Rebecca Solnit on Sam Green’s Utopian Cinema

The word utopia means, literally, no place and this is a movie that unlike almost all other movies can only be in one place at a time, this place you’re in now with its filmmaker Sam Green and musicians. These live performance films attempt to embody it by weaving together images and ideas and spoken words that will never be replicated exactly, a movie being born as you see and hear it, as alive as music.

Maybe little utopias are realized all the time, the utopias of people together in spirit and in body for a dance or a protest and everything in between. And sometimes we only realize their sweetness as they recede. A lot of us now look back at the golden age of cinema as a bygone paradise, the communion of strangers in the dark with each other, with darkness, with light, with story, with enchantment, drawn together to see a flicker of projected light come to life onscreen.

Were you to ask people if they’d be comfortable sitting in the dark surrounded by strangers from all walks of life, people would undoubtedly say that sounded scary, but every evening all over the world, we pay admission and settle in to do exactly that, and the audience becomes the Greek chorus of the film, laughing, snickering, hushing or fidgeting, instructing each other how to see and hear.

Television chopped up movies with commercials and put them in the middle of domestic distraction, but that was nothing compared to this moment when films are on your iPhone and your laptop and in fuzzy tiny windows on YouTube. The worst thing about these new modes of viewing isn’t that they diminish cinema as visual and imaginative spectacle. The worst thing is that they’re watched furtively and alone. Cinema, which was once a great banquet in a dream palace, is now often a snack devoured absentmindedly in isolation. And only in society, only together, do we have the power to live out those old dreams, or new ones.

Utopia is sociable, and Sam Green’s work gives you back the sociability of a movie, the way it was always about coexisting, by making it as live as a silent movie with an orchestra, a nineteenth-century Chautauqua lecture, a sermon or a party. Take it as an invitation to think about utopia, not only the old ones that might have failed, but whatever faint aroma of paradise might arise in a room where you hope and think and breathe with others


Message from the Center: Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn’s latest album is full of places and spaces: the Blue Ridge Mountains, Harlan County, dirty coal mines and tumbled down company towns. Even the album’s title, Echo In The Valley, evokes a linkage of sound and space.

How are art and space connected? The philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that art functions as a sort of clearing-away, a making of space. Much like a settler might clear an area in the forest for her home, art makes room, creating openings for uniquely human places that we can dwell in.

A sculptor carves away at rock, releasing something that was, in a sense, always there. This opens a space for us to experience the uncovered truth. Béla and Abigail creatively sculpt from the raw material of American musical history, finding new spaces within old traditions.

Abigail sings on “If I Could Talk to a Younger Me” that:

If I could talk to a younger me

I’d tell me to go slow

This time on earth

It moves so fast

And when it’s gone it’s gone

So take this opportunity to slow down and dwell in the spaces that Béla and Abigail open up. Allow yourself to be transported. Settle in that valley. Listen for the echoes. Wherever you come from and wherever you are headed, tonight you are home.

–Andrew Hartwell

Message from the Artists: Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed

I spend a lot of my time trying to encourage people to live more creative lives — to take risks, to make something out of nothing, and to expand their sense of wonder. I can get really passionate about this. (Another word would be “pushy.”) Sometimes I wonder why I care so much. What does it matter to me if people are making art or not? Who cares whether anyone out there is writing novels, or learning new languages, or dancing or singing or growing or transforming? Well, in the end, I think it comes down to this: We appear to be living in a universe that is constantly creating and recreating itself. The evidence for this is literally everywhere. Nature is always changing from one form to another. All you need to do is look in a telescope and you can see galaxies being born. Look in a microscope and you’ll see bacteria evolving and adapting right before your eyes. The whole thing reeks of a giant cosmic arts-and-crafts project — an infinite, ever-unfolding experiment in constant creative response. It appears to me that energy only wants one thing: to create. And you, of course, are made of energy. So start creating! Because once you start creating, you will step into alignment with the direction that the entire universe is heading. You will be in the flow of life itself. And that will you make you happy. That will make you healthy. That will make you belong. That’s why creativity matters so much to me — because I want a sense of healthy belonging for myself, and I want it for you, too.


