Litquake braves the elements in first East Bay event in Lafayette
By Lou Fancher
Litquake, the West Coast's largest literary festival, has been the epicenter for book lovers and their ilk. Originally known as Litstock and assuming the current name in 2002, expanded programming brought a slim selection of events to cities in Alameda and West Contra Costa County.But Litquake comes east of the Caldecott Tunnel for the first time ever, arriving in Lafayette on Oct. 11.
Science journalist and event producer Mary Ellen Hannibal has invited 10 authors and artists to share their unique perspectives on "Braving the Elements" and their experience of wilderness in four panel discussions.
Hannibal admits to being "a literary junkie" and serves as chairwoman of the California Book Awards. Her latest book, "The Spine of the Continent," examines connected wildlife corridors from Canada to Mexico.
Told with narratives and a stack of facts that don't overwhelm, the book has earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, among other accolades.
"The idea of Braving the Elements is to bring the bookish world and the green world closer together," Hannibal says.
The free afternoon-long event includes presentations on "Wilderness Where You Find It," with Jason Mark, Novella Carpenter, and Tom Turner; "Publishing California" featuring Malcolm Margolin and Kim Bancroft; "The Art and Science of the Tidepool," presented by Josie Iselin and Rebecca Johnson; and "Rendering Landscapes," with Tom Killion, John Muir Laws and Laura Cunningham.
"I know there are people out there who are curious about the environment and nature and want to find ways to connect in a positive way, since we hear so much bad news. These authors have connected in diverse ways and provide portals for the rest of us."
Clearing the clutter on issues like whether wilderness is where humans and wildlife coexist may sound like a heavy subject. Hannibal suggests the event's opening panel promises enlightenment, with Turner's biography of environmentalist David Brower or described in Carpenter's book about her father or explored by Earth Island Journal editor Mark. Bancroft (great-great-granddaughter of UC Berkeley library founder Hubert Howe Bancroft) and Margolin (founder and editor emeritus of Berkeley-based Heyday Books) are master storytellers. The closing panel of three artists shares wilderness secrets in visuals and words: Killion's California coast from a sailor's viewpoint; Cunningham's vanishing or hidden landscapes recreated; and Laws' techniques for drawing wildlife.
Appearing between the second and fourth discussions, Bay Area photographer Iselin and Johnson, a marine biologist and co-director of the citizen science program at the California Academy of Sciences, merge art and science.
Making the case that exposure to ecology and biology is the first step to an environmentally engaged community, Iselin says her latest book was inspired by contributing to research as a citizen scientist.
A program run by Johnson on the rocky shores of Duxbury Reef at Bolinas introduced Iselin to creatures in the area's intertidal zone. Her "An Ocean Garden," explores marine algae.
Iselin says she's been thinking about empathy and how hard it is to walk in another person's shoes, let alone the earth's.
"As an author I'm challenging myself to create visual stories combined with narrative stories that build empathy (for) a particular realm of the natural world -- a favorite kelp, for example."
Books, she and Hannibal say, are a near-perfect access point for discovering the wilderness. The only thing better is time spent outdoors in the wild.