The Carey McWilliams Award is given each year to a writer, scholar or artist who lives up to the best tradition of McWilliams’ work. That is, someone whose artistic vision, moral force and intellectual clarity give voice to the people of California, their needs and desires, sufferings, struggles and triumphs.
Betty Reid Soskin
A political activist raised in Oakland and Berkeley, and currently America’s oldest park ranger, at 94 years, Betty Reid Soskin currently works as an interpretive ranger at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Parkin Richmond, California. Her participation and activism in the creation of the park itself was instrumental in the ways Rosie the Riveter incorporates and memorializes the African American history of Richmond and the greater Bay Area region.
In choosing Soskin as this year’s Carey McWilliams awardee, CSA recognized her creative and political work in contributing to historical knowledge of California, and especially the experiences of African Americans during and after World War II. Accompanying Ms. Reid at the award was Tom Leatherman, Superintendent of four National Park Service historic sites in the East Bay.
Hiroshi Kashiwagi was born in 1922 in Sacramento and spent his early years in Loomis, California. He was incarcerated at Tule Lake where he was defined as a “disloyal” for refusing to answer the loyalty questions. He renounced his U.S. citizenship and later worked with the Tule Lake Defense Committee and Wayne M. Collins to restore his citizenship. Since 1975 he has been speaking publicly of his incarceration experience. His poem “A Meeting at Tule Lake,” written while on a pilgrimage in April 1975, established him as a seminal voice among Nikkei concentration camp survivors. He is the author of four books. His first publication, Swimming in the American: a Memoir and Selected Writings, was awarded the American Book Award 2005 by the Before Columbus Foundation.
A professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, Susan Straight is the author of eight novels, dozens of short stories and essays, and commentaries that have appeared in a variety of publications and web sites. She was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of an Edgar prize, among many other honors and awards.
Straight is a native of Riverside and still lives in the working class neighborhood where she grew up, and she’s part of an extended multiethnic Riverside family of about 200 relatives. Straight writes about multiethnic working class people whose lives are difficult and often tragic. While most of her characters live in Rio Seco, she stretches their stories back to family roots in the African American South and the rural villages of Mexico.
Walter Mosley says that Straight’s work creates “an alley, a neighborhood, a history that is as rich and tragic as any Shakespearean tale.” The Los Angeles Times observes that “you’ve never seen writing like this about this part of Southern California—the parking lots and backyards, the dusty foliage no one bothers to name.” The Boston Globe says that despite their often tragic lives, Straight’s characters “still recognize the splendor of the natural world, from the pepper trees behind the taqueria to the orange blossoms in the alley scenting the midnight air.”
This spring Susan Straight will also receive the Los Angeles Times Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement in literature. One of her novels tells the story of a Black firefighter in the 1990s and she plans to focus her talk at the CSA conference around that text and the ways that fire shapes life in Southern California.
A model of activist scholarship and pedagogy; a gem in the field of California studies Black, Brown, Yellow and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles; Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest; and most recently co-author of the People’s Guide to Los Angeles; following her groundbreaking work on the experiences of communities of color and on racial identity more broadly, Pulido’s People’s Guide has become a model for public scholarship on radical urban histories and geographies.
Luce Professor of Environmental Studies at Occidental College, author of eleven books, including The Next Los Angeles, Reinventing Los Angeles, Forcing the Spring, and Environmentalism Unbound.
Maxine Hong Kingston
Longtime advocate for peace and social justice; author of The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, and I Love a Broad Margin to My Life; and indefatigable observer of California politics, education, and society.
One of the finest observers of California politics and society, Peter Schrag served for 19 years as editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee. His many exemplary works include Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future, which was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book in 1998, and California: America’s High-Stakes Experiment (2006). Schrag has taught at the Graduate School of Journalism and the Graduate School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley. Since 1998, he has also been a visiting scholar at Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.
Richard Walker is author of The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of California Agribusiness, The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area, and dozens of articles on the political economy and geography of California and the Bay Area. Walker was a founding member of the California Studies Association, served on the steering committee since the beginning, and CSA Chair 2001-2007. He is a long-time organizer of the California Studies Dinner-Seminars at UC Berkeley and a stalwart of California Studies for the last twenty years.
Malcolm Margolin, publisher, Heyday Books, Berkeley and author of The Ohlone Wayand other books and articles on California’s indigenous people.
Kevin Starr, Kevin Starr, the State Librarian of California and past City Librarian of San Francisco, was born in San Francisco in 1940. He holds degrees from USF, Harvard and Berkeley, and is currently a University Professor at the University of Southern California. Starr’s great contribution to California studies is his Americans and the California Dream series, now numbering six volumes, which chronicles the intellectual history of the state as no one else has. His writing is brilliant, comprehensive and trenchant. He is also a generous colleague and great friend of all who seek to understand California, who has bestowed many kindnesses on almost everyone connected to the CSA.
Jeff Lustig, former Director of the Center for California Studies, Sacramento State University, founder and Chair of the California Studies Association (1990-99), and founder and organizer of the annual California Studies Conferences (1988-1996).
Gerald Haslam, author of Coming of Age in California, Workin’ Man Blues, Okies, Straight White Male and Many Californias, portraying especially the common people of the San Joaquin Valley. You may visit Gerald’s website at: www.geraldhaslam.com
James Houston, author of novels and tales of the west, including Running West, Californians, Continental Drift, In the Ring of Fire, and A Native Son of the Golden West. and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, author of Farewell to Manzanar.
Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz, Ecologies of Fear, Magical Urbanism, Prisoners of the American Dream, and Late-Victorian Holocausts, known particularly for his scathing indictments of modern Los Angeles.
Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino, author and performers of Zoot Suit, El Fin del Mundo, Corridos, La Pastorela, and other plays, films and theater arts representing the Chicano-Mexicano people of California. You may visit El Teatro Campesino’s website at: http://www.elteatrocampesino.com/
The California Commonweal Award
The California Commonweal Award was given between 2002 and 2004 to an activist, civic leader, or honorable citizen of the Golden State who has made heroic efforts in the service of the common good and worked tirelessly to make the Golden State a better place for all its people.
Gilda Haas of Los Angeles
Photo: Angela Torres
Alfred Heller, founder of California Tomorrow and Cry California, author of California, Going, Going…, Phantom Cities of California, and the California Tomorrow Plan, all landmarks in the emergence of modern environmentalism and land use planning in California in the 1960s and 70s.