Writers don’t have job descriptions, but if we did the first line on mine would be this: tell the truest story you can about what it means to be human. That’s the thing I’m always digging for, and by digging I mean that rather actually. On the page and in my life, I attempt to uncover to the truth that lives beneath the easier truths that sit on the surface of our lives. I seek to understand and convey not who we are, but who we are really. This kind of emotional excavation has been an obsession of mine since I was a child. I always wanted to know why. Not why the sky is blue or why birds have feathers (though these are certainly worthy questions!), but rather why does she love him, why did you leave, why are you ashamed, why did you go down this path instead of that one, why did this sorrow lead to that beauty, why can’t you, why will you, why are you going keep loving or walk away or change your mind? My deepest curiosity is the inner workings of what gets called the human heart, but it’s really something far grittier than that. It’s the dark core of who we are, which I have found endlessly, shimmeringly beautiful.


Message from the Artist: Luciana Souza

In her excellent book Nine Gates, Jane Hirshfield says that a good poem begins in the body and mind of concentration. She goes on to explain that by concentration she means a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.

I had fallen in love with Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing many years ago. Everything about that book is important and interesting to me. The poems, the drawings, and his way of illuminating the truth of a moment, of revealing things, his clarity.

As I started setting these poems I wanted the words to be heard, but not necessarily defined. To me, the string instruments offer the best canvas for these songs. Like the voice, the sound of plucked strings decay and brings on silence and more possibility for listening. Also, the idea of counterpoint between the voice and strings was essential to me. The music would have to be simple and unadorned.

I am often asked if I conceive projects based on themes, and if I return to poetry from time to time. To me, a project shapes itself and is generated by what is occupying more space in musical and artistic mind for a certain period. But I never leave my other interests completely. I am always navigating between poetry, Brazilian, and a
more wordless and instrumental context. To me, these things are interchangeable and they are one. I can always find the stories in wordless melodies, and I can always find the silence in poetry.

The other day I taught a class and caught myself describing the process of setting a poem to music as falling in love. Falling in love with a poem. Locking myself in a room and reading the poem ten, twenty times. Walking around with the poem looping in my head. Driving in my car and feeling possessed by the poem and thinking — You are mine! I do think the process is a bit obsessive and all-consuming, but deeply rewarding… when you are granted permission by the publisher.

When you play with musicians such as Chico Pinheiro and Scott Colley, you are treated to such a generosity of possibilities. Questions get answered without having to be asked because the trust and intuition are so generously displayed. Questions are also left unanswered, which is a necessity in music (and life) — to have things open and possible.

On the liner notes of the record I say that making music with Chico and Scott is a thing of wonder. And I mean that in the sense of what is mysterious, miraculous, and beautiful about making music and lifting poetry from the page.

— Luciana Souza

Message from the Artist: Sweet Honey In The Rock

On behalf of Sweet Honey In The Rock®, welcome to our 45th Anniversary Celebration at UCLA Royce Hall.

Can you believe it’s been 45 years since our first performance at the WC Handy Blues Festival at Howard University on November 17, 1973? Although the original group of men and women was created at the request of Le Tari, an actor at the DC Black Repertory Theatre, there was a fall rehearsal where four women showed up—Louise Robinson, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Carol Maillard and Mie Fredericks. Bernice was disappointed but Louise said let’s keep going.

We can sing.

Since that time, 27 women have graced the Sweet Honey stage.

We are humbled and deeply appreciative of everyone who made and makes it possible for us to be here today. We do not take our longevity for granted. Gratitude to you all—family, friends, and fans. We could not be on this journey without you.

Have a good time party hearty sing-along raise your voices in wishing Sweet Honey In The Rock® a glorious 45th anniversary and blessings for many years to come.

