From the Kitchen Sisters to the International Authors Dinner / voices – aural, written and otherwise

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity.
But without proper preparation, i cannot see it, retain it, use it.” ~ twyla tharp

Who we are is defined (many times) by what we do / designer, dancer, roller skater, anthropologist, salonniere ~ a maker of things / installations and films…and, I guess, because I write, I’m a writer… It took me a long time to say writer because although I love writing ~ and kept beautifully collaged and intimate journals since I was a child through my college years and 20s ~ I haven’t written a book (yet). I wrote an M.A. thesis on film, a Ph.D. thesis on art worlds in Jamaica, but none of them have been published, made into a book, an object out in the world like my clothes and my collections, consumed by someone else’s eyes. Writing books was what other people did; just like cooking food. Until I decided to learn how to cook, and now, habitually write ~ about fashion, film and food, interviewing people about the way they tell their stories through what they do. That’s what I love to learn about ~ how we come to know who we are and why we are, through the way we think, do, and say. For me, writing is both an act of self-reflection and translation ~ a way of being in and of the world ~ understanding ourselves through the encounters we have ~ the people we meet and the books we read, the clothes we wear and the films we see, the food we eat and the ways we gather.

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above / my My Fair Lady Collection, 2007, photo: Claudia Goetzelmann. Unbearable Lightness of Being Collection, 2014 (with Kundera’s text transcribed on the wall). My Chez Panisse Collection, 2011, photo: Gabriel Harber. “Art of Gathering” installation at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF. My Oscar de la Renta-inspired Collection 2016, for the De Young Museum, SF. My first film installation “Four Walls” for ArtHotel, Sacramento, 2016.


“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking,
what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.
What I want and what I fear.” 
~ Joan Didion

This past year I have been submerging myself in the literary world in the Bay Area ~ to understand it as just that ~ a “world” of people and things and thoughts where stuff happens, objects circulates, and books take on meaning. Consumed with understanding the actual act and process of writing / the desire, the passion, the need ~ surrounding myself with other writers, understanding the ways of this world from start to finish ~ how what one writes becomes, eventually, what someone else, somewhere else, picks up, reads and interprets and has the possibility of being transformative. Below is a visual essay that creates the context out of which the past 5 days of celebrating the art of storytelling culminated in the International Authors Dinner that took place this past Monday June 6th 2016, at the McDuffie Estate in Berkeley ~ an intimate evening of storytellers.

~~~~~ CONTEXT~~~~~

Oakland Book Festival / Salon Dinner #71 on May 28th 2015

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above / with guests kira brunner don + timothy don, alex stavrakas
lewis lapham, laura nader, vikram chandra + melanie abrams, matthew zapruder + sarah karlinsky, david rose, kelly burdock, mark danner
karima cammell + duncan brown, dianne + ben fong-torres, ben davis + vanessa inn, rebekah otto + raphi gottesman
laszlo jakab torsos, grant faulkner + heather mackey, rick prelinger, alex cruse, william + lucy hamilton


FASHION / Lapham’s Quarterly at Starline Social Club

“Velvet is back, skin anti-skin, mimic nakedness. 
Like leather and suede, only more subtly, 
velvet simulates the flesh it conceals, a profoundly tactile fabric. 
Last winter’s satin invited the stroke, a slithering touch, 
this winter’s velvet invites a more sinuous caress. 
But the women who buy little brown velvet dresses 
will probably do so in a state of unknowing, 
unaware they’re dressing up for parts in our daily theater of fact; unaware, too, how mysterious that theater is.
For the nature of apparel is very complex. 
Clothes are so many things at once…
Clothes are our weapons, our challenges, our visible insults.”
~ Angela Carter

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above / Amy Mansfield as David Bowie; Deb Fink, Frieda de Lackner and Candice Holdorf as the Sapphos; and me as Angela Carter.
Created and directed by Cari Borja, Timothy Don, Adam Hatch, Alex Stavrakas, Sam White.


Bay Area Book Festival Salon Dinners / #89 on April 17th and #90 on April 24th

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above / salon dinner #89, co-hosted by linda schacht gage and john gage, with guests richard and carolyn beahrs, cari borja, jane and mark ciabattari
bill and michelle fisher, allen matthews, ramona mays, cherilyn parsons, t.j. stiles, deb wandell

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above / salon dinner #90, co-hosted by elizabeth and otis chandler of Goodreads, with guests cherilyn parsons, cari borja, kate jessup
jen pahlka & timothy o’really, peter hudson, rolfe winkler, ann farmer, damon horowitz, jennifer 8. lee, lise quintana
shobha rao & srinivas inguva, elizabeth yarborough & peter haigst


National Novel Writing Month / a fundraiser for NANOWRIMO’S YOUNG WRITERS PROGRAM / May 7th 2016

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above / grant faulkner welcoming everyone, with founder chris baty on his left; me with dear friends/novelists melanie abrams and vikram chandra; Berkeley’s Castle in the Air founder/maker Karima Cammel with her daughter.


Oakland Book Festival / the gala, my favorite panels & a new book / Friday May 20th and Sunday May 22nd

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above / Boots Riley doing his thing at he Gala, introduced by David Eggers / performing “This is for my folkers” at the Starline Social Club. On Sunday, went to back to back panels on working with the hands and the act of creativity. Outside at the Diesel Bookshop booth I (finally) found I LOVE DICK.


