It’s 2020, the year of all hell breaking loose—so why not let it break loose in friendly (and hilarious) company? Good friends and headline-makers W. Kamau Bell, an Emmy-winner for CNN’s United Shades of America (Robin Williams called him “ferociously funny”), and Steve Kerr, outspoken head coach of the three-time NBA champs Golden State Warriors, are teaming up to raise the good kind of hell, talking all things race, power, dissent, the intersection of sports and activism, and comedy as coping mechanism and vehicle for truth. In a free-wheeling conversation refereed by yet a third friend of theirs, Dacher Keltner, founding director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the comedian and the coach will hold nothing back, and you’ve got (virtual) courtside seats. Berkeley might have been famous in the 1960s for its free speech movement, but this 21st century version—as uncensored and envelope-pushing as 2020 demands—might just teach us new ways of speaking truth to power. Laugh, cheer, reflect, and get fired up (and maybe a little out of bounds) with this totally unique conversation, only in Berkeley #UNBOUND.
Sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning CNN docuseries United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell. His Netflix special, Private School Negro, was praised by TIME for “finding the comic absurdity in darkness,” and he is the author of The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6’4”, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian. Full bio.
Currently in his sixth season as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr has guided the club through four of the most prolific seasons in NBA history, with a list of accomplishments that includes three NBA championships and four of the five most victorious seasons in franchise history. He is also the first to win three NBA titles as a player and three as a coach. He’s also an outspoken activist for racial justice who the Guardian has called “an essential voice of reason in a world in which reason dies on cable news,” a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter, a proponent of gun control, and a persistent thorn in the President’s side. Full bio.
A professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center, Dacher Keltner has consulted for the Center for Constitutional Rights to help end solitary confinement, as well as for Google, Facebook, the Sierra Club, and Pixar’s blockbuster film Inside Out. He is the co-author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, The Compassionate Instinct, and The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence. Full bio.
“The choice today,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1960, “is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.” Six decades later, there has never been a more important time to understand what nonviolence really means, and what it’s not. Our nation is rocked by protests, with more uprisings on the horizon; and on a global stage, nuclear-armed countries flirt with mutually assured destruction. What is the path forward? Eminent theorist Judith Butler overturns common assumptions about nonviolence, offering a profound definition that can help us achieve a world where peace and equality arise from the recognition of “living interdependency.” In conversation with scholar Stephen Best (None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life), Butler will illuminate a path of resistance by showing us how “the significance of nonviolence is not to be found in our most pacific moments, but precisely when revenge makes perfect sense.” Get ready to discover what it means to practice “rageful love, militant pacifism, aggressive nonviolence, [and] radical persistence.”
Heralded as one of the most pioneering and influential thinkers of our age, for the past thirty years celebrity theorist and political activist Judith Butler has overturned fundamental assumptions that undergird human relations. Professor Butler is best known for Gender Trouble (1990), which became a founding text of queer theory and has radically shaped today’s social norms. Butler’s thirteen other sole-authored books have continued to rethink gender, sexuality, feminism, identity, ethics, political speech, and violence with titles such as Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence and Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? Butler’s latest, The Force of Nonviolence: The Ethical in the Political, unpacks a vision of social action led by nonviolence “as a shrewd and even aggressive collective political tactic” (New York Times). Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. Full bio.
Stephen Best, Professor of English at UC Berkeley, is the author of two books examining facets of black subjectivity, law and rhetoric, and the nexus between slavery and historiography, The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession and None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life. Best’s work has been supported by the Mellon Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Humanities Research Institute (University of California), and the Ford Foundation. Full bio.
It’s been demonstrated that reading fiction increases empathy. Can it also unlock a blueprint for our future, at a moment when we need new ways of defining what’s possible? Four of Berkeley’s most visionary novelists, known for their ability to conjure exciting “future histories” with words, come together to discuss how literature and the imagination can light a bold path to progress.
Aya de Leon teaches creative writing at UC Berkeley, where she directs the Poetry for the People program founded by the legendary June Jordan. She first came to national attention as a slam poetry champion, and went on to attract a following with her Justice Hustlers feminist heist novels, which have won first place International Latino Book Awards and Independent Publisher Awards. Her 2019 novel Side Chick Nation was the first novel to be published about Puerto Rico’s devastating Hurricane Maria. Her work, which she describes as “fiction of empathy,” hits a sweet (and subversive) spot where forward-thinking consciousness and breathtaking suspense collide. Full bio.
Annalee Newitz has a lot to say about the future. A science journalist and lecturer in American studies at UC Berkeley, Newitz is an award-winning author of speculative and science fiction, praised by actor and sci-fi tastemaker Wil Wheaton as “leading the vanguard” of a new revolution in the genre. The New York Times called A Future of Another Timeline, Newitz’s feminist time-travel novel, “breathtakingly brilliant.” Their newest book, Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age, animates the erased inhabitants of four ancient settlements from Europe to Asia to the American Midwest, in a past-to-future journey that, according to N.K. Jemison, “sees to the heart of complex systems and breaks them down with poetic ferocity.” Newitz also founded io9, a website that covers the sci-fi world. Full bio.