Always giving thanks all ways,
Carol Maillard

Message from the Artist: UnCabaret

We are filled with hope every time UnCabaret convenes. We are curious about each other’s stories, and our own. What do they mean? How are we changing? What’s funny about that? We rejoice in the right to assemble, to meet friends of friends and the person at the next table reading that book you love.

We commit to the courage of making the uncomfortable funny. We love our adventurous audience. We intend to uplift. We work to be a safe space for women and the LGBTQA community without excluding CIS men. We look for people who make the most beautiful mistakes, original thinkers and open hearted lovers. Those who are self knowing without being self-obsessed. And of course who love to laugh.

We enter into partnerships and community. We seek to be a full chakra experience. We have an attention span. We understand silence. We try to respect our own history while staying in the now. We have a sense of urgency. We have never written an artist’s statement before but are always up for the new. Thank you for being here tonight. Thank you for being part of UnCabaret.

—Beth Lapides

Message from the Center: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

The famous final proposition of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus reads, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” By this, he meant that certain concepts are inherently beyond the limits of our language: the transcendent, the metaphysical, the ethical, and the aesthetic. Our attempts to pin down these ineffable concepts in words result in literal nonsense. Nothing truly sensible can be said about them. We can only gesture in their direction.

What is it about the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt that makes it feel transcendent? A key component is in the way Pärt incorporates silence. In describing the role of silence in Pärt’s music, conductor Tõnu Kaljuste has said, “Silence is important, but silence comes after a musical idea. Then silence becomes part of the musical language.”

By incorporating silence into his musical language, Pärt reminds us that, as Wittgenstein said, the transcendent cannot be expressed. The interplay between sound and silence in his music creates an opening for us to contemplate what lies beyond the world of language, a signpost pointing towards the ineffable.

Perhaps the feeling of transcendence in these compositions comes, then, from the feeling that we are being pointed towards something noumenal, something beyond ourselves, beyond language, beyond music, beyond even silence. Art has the power to remind us that there is something inexpressibly awe-inspiring about the very fact of existence, something indescribable at the core of being, something which can only be felt on a profound level. What more can be said? Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

—Andrew Hartwell

2018 David Sedaris Humor Writing Contest Winners

From numerous entries, our SCA team has selected the three students with the most hilarious anecdotes and stories! We’d like to thank all of our applicants and commend them for their literary prowess and comedic talent. The works of Jonathan Allan, Peyton Austin, and Aubrey Freitas will be published below, as well as on the SCA website. Read on for a good time and guaranteed fits of laughter!


Peyton Austin – Voyeur

The gilded, near-naked carving of Jesus Christ that hung from the cross on the classroom walls haunted Lauren more than anything else in this world. Maybe it wasn’t gilded, but bronze. It wouldn’t surprise Lauren since her Catholic school was cheap. They spent all their money on the football program and not on air conditioning, even though the school was in Los Angeles. So maybe the school had purchased bronze Jesus Christs instead of gold, but nevertheless, Jesus Christ suffered in every room of her school.

Lauren always wondered why Jesus had to be near-naked in his loincloth. Historical accuracy, sure—or maybe biblical accuracy—but Lauren hated the way she could make out every line of Jesus’s emaciated ribs. It was weirdly voyeuristic—maybe it was meant to be erotic. There were tons of weird shit like that in the Catholic teachings: Jesus was husband to the church, and nuns were married to him, and all the paintings and sculptures emphasized his naked body. Lauren stared at him in pretty much every class: a tiny, possibly-gold metal Jesus, perpetually suffocating. Perpetually dying.

Lauren tried to convince herself that the fixation was piety. It didn’t work.

And it wasn’t just in school either. During Lauren’s sophomore year she had dated this kid Jeremy from her precalc class. They’d sat next to each other, so he helped her with the math problems whenever she got stuck (which was a lot). Then they started talking, and texting, and they went on a four dates and Lauren had her first official boyfriend. She’d liked him, and with some surprise and a little more pride on Lauren’s part, he liked her in return. Three weeks or so into dating, she went over to his house for the first time. With some surprise and the utmost horror, Jeremy had a wooden crucifix the length of Jeremy’s forearm on his wall—and Jeremy was 5’11’, so Lauren’s horror was deserved. Jeremy had kissed her and they began making out, but Lauren could see Jesus hanging, literally hanging, over Jeremy’s shoulder. And all of a sudden Lauren noticed how bony Jeremy’s fingers were on her neck and waist, and how skinny his neck was, and how thin and prominent his chest seemed when she touched him. She’d broken up with him three days later.

