When Timothy Don and Kira Brunner Don decided they wanted to put together an Oakland literary festival of ideas, they reached out to local organizations and asked them what they wanted to see in the festival. The results — 90 writers and thinkers taking part in 40 events on Sunday — includes a promising range of topics and voices that represent the rapidly changing city, both from the historical context of its past and in comparison with other cities.
Over coffee at Oliveto Cafe, Don said their “internal animating principle,” as they decided what ideas to focus on, was “utopian projects, dystopian results.” They then reached out to people they thought would be the best to discuss those topics and gave them the power to realize their own panels.
“My hope is that the festival, the day of, is not only an examination of utopia, but an actual kind of utopian experience in which people enter City Hall and they engage with these panels and in these debates, and with these authors and with one another, and they leave with a much deeper, broader sense of history, community and possibility,” he said.
Enthusiastic responses to the festival forced the organizers to expand from City Hall into nearby Laurel Books. Six spaces of concurrent programming will offer some tough choices: The first hour, for instance, includes a screening of the East Bay portion of Rick Prelinger’s “Lost Landscapes,” a montage of rare film clips of old Oakland; a PEN Oakland-curated panel on the Manhattanization of the Oakland literary scene; and a discussion about the role of art as an alternative to mainstream media.
“What we want to do is show complicated, intellectual ideas in an accessible way,” said Brunner Don. “We believe that people are intelligent, and they want to talk about ideas. And it does not have to be done in academic jargon; it can be done so that everyone can be involved in the conversation. And that’s what we hope to do. We want our conversations to be complicated, and we want everyone to be part of them.”
The Before Columbus Foundation, Litquake, Zyzzyva and Mother Jones are among the festival’s curators. Other topics include gentrification, multiculturalism and whistle-blowing. The lineup also includes visiting writers such as Tracy K. Smith and Edwidge Danticat.
“Oakland is a diverse city,” Brunner Don said. “Diverse is a really kind of magical thing; it means that you actually live all on top of each other, and that’s something that can be reflected in the world as well. So bring the world in to Oakland, and show Oakland to the world. That’s the kind of thing that we want to create.”
The full schedule, and more, can be found at the festival website.
If you go
Oakland Book Festival: 11 a.m. Sunday, May 31. Free. City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland. (510) 480-0294.