Peter Richardson will discuss his forthcoming book on the history of the Grateful Dead at this fall’s first U.C. Berkeley California Studies Dinner Seminar on Thursday, September 19. Richardson is an editor at UC Press, a lecturer at San Francisco State, and author of books on Carey McWilliams and Ramparts Magazine. His current work is based on extensive interviews and research at the Grateful Dead Archives at U.C. Santa Cruz. You can read some of Richardson’s thoughts on the Dead, music, and California culture here. The talk will be at the U.C. Center for Labor Research and Education, 2521 Channing Way, Berkeley, 7-9 p.m. Contact Myra Armstrong to reserve a spot: zulu2@ .
In his blog, Peter Richardson, who teaches California culture at San Francisco State University, writes, “Without really thinking about it, I started exploring a new aspect of the main theme in my San Francisco State class–the utopian impulse in California culture.” He continues:
My exploration started with the film “Humboldt County,” which I finally saw on DVD a few weeks ago. It’s about an emotionally shut down medical student in Los Angeles who reconnects with the world after he stumbles upon an alternative (read: pot-growing) scene in Northern California. No need to rehearse the plot details here, but the people he meets are deeply ambivalent about the utopian–or is it dystopian?–community they’ve created.
More at the blog.
For me, I can’t hear the words “utopia” and “California” without thinking about William Alexander McClung’s book, Landscapes of Desire: Anglo Mythologies of Los Angeles, in which Prof. McClung describes how the conflict between utopian dreams and arcadian dreams has defined so much of the culture in L.A.; I suspect the mythologies also have currency in other parts of the state. –Frank Gruber
ANTHOLOGY FROM THE FIELD
Peter Richardson, author of American Prophet: The Life & Work of Carety McWilliams, and CSA steering committee member, has a few blog posts some CSAers will want to catch up on. He is currently at work researching a book on Ramparts magazine.
Here, Richardson writes about his interviews with Robert Sheer on Ramparts and Sheer’s new book.
He plugged a new blog, the Fake Angelino.
Here he writes a brief on Rick Wartzman’s Obscene in the Extreme about “the furor following the publication of The Grapes of Wrath.”
He also wrote on an event called Outstanding in the Field that took place
at an organic farm in Wadell Creek.
Finally, he reviewed a book about Eugene Debs for the LA Times.
Peter Richardson, chair this year’s CSA conference and author of American Prophet: The Life & Work of Carey McWilliams, writes a blog that spins off from his work on McWilliams and his new research on Ramparts Magazine. He has written several book reviews recently that CSA constituents will want to catch up on:
* Here, Richardson traces an intellectual history through The Nation and Truthdig, following Bill Boyarsky, Jesse Unruh, Carey McWilliams, Marc Cooper, and Robert Scheer.
* Here is Richardson’s review of Marc Sandalow’s Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi’s Life, Times, and Rise to Power.
* Here is Richardson’s review of Bill Boyarsky’s Big Daddy: Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics.
* Richardson reviewed the LA Times Festival of Books through a characteristic California studies lens.
* He also had an insiders look at some notable attendees of the CSA conference this year.
* Finally, Richardson reviewed the March Wallace Stegner conference, a gathering of A-list Californian men and women of letters near Point Reyes (Articles one two three four). Listen to audio recordings of the panels and speakers here. Richardson also reviewed Philip Fradkin’s biography of Stegner in the LA Times here.
The new biography of (originally) Californian writer Mary Austin (author of The Land of Little Rain), Mary Austin and the American West, by Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, was reviewed in the L.A. Times Sun., Jan. 25, 2009, by Peter Richardson. From the review:
The arc of Austin’s career would present a challenge for any biographer, but, in “Mary Austin and the American West,” Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson meet that challenge head on. They pore over Austin’s spirited correspondence and map her extensive contacts, which came to include Jack London, Herbert Hoover, D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather. They track her advocacy on women’s issues and on the preservation of Indian and Mexican culture in the Southwest. Sifting through her published work, they acknowledge its shortcomings, attributing most of them to her need for income. They also compare her to contemporaries, including John Muir, who shared Austin’s astonishing powers of observation but lacked her feeling for people and culture.
The force of Austin’s personality wafts up from Goodman and Dawson’s portrait. As a professional lecturer and self-styled expert on race, gender and psychic phenomena, Austin offered her opinions freely and magisterially. In an unfinished Lawrence play, a character based on Austin says, “Won’t you all sit down and discuss the situation, while I solve it?” Her pronouncements produced an occasional irony. Having claimed that she preferred an unfaithful man to a stingy husband, for example, she was flummoxed when Lincoln Steffens put that assertion to the test. (After he terminated their affair, she threatened to demand reparations for loss of work and suffering.) But Austin could deploy irony as well. Proposing a literary collaboration with Sinclair Lewis, she wrote, “I know I’m feminine, damnably feminine, and not ashamed of it, but I’m not ladylike. You can count on my behaving like a gentleman.” Her blend of brass and innocence exasperated some and endeared her to others.