Lauren failed precalc that year. She had to retake it this year, which sucked.

And this year Lauren also had Ms. Cavanaugh.

Ms. Cavanaugh was Lauren’s Sacraments teacher. She always wore bright colors, went over the questions of her tests right before the test, and—most importantly—she framed a picture of Liam Neeson from Star Wars on her desk. Ms. Cavanaugh told the class on more than one occasion, “When I die and Christ comes to take me to Heaven, he better look like Liam Neeson.” The class laughed at this, but it always unsettled Lauren. Because seriously, how is imagining Jesus Christ as Star Wars Liam Neeson anything other than erotic fantasy?

“Well, Jesus was described as handsome,” Isabelle, one of Lauren’s friends, said when Lauren brought the topic up.

Gia, another one of Lauren’s friends, said, “Says who?”

“I’m pretty sure Mr. Ramon said that freshman year,” Isabelle said.

Gia scoffed. “And I’m pretty sure that’s made up. You know, like immaculate conception or Adam and Eve.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes—more often than not Gia’s resentment towards the Catholic Church rubbed up against Isabelle’s piety. “Humans have imagined Jesus as attractive for hundreds of years now,” Isabelle said. “It’s not that weird.”

“It’s a little weird,” Lauren interrupted, hoping to stop an argument before it started. “But ‘Jesus is handsome’ seems to be the norm, while ‘Jesus is Liam Neeson’ is on a whole other level.”

“Just as weird as your obsession with those crucifixes,” Gia said. “I mean, I don’t know if you can really judge Ms. Cavanaugh.”

Lauren wasn’t offended, but she couldn’t help but feel chagrined. Gia was right: Lauren couldn’t take the high ground concerning Ms. Cavanaugh. She just hated that ratty loincloth and His crooked legs and horribly obvious ribs.

Lauren took some Goldfish when Isabelle offered them. Crunching her third Goldfish, however, she had a horrifying thought: Lauren was just as much a voyeur as Ms. Cavanaugh, even though Ms. Cavanaugh was attracted to Jesus and Lauren wasn’t. Lauren focused even more on Jesus’s body than Ms. Cavanaugh did, every last detail of it hung up there on the cross. Her disgust made her on the same level as Ms. Cavanaugh’s desire.

Lauren crushed the Goldfish in her palm and watched the crumbs sprinkle the table in thousands of pieces. She swept them off the table and onto the concrete. Then she slipped her hand under her starchy uniform shirt and pressed her fingers to her ribs. She breathed in so her ribs became more prominent, held her breath, and fit her fingers into the small valleys between her ribs. Her breath shuddered. They did not know which of Jesus’s sides were pierced, but Lauren clutched at her left side. Neither blood nor water ran down her ribs or fingers, but horror still washed over her. “Dude,” Gia said, eyeing Lauren’s lifted shirt, “what the actual fuck are you doing?”

Her heart beat against her fingertips, so Lauren moved her palm to her heart and listened to her own mortality. “Gia, remember what you told me about Angie Moreno’s mother? When you did that history project at Angie’s house and her mother had about a billion crosses on her wall?”

Gia laughed. “Yeah. Like, we’re not the ones you need to convince about your devotion. Leave that to Jesus.”

“But they were just crosses, no body or anything,” Lauren said.

“Okay, so what?”

Lauren removed her hand from her shirt, noting that her skin was possibly just as bronze as Jesus’s. She said, “I think I’m gonna become a Christian.”