~~~~~~~ 5 DAYS OF STORYTELLING / Thursday June 2nd though Monday June 6th ~~~~~~~~~

“There isn’t a story to tell, because a relationship is a story you construct together and take up residence in,
a story as sheltering as a house. You invent this story of how your destinies were made to entwine like porch vines,
you adjust to a big view in this direction and no view in that, the doorway that you have to duck through and the window that is jammed,
how who you think you are becomes a factor of who you think he is and who he thinks you are, a castle in the clouds
made out of the moist air exhaled by dreamers.”  ~ rebecca solnit


THE KITCHEN SISTERS / Bowling with Grace / Thursday June 2nd 2016

Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva bowl with Grace at the Mission Bowling Club, along with other bowlers/storytellers
including Roman Mars, Renée Montagne, Thao Nguyen, Alice Waters, Amy Tan, Armistead Maupin, Ayelet Waldman, Jeannette Etheredge,
Mark Buell, Terry Zwigoff, Caroline Paul, Wendy MacNaughton

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above / Grace bowling…ever so gracefully. Davia Nelson welcoming and thanking everyone for their support. Roman Mars of 99% Invisible talking about the power of radio, storytelling, and everything that the Kitchen Sisters do. (incl. The Hidden World of Girls, Hidden Kitchens, The Making of…)

“People are hungry for stories.
It’s part of our very being.
Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too.
It goes from one generation to another.”
-Studs Terkel


Bay Area Book Festival / pick-up, welcome breakfast at Babette/BAMPFA, and the opening night Gala / June 3rd 2016

