To hear Timothy Don talk about Oakland, you might suspect he’s running for mayor.
“I’ve lived in many different places,” he said recently, by phone: “Algiers, Athens, Istanbul, Budapest, Boston, Nashville, Washington, Salt Lake, New York City — and I have to say: I have never once set foot inside the gates of a city such as Oakland, which is so bursting with energy and promise it’s remarkable.”
Don is the co-director of the inaugural Oakland Book Festival, a free, one-day event that will take place in and around City Hall on May 31. As a preamble, on Thursday, March 5, some of the festival’s partnering representatives — a council member, a firefighter and directors of the Oakland public library system and of Fairyland — will read excerpts of historical contemporary literature set in Oakland, along with readings by local writers Vikram Chandra, Gary Kamiya and Nayomi Munaweera.
“We see this, rather than as a trade festival or a series of readings, more of a literary festival of ideas,” festival co-director Kira Brunner Don said. “Each panel will have a theme — it could be gentrification, it could be the history of archives, libraries to the Internet — and then on the panel we will put a novelist, a journalist, a poet or a historian, whoever would speak best to that theme, and get them in conversation with each other. So rather than the panels necessarily being about a book or an author, per se, they’ll be about an idea.”
For the past eight years the two have worked at the New York history journal Lapham’s Quarterly, which they helped Lewis Lapham create; Brunner Don has been executive editor for the journal’s duration and is currently editor at large, while Don is art director.
“Kira was born and raised here, and we’ve been coming here steadily over the past decade,” Don said. “Each time we found ourselves staying a bit longer, and leaving with a bit more regret because of the sort of energy and cultural excitement that’s at work in the city, and we want to be a part of it. We really want to be a part of what’s happening here. Oakland’s star is rising at an unprecedented and phenomenal rate, and we want to find a way to serve that, to join it and potentially to augment it.”
The two moved to Oakland in August and live in Brunner Don’s childhood home; the older of their two children attends her old elementary school.
“We consider that what we’re doing is providing a venue for all of the things that are already actually happening here in Oakland, and then also inviting national and international writers to be part of that conversation,” she said.
IF YOU GO
Reading Oakland: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 5. Free. Cafe Van Kleef, 1621 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. (510) 763-7711.
Photo by Nathaneal F. Trimboli