Aubrey Freitas – Cell Signal From Above

I’m currently saving up all of my allowance money because everybody laughs at my old iPhone 4 when they see it. They tell me that I’m definitely way past my free upgrade time or that I should just buy out my contract or that I might as well start using a flip phone. I get it. It’s old and lame and the camera quality is really, really bad, but it’s my backup phone, and I happen to need it until I save up enough to buy a new one. What those judgmental assholes ask me after hearing my explanation is usually some variation of “what happened to your old phone?” a story I’m always happy to tell.

I was in Argentina over the summer, volunteering with Saintly Children Abroad to help teach underprivileged kids how to read and write in English. Usually I really get people with this opening sentence. They realize that I’m actually a really nice person and that they’re actually an asshole for laughing at my bad phone. They become way more sympathetic after that. I explain how on weekends we had days off, and how the other volunteers and I would go exploring around Cordoba to see all of the sights, tourist traps included. Here, they usually say that they’ve never been to Argentina, and then I get to tell them all about an incredible experience that they’ll never have. It’s my payback for the phone jokes.

I was in Alta Gracia one Sunday, where I lost my phone. I make sure they know that Alta Gracia means ‘higher grace’ in Spanish, because after living there for a month and a half, I’m extremely cultured and my Spanish is muy bueno. I explain how Alta Gracia is a very religious place, if you couldn’t tell by the name, and how there’s a very famous church there with a painting of Mary on a mirror that, legend says, just appeared one day. The locals say it was a sign from God. Here, the snoops either say how incredible that is or tell me that they think that’s a load of bullshit.

Since it was on a Sunday, there was a large mass being held right outside of the church. The church was really small, only like twenty people could fit inside it, so it obviously wasn’t practical for services.

Here, they usually ask, “Why don’t they just expand the church to make room for more people?”

And I tell them, “I don’t know, but stop interrupting me because I’m getting to the good part about how I lost my phone.”

We didn’t attend the mass, because not all volunteers could speak Spanish– not me, of course– but the other volunteers, so we stayed a little bit behind the crowd by this huge basin of holy water that people drank from and would wash their faces in when they left.

I forgot to mention before that the whole trip I was WhatsApp messaging this really cute boy from my hometown back in California. We were talking for about a month, so, yeah, it was pretty serious. He kept telling me that he wanted the two of us to hang out more once I got back to the U.S., but I knew that he was basically asking to be my boyfriend. I would message him “Good morning” every day, keeping in mind the four hour time difference, and he would always reply with “Sup.” He was so cool. Of course I told the other volunteers about him and showed them pictures, but none of them wanted to give him a chance because they thought our conversations were shallow. I thought he was a really nice guy. Like, he had such a way with words. We talked about our favorite mixed drinks and Cotillion—I don’t know how much deeper a conversation can get. Here, the person listening would usually nod, probably so that they feel less uncomfortable about hearing about my love life.

So of course I was messaging David, that’s the guy’s name, while I was at Alta Gracia. The mass ended and people started rushing out to get to the fountain of holy water that me and all the other volunteers were standing by. Obviously I wasn’t paying attention, because I was messaging David, and a woman bumped into me for absolutely no reason. Like, if I’m not paying attention, then she should be paying attention, otherwise that’s how accidents happen, right? So I was shoved forward, and my phone fell into the holy water right after it had buzzed as David sent me another message. He had just sent his daily “Sup”, so I asked him, “what are you doing”, and now I’ll never know the response. At this part the nosy people usually give me a “damn that sucks” face, or a “wow, I can’t believe that happened” face.

Because I was so mad, and irritated, and just in, like, complete disbelief that that had happened, I yelled out “Fuck!”—like who wouldn’t, honestly? My phone was ruined—and leaned over the water basin, my hands reaching in to see if I could grab it. I know that people in Argentina speak Spanish and all, but they curse in English just like we do. Everybody turned towards me, and some of the old grandmothers covered their mouths with their head scarves. I told them “lo siento and perdon”, then made the sign of the cross so that they knew I was a good Catholic girl. They definitely forgave me after that. That water was really cold, by the way, and people were drinking from it, so I still can’t believe I touched something that unsanitary. That’s just how strong I thought my relationship with David was. So, needless to say, I wasn’t able to message David for the rest of my trip. It sucked, and obviously it still sucks, because I’m now stuck with a the crappiest of crappy iPhones.