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above / my pick-up mission, SFO; Welcome breakfast for the authors at Babette; Meeting the lovely Kelsey Marie Issel of The Midway Gallery;
an overview of the bay area; the amazing writer and dear friend Shobha Rao and I, with an excerpt of her An Unrestored Woman; Leon Saperstein photographing Baby August, with Dan Cowles in the background. Director of the BABF Cherilyn Parsons, welcoming everyone to its 2nd year…


~~~interlude / Michael Mina’s friends&family night /International Smoke with Ayesha Curry & Adam Sobel, June 3rd~~~

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above / the menu (with the ROYAL barbecue platter); a peach cocktail, international pork ribs (korean, st louis, al pastor) accompanied with 3 slaws. Royal with the lovely Ayesha Curry, and Steph in the background, in between Warriors games. Royal and I with Drake, yes Drake/One Dance
and Royal with my very dear friend and inspiration chef Adam Sobel. Hoping it inspires Royal to return to singing, and continue cooking/baking.


Saturday, June 4th, mid-day / BABF panel discussion

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above / an amazing panel on place, moderated by writer Jane Ciabattari with novelists Dana Spiotta (whose new book Innocents and Others, recently came out) and Jonathan Lethem (A Gambler’s Anatomy, out October 2016). Jonathan and I, after a book-signing of his book of shorts Lucky Alan.

“I want what we all want,” said Carl. “To move certain parts of the interior of myself into the exterior world,
to see if they can be embraced.” ` Jonathan Lethem, You Don’t Love Me Yet

“Incidentally, if you have never stalked someone close to you, I highly recommend it. Check out how it transforms them. How other they become, and how infinitely necessary and justified the stalking becomes when you realize how little you know about them, how mysterious every aspect of them seems with an at a distance but close examiniation.” ~ Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document

“That is the thing about films. They don’t change. You change. The immutability of the film (or a book or a painting or a piece of music) is something to measure yourself against. That is one of the things a great work of art does. It stays there waiting for you to come back to it, and it shows you who you are now, each time a little different.” ~ Dana Spiotta, Innocents and Others


Sunday, June 5th / 2 dialogues / BABF

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above / left, Larry Siems, editor, of Mouhamedou Ould Shahi’s Guantanamo Diary with Peter Jan Honigsberg/Witness to Guantanamo. For the most recent account in Slate, of Slahi’s Pentagon hearing last week, click HERE. right, Daniel Handler (aka Lemonysnicket) in conversation (or rather, an hour plus of laughter) with novelist Sherman Alexie ~ talking brown man/white man, children’s books and the role of poetry that led him to be a writer.

“Whenever I realized that a guard was mean I pretended that I understood no English. I remember one cowboy
coming to me with an ugly frown on his face: “You speak English?” he asked. “No English,” I replied. “We don’t like you to speak English.
We want you to die slowly,” he said. “No English,” I kept replying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that his message arrived
. People with hatred always have something to get off their chests, but I wasn’t ready to be that drain.” 
― Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Guantánamo Diary

“The thing with your heart’s desire is that your heart doesn’t even know what it desires until it turns up.
Like a tie at a tag sale, some perfect thing in a crate of nothing, you were just there, uninvited, and now suddenly
the party was over and you were all I wanted. I hadn’t even been looking, not for you,
and now you were my heart’s desire.” ~ Daniel Handler, Why We Broke Up

“He loved her, of course, but better than that, he chose her, day after day. Choice: that was the thing.”
~ Sherman Alexie, The Toughest Indian in the World


INTERNATIONAL AUTHORS DINNER / Monday, June 6th, 7pm at the McDuffie Estate
co-hosted by Rachelle and Stewart Owen



with guests cari borja, cherilyn parsons, rachelle & stewart owen, kate jessup
jean-philippe blondel, larry siems, joshua samuel brown, sara baume
jonas & hanna karlsson, jorgen brekke, mikkel sauvage brekke
shawna yang ryan & hugh sutton-gee, irene hsiao, sandip roy, dipti ghosh
mona eltahawy & robert rutledge, victoria shoemaker & richard friedman
anders & anette de la motte, suresh mirchand, drue mirchand
jung young moon, agnete friis, ed lin, suzanne & italo calpestri
belinda mckeon, josh owen & kate robards, rebeca roble, karen galatz
kati hiekkapelto, mal warwick, beth nguyen, nayomi munaweera
stefan thunberg & petra cabbe

and thank you to anshu prunet and marie-jose sat for all the help serving and prepping and joanna letz of bluma farms for the flowers and lettuces;
to kate jessup for being the best sous chef/help with everything EVER, and rachelle and stewart for letting me come in to your beautiful home and blend in…


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above / candied citrus preparation, flowers and greens by Bluma Farms, my amazing kitchen for the evening, Josh and Rebeca helping with the parmesan / setting the chef’s table (which we didn’t really use until the very end), picking the most amazing wines from the cellar and talking coffee, as in his Revelator Coffee brand, based in the South/Birmingham, Alabama ~ for us, to drink, Josh brought up a 2008 Sine Qua Non Kolibri and 2008 Sine Qua Non Grenache The Duel Eleven Confessions Vineyard, hanging post-dinner with Josh, Kate, Rebeca, and Anshu.



“…the people who move through the streets are all strangers.
At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them,
conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone;
eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping…
something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure with another
and draw arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment,
and other characters come on to the scene… ”
~ Italo Calvino

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“Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall
and unitary book that is the sum of my readings…
if you need little to set the imagination going,
I require even less: the promise of reading is enough.”
~ Italo Calvino


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“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well…” ~ Virginia Woolf


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