One of America’s most significant literary figures, Ishmael Reed has created an indelible legacy with more than thirty books of poetry, prose, essays, and plays marked by surrealism, satire, and razor-sharp political commentary. His work, raved about by cultural icons from Tupac Shakur to Thomas Pynchon, has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, among other honors, and he has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. His before-its-time satire Mumbo Jumbo, reissued in 2017 as a Penguin Modern Classic, is hailed for its prescient vision of race in America. Reed’s creative futurism finds expression not only in his formidable body of work, but in his long history championing the full spectrum of American literary voices, including those traditionally marginalized, as evidenced by his founding of the Before Columbus Foundation. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley, for 35 years. Full bio.
Shanthi Sekaran is a celebrated writer and educator based in Berkeley. Her work, which takes a subversive, gripping approach to exploring motherhood, class, immigration, and privilege, has appeared in venues such as The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Los Angeles Review of Books. Most recently, she’s joined the writers’ room of the NBC drama New Amsterdam. Her latest novel, Lucky Boy, was named an NPR Best Book of 2017, and her debut middle grade book, The Samosa Rebellion, is forthcoming. Full bio.
Late Congressman John Lewis called the coming election “the most important ever.” The national schisms that led to the election of Donald Trump have become even deeper over the past four years. How can we address the anger and divisiveness, the “othering” that fuels persistent racism, political dysfunction, raging culture wars, and rises in violence? At this major inflection point in our society, can the nation be healed?
One of the most influential sociologists of our time, Arlie Russell Hochschild is author of nine books, including the National Book Award Finalist and New York Times bestseller Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, which became a guide and balm for a country struggling to understand the election of Donald Trump. Full bio.
john a. powell is the Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion and is a Professor of Law, African American Studies, and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. john is the author of several books, including his most recent work, Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. Full bio.
Even before COVID-19 shined a light on the precarity faced by food servers, farm laborers, and meat processing workers—and how their working conditions impact us all—it was clear that we were desperately in need of a food revolution. From the environmental toll of factory farming to the health dangers stemming from corporate control of food and water, our current food system is failing us, our kids, and the planet. Where can we turn for a scalable vision of a sustainable, equitable, and delicious future?
Look no further than two culinary iconoclasts: Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, legendary maven of the “slow food movement,” and firecracker food labor activist Saru Jayaraman. Their ideas, advocacy, and leadership have helped change the way we think about growing and consuming food, from seed to soil to serving platter. Now they’re coming together, in a time of climate change, pandemics, and global hunger, to examine how we got here, and cook up a bold recipe for implementing transformative changes to our food system. You’ll savor this forward-thinking conversation, moderated by Davia Nelson of NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters, about creating a revolution that sticks—to our principles, and our ribs.
Food activist Saru Jayaraman is no stranger to the bright light of recognition: she’s appeared on CNN and NBC Nightly News, was named a Champion of Change by the Obama White House, and was Amy Poehler’s date to the Golden Globes in 2018 to shine awareness on harassment in the restaurant industry. But as Director of the UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Research Center and President of One Fair Wage, she organizes on behalf of an often-invisible workforce: tipped workers, many of them women of color and immigrants, who are struggling to survive. The author of books—including her latest, Bite Back: People Taking on Corporate Food and Winning, with Kathryn De Master—that map out a long-overdue food-industry revolution, Saru is the co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a restaurant-worker-powered nonprofit that now has tens of thousands of members nationwide. Full bio.
Called “the maven of the slow-food movement” by PBS NewsHour, author and food activist Alice Waters is the founder and owner of Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse Restaurant, where she spearheaded an organic and locally-grown revolution that has indelibly transformed the food landscape. “The Alice Waters Effect,” as her legacy is known, is powered by the belief that good food should be available to everyone. This simple-but-profound credo has left its mark on everything from agriculture to fine dining to education. The Edible Schoolyard Project, which Alice founded in Berkeley in 1995, now exists in 33 countries; and she received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama for her visionary commitment to food as a moral and social issue. With fifteen books under her belt, including the New York Times bestsellers The Art of Simple Food I & II and Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, Alice continues to pioneer new visions of sustenance in an era that needs them more than ever. Full bio.
Davia Nelson, along with co-producer Nikki Silva, is one half of NPR’s dynamic duo The Kitchen Sisters, whose Hidden Kitchens on Morning Edition has uncovered culinary revelations ranging from the immigrant story behind Rice-a-Roni to the dramatic birth of the Frito. Praised by The New Yorker for “producing immersive, beautifully observed, historically relevant stories for public radio since 1979,” The Kitchen Sisters have won two Peabody Awards and a James Beard Award, as well as trained a new generation of voices for public media at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Davia is also a screenwriter and casting director who has worked on such films as The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Rock. She and Nikki are working on their second book, Show the Girls the Snakes, as well as their first Broadway musical. Full bio.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the future of the American republic hangs in the balance. There are few levers as powerful in tipping that balance as interpretations of the U.S. Constitution by the Supreme Court. One of the nation’s preeminent constitutional law scholars, Erwin Cherminsky, asserts that there has never been a more important time to adopt a progressive vision of the U.S. Constitution, a living blueprint that can ensure justice, equality, and opportunity for all.