I guess it wasn’t all bad, though, because when I came back home after the summer, I found out David actually had two girlfriends already. I was, like, the third one he was trying to add to his trio of three blind mice. What an asshole. If I could go back in time, I’d tell the lady that bumped into me “thank you for saving me”. She really came out of nowhere. It was like a sign or something, for me to stop messaging Douchebag David. Like God really had my back with some guardian angel. I may have a shitty iPhone, but at least I don’t have a shitty boyfriend like Miranda Castillo and Kimberly Wilson. They’re clearly better at sharing than I am. But, anyway, that’s the story of how I lost my phone. Here, whoever is listening usually stops talking to me because I have really long answers to simple questions.


Jonathan Allan – I Began to Ask Myself Who Was Really Doing the Wrangling: the Snakes or me, the Snake Wrangler?

After my divorce, life got complicated. But my work wrangling snakes provided an escape from it all. Until one day I asked myself, who was wrangling whom? Me, the snake wrangler? Or the snakes that I was paid to wrangle?

It would seem simple, but life has a funny way of teaching you things. You see, after countless hours with these guys, they actually taught me, the snake wrangler, what it meant to wrangle. The entire time I was hooking with my snake hook and clamping with my snake clamp, the snakes, in retrospect, were really the ones doing the hooking and clamping. And doesn’t that put things into perspective?

Sure, maybe I should’ve been more present with Marsha. But I did my best to get us through the affair. And you know what, now that I’m on the other side of the snake terrarium, and the snakes are roaming the building, I wonder if we were even good for each other.

She always wanted to live in Europe. Of course, my snake-wrangling salary never got us there. But after seeing how much these snakes had to wrangle out of me, I’m glad to be where I am. Where else would I have learned that I’m afraid to be alone? And that this is no way to begin a marriage? How else could I have known that my mother’s toes and Marsha’s toes were very similar, and that this was weird? Who would’ve taught me that these snakes have been studying this building’s floor plans and have seemingly been planning this for generations? If it weren’t for these little devils, where would I be?

One could say, well, you wouldn’t be wrapped in a snake coil while another snake keeps watch. But I regret nothing. Yeah sure, I could have secured the main door at least, so they wouldn’t be able to escape and wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. And yeah, not all the snakes had something valuable to offer, necessarily. A couple of them were just regular, human-biting snakes. (You know the type.) But you know what they say: you have to break a few eggs.

Oh god, they got to the eggs.

Was engineering these genetically-modified super-snake eggs maybe a reaction to Marsha’s new boyfriend? You see, these are the kind of questions only a group of vengeful snakes could wrangle out of me. It’s funny how the answer to most of our problems can be as simple as a bunch of slimy, scaly monsters and their surprising ability to work basic latches. I mean, these little buggers really are something. A part of me is even proud. However, at this point, most of me is a swollen piece of pus, and the part of me that is proud is about to lose airflow. But ain’t that just how it goes? How else would I learn about my body’s capacity to handle venom, a lack of oxygen, and unhealthy attitudes toward women without these beautiful, otherworldly tentacle beasts known as the snake?

After it’s all said and done, I would like to think we wrangled a little bit out of each other: me, the snake wrangler, and the snakes I was supposed to wrangle. But at this point, it seems safer to recognize the superiority of our Snake Overlords. I guess this is what emotional maturity looks like: as the sun rises over a new world, where the snakes have just taken Manhattan, and all humans tremble in fear, I am finally more capable of dealing with my feelings. If only that Marsha-shaped bulge in that megasnake’s belly could see me now.

Message from the Center: David Sedaris

This year is the 20th Anniversary of David Sedaris being a part of our season. In 1998 he inaugurated a new series of writers and speakers at Royce Hall, which was then called Word of Mouth. Twenty years later we are still inviting writers to share their ideas on our stages, and the series is now called Words & Ideas.

