Samaritan backfired, sending Argento to a maximum security prison in Missouri. But then the governor’s daughter, a graduate student, visits the prison. All of a sudden the lights go out and the cameras malfunction and the young woman is marooned in a place full of very bad guys on the loose. It is up to Argento to help her. Can he get her to safety and redeem himself in the process? The author, Adam Plantinga, is a San Francisco police sergeant who has written two well-received nonfiction books on urban law enforcement. This is his debut novel.
By Claire Oshetsky (Santa Cruz)
ECCO (January 9, 2024)
From PEN/Faulkner Award nominee Claire Oshetsky comes a new novel about the lasting implications of trauma. Margaret was just four when her best friend Agnes died after a playdate. Was Margaret to blame? Margaret ‘s mother insists she was at home and couldn’t have harmed her friend, but the truth is murkier. Margaret’s guilt wears her down until, when she is 16, it takes shape in a fantastical goat-like creature called Poor Deer. It pushes Margaret to confront the past and reveal what really happened to her friend. The New York Times called the book “beautiful,” and “terrifying.
By Kyla Zhoa (Campbell)
Berkley (January 16, 2024)
A New York fashion columnist who can’t afford to wear the clothes she writes about moves to Silicon Valley to work at a fashion app and maybe strike it rich. The perks are great, but Zoe Zeng soon discovers that the myth that Silicon Valley is out to do good and change the world is just that – a made-up tale. Can Zoe turn the start-up around and save her soul in the process? What will she wear? Zhoa was just a senior at Stanford University in 2021 when she sold her first novel, The Fraud Squad, which was a Good Morning America “Buzz Book.”
The Last Fire Season: A Personal and Pyronatural History
By Manjula Martin (West Sonoma County)
Pantheon Books (January 16, 2024)
In The Last Fire Season, Manjula Martin weaves together memoir and natural history to examine what it’s like to live in a California that faces increasing destruction from fire. In 2017, Martin moved to Sonoma County with her partner Max to be closer to nature. She suffers from a health condition and found solace walking in the redwoods and working in her garden. But in 2020, California burst into flames in its worst fire season ever and Martin had to evacuate her new home. She sought shelter around the state, from Santa Cruz to Lake Tahoe, and searched to better understand the role of fire in the West. Martin explores Indigenous land-management practices and concludes that modern society must shift its thinking about fire. Because of climate change, there is no longer a “season.” The fire risk is now year-round.
A Quantum Love Story
By Mike Chen (East Palo Alto)
MIRA Books (January 30, 2024)
The New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Brotherhoodhas a genre-bending sci-fi romance mystery set in San Francisco. When the neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s best friend dies, she is ready to quit her job and retreat from the world. Before taking that plunge she decides to visit the place her friend always wanted to see: atop-secret accelerator. Once there, Mariana meets Carter Cho, who insists they have talked before. Suddenly there is a flash and Mariana finds herself at home four days earlier. She and Carter are caught in a time loop repeating the same four days over and over. In some ways it is great — they can eat all the fancy food they want without getting fat — but can they break the loop? And will that mean to the end of their growing connection?
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