Erwin Chemerinsky is the dean of Berkeley Law, one of the top-cited legal experts in the nation, and author of numerous books, including the core text on constitutional law for law schools nationwide, the popular bestseller We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the Twenty-First Century, and The Religion Clauses: The Case for Separating Church and State, published in September 2020. Full bio.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the highest ranking African American woman — and forceful, progressive voice — in the United States Congress where she has served with distinction since 1998. Full bio.
At Girls Garage in Berkeley, girls use power tools to build the world they want to see. But a different kind of world-building also takes place at Girls Garage: the kind that creates a vision for a better and more equitable future. Proving that words and pictures can be just as transformative as power tools, a class called Protest + Print empowers girls to translate their hopes, dreams, fears, and anger into activism around the issues they care about most. Led by instructor HyeYoon Song and Executive Director Emily Pilloton, Protest + Print is a cohort of high school girls channeling the legacy of printmaking to make art that’s visually arresting, powerfully participatory, and unapologetically activist. Also featuring teen Protest + Print participant and recent high school graduate Malaya Conui (Oakland School For The Arts, 2020), this conversation will center on how art and writing can amplify activist voices, particularly in a political moment charged with racial and gender inequity.
As a young designer, Emily Pilloton was frustrated by the design world’s scarcity of meaningful work: work that incorporated a human factor. Unable to find a model that spoke to her, she built her own. Fast forward to Berkeley, where Pilloton founded Girls Garage, a nonprofit design and building program and dedicated workspace for girls ages 9-18. Their motto? “Fear Less. Build More.” Pilloton has taught thousands of young girls in Berkeley how to use power tools, weld, and build projects for their communities. Her latest book, Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See, was released in June 2020. Full bio.
Artist and arts educator HyeYoon Song is the lead instructor for Girls Garage’s PROTEST + PRINT program, a venue for girls to explore and express the complex personal and political issues that impact their daily lives. Born in South Korea and with experiences of migration to New Zealand and, eventually, Berkeley, Song explores landscape, identity and narrative in her work by exploring the vocabularies of print and the multiple in an unconventional and multi-disciplinary context and her practice extends into designing project-based curriculum integrating technical skills to equip youth to exercise their voices and power. Full bio.
Malaya Conui is a young visual artist and student from Oakland, California. Her work, both in art and community organizing, focuses on Asian American identity, representation, education, social justice, and community building. Conui’s primary mediums are painting, screen printing, and digital design. She has recently graduated from Oakland School for the Arts and is currently attending UCLA. Full bio.
This conversation comes with an artistic advisory: prepare to dive deep into your imagination and be surprised by what you might find. You’re about to enter the place where dreams (and stories) begin. National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), founded in Berkeley in 1999, has grown into the largest writing event in the world, boasting 500,000 annual participants, including 100,000 kids and teens in its Young Writers Program. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone’s story matters. NaNoWriMo is all about getting that story on the page. If something has been holding you back—whether it’s lack of time or knowledge, or the idea that writing novels is something only adults can do—then let teen author Meridith Lackey, middle grade author Shanthi Sekaran, and YA author R.C. Barnes help you get your creative juices flowing, banish your inner critic, and take the creative risks to write the novel of your dreams.
It’s a love letter to her adolescent years in Berkeley, R.C. Barnes’s first book in her YA Tattoo Teller series Ink for the Beloved, featuring a fearless teenage detective who possesses a unique psychic talent involving tattoos. R.C. (also known as Robin Claire) was a long-time executive at Walt Disney Studios and has published many short stories in sci-fi/mystery and dystopian anthologies. Barnes works as a writing coach and is a college essay reader at Berkeley High. Full bio.
Shanthi Sekaran is a novelist who lives in Berkeley. Her first middle grade novel, The Samosa Rebellion, will be out in the fall of 2021, and her last novel for adults is Lucky Boy. When Sekaran isn’t writing novels, she is part of the writing team for New Amsterdam, an NBC television series. She plays soccer and the ukulele and has two sons and a cat.Full bio.
This year will be high school sophomore Meridith Lackey’s first year of officially participating in NaNoWriMo, having never done so before due to school. She has completed three co-authored manuscripts in the past four years and is presently beginning work on what she hopes will be her first complete solo project. In addition to writing, Meridith also plays tuba, is an advocate for proper representation of asexuals in the media and, now that she is stuck at home, is finally getting those extra 2-3 hours of sleep she needed. Full bio.
Marya Brennan is NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Programs Director. She believes that writing fiction is a transformative experience, and she loves helping people (young and old) discover the magic of this process. She taught middle-school English for five years, has written several beautiful, messy novels (one still in progress), and traveled Europe as part of a two-person street circus. She loves revising words she’s already written and making herself laugh. She’s less fond of writing third-person bios. Full bio.