Ten years ago, when I first started here, I had an idea to sponsor a humor-writing contest for students, as a kind of celebration of David. We spread the word on campus, three winners got their stories published in the Daily Bruin and displayed in our lobby prior to David’s talk; as well as a signed book and tickets to the reading. That first year, before the show, I remember asking David to sign these students’ books, as they had won the writing contest. He was so tickled by this that he asked if the students would like to introduce him. He met them all backstage, three breathless, shocked and wide-eyed students, who had no idea what to say, but bravely walked on stage in front of 1800 people and gave the most charming, heartfelt intro — the audience loved them. Backstage, David was grinning from ear to ear, and so delighted. This is the thing about David; he delights in supporting others. Every year, he recommends an author and a book that he loves, so we’ve gone back through the archives and listed all of those authors here. We hope that you find some of your favorites, as well as new discoveries.

We are all in this crazy stew together, and the best of us know that we are stronger when we support each other. Happy Anniversary, David. Here’s to twenty more.

—Meryl Friedman
Director of Education & Special Initiatives

2018: Less, Andrew Sean Greer and Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh
2017: The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy and Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar
2016: Eileen: A Novel, Ottessa Moshfegh and Ghettoside, Jill Leovy
2015: Family Life, Akhil Sharma and The Splendid Things We Planned, Blake Bailey
2014: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett
2013: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick
2012: The Bill From My Father, Bernard Cooper and The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice
2011: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, Peter Hessler and The Barracks Thief, Tobias Wolf
2010: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower and Irish Girl, Tim Johnston
2009: Our Dumb World, The Onion
2008: The Braindead Megaphone, George Saunders

Prior to 2008:
Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules: An Anthology of Outstanding Stories
Blue Angel: A Novel, Francine Prose
The Columnist, Jeffrey Frank
Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Truth Serum, Bernard Cooper
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware
Among the Thugs, Bill Buford
Birds of America, Lorrie Moore
An Obedient Father, Akhil Sharma
Jenny & the Jaws of Life, Jincy Willett
Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell
Guess Again, Bernard Cooper
Fraud, David Rakoff
Easter Parade, Richard Yates

Message from the Center: Joan Baez

In her performance of trans artist Anohni’s song “Another World” on her final album, Joan Baez sings, “I need another world, this one’s nearly gone.” Baez has long been a voice for other worlds, taking the side of the marginalized, the oppressed, the persecuted. When Dr. King spoke of his dream of a more just world at the March on Washington in 1963, she was there. Fifty years later, when Occupy Wall Street protesters chanted that “another world is possible,” she was there.

Art has a way of revealing unfamiliar worlds to us, of challenging us to expand our horizons. Whether performing covers or original compositions, Baez regularly invites us to inhabit the worlds of the downtrodden, to identify with the outcast. She becomes the voice of the voiceless, confronting us with the ethical demand of the Other, reminding us that we are always already in relation to and responsible for our fellow beings on a fundamental level.

Through her voice, we feel the desperation of the sex worker in the traditional “House of the Rising Sun.” We internalize the tragedy of the undeserving poor in Phil Ochs’ classic “There But For Fortune.” And we are inspired by the defiance of the political martyrs in her own “Here’s To You.”

The power of artists is that they are navigators and pioneers, pointing towards new north stars and guiding us out of the darkness. We think we know the darkness well; we see it every day in the headlines, after all. But we should remember that the darkness is also within us, in so many subtle ways. It’s there when we fail to recognize ourselves in the beggar and the prisoner, when we dehumanize the different, when we prioritize our own comfort over justice.

At times when the darkness can seem overwhelming, when we are tempted to give in to nihilism and defeatism, art reminds us of our inseparable interdependence, our mutuality, and our responsibilities to each other and to future generations. We need another world, alright, and we need radically empathetic artists like Joan Baez to help us get there.

–Andrew Hartwell

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA