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It’s time to light 10 candles on the birthday cake for the California Legacy Series. To date: 43 books, 500 radio broadcasts, and a handful of movies. So what’s next? Something big.
A decade of literary revival is something to celebrate, especially when the publishing adventure has, in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle, included not just rediscovering California’s “unsung literary history [but] rewriting it.” That bit of enthusiasm greeted the publication in 2003 of California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present, one of more than 40 titles issued as part of the California Legacy Series over the past 10 years. The series is a collaboration between Santa Clara University and Berkeley-based publisher Heyday and operates under the direction of Professor of English Terry Beers and Heyday founder Malcolm Margolin.
Numerous SCU faculty have also had a hand in editing and introducing various books in the series, which launched in Fall 2000 with three books: the anthology Unfolding Beauty: Celebrating California’sLandscapes, edited by Beers; Unfinished Message: Selected Works of Toshio Mori; and Eldorado: Adventures in the Path of Empire, which brought back into print a compelling recounting of the Gold Rush era by '49er Bayard Taylor.
But the California Legacy Project is more than books. Hundreds of radio broadcasts in the “Your California Legacy” series have been recorded at SCU and the studios of KAZU in Pacific Grove, and they run the gamut from John C. Frémont to Jack Kerouac. (Full disclosure: Along with many other talented SCU students, Alicia Gonzales ’09, one of the authors of this piece, served as an intern in the California Legacy Project and had a hand in some of those scripts.)
Enlisting the skills of journalist, producer, and composer Bernhard Drax, the California Legacy Project has also made forays into movie making. Drax is a bit of a rockstar in the world of “machinima”—movies generated by computer graphics engines; in his case, it's making use of personae in the virtual world of Second Life. He re-creates moments from California literary history to reach a visually oriented audience with segments from the likes of Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, and Mary Austin. “Here you have a place where you can step into literature,” Drax enthuses, “there’s really nothing like it!”
The legacy’s latest
Over the past year or so, the series has welcomed five new books. Frozen Music: A Literary Exploration of California Architecture (November 2010) is the newest. Edited by David Chu, the anthology turns the eyes (and words) of poets, fictioneers, and essayists on the state’s eclectic architectural landscape. Mike Davis, William Gibson, and John Fante make an appearance; so do an Indian dance house and Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology takes it to the mountains with editors Gary Noy and Rick Heide. (Heide earlier edited another landmark collection for the series, Under the Fifth Sun: Latino Literature from California.) The anthology heads for the Range of Light where a reader might find a refuge for the spirit, accompanied by stalwarts Henry David Thoreau and Wallace Stegner, or perhaps in the company of rowdier guides like T. Coraghessan Boyle and Ishmael Reed.
No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California’sDeserts ventures into California’s most unforgiving territory with writers who range from John Steinbeck to Hunter S. Thompson. Accounts of internment life at Manzanar, children lost to the wilderness, and rattlesnake run-ins are par for the course in this anthology edited by Ruth Nolan. But the desert is also a place of spiritual renewal and mystery; and it’s home to many Californians.
A Yankee in Mexican California: 1834-1836 draws from the memoir by Harvard dropout Richard Henry Dana Jr. and takes readers on adventures in the Mexican port towns of Santa Barbara, Monterey, San Diego, and San Francisco. In his foreword, SCU's John Farnsworth, lecturer of environmental writing and literature—and fellow mariner—notes that Dana limns “a place to which sailors such as myself can never again navigate.”
Mountains and Molehills, or Recollections of a Burnt Journal takes readers to 1850 San Francisco, where characters from all over the map—China, Spain, Africa, Peru—turn up to chase their pot of gold. Previously out of print, this lampoon of a travel adventure by Englishman Frank Marryat serves up tales of pickles sold in auction and pavements made of oyster shells.
Life in a California Mission: Monterey 1786 is a journal by explorer Jean Francois de la Pérouse. The latest edition is a reprint of a book that originally appeared in 1989. Pérouse recounts the daily toils of and tolls on the Indians, Franciscan monks, and soldiers at the Carmel mission and Monterey presidio.
It’s almost 2011: Now what?
In the works for the California Legacy Project is a long-form public radio series, Nature Dreaming: Rediscovering California’sLandscapes. (See how things have come full circle?) It draws on dramatic readings of California landscape writing, commentary by prominent humanities scholars, and features writer and organic farmer David Mas Masumoto, author of Epitaph for a Peach, Wisdom of the Last Farmer, among other works. The series builds on stories grounded in local experience, sensitive to the delicate ecological balance of the planet, suspicious of abstraction, and celebratory of the relationships human beings establish with the natural world. The project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Then there's The Big Read, a nationwide project under the auspices of the NEA, which encourages communities to read one book together and, in so doing, to restore reading to the center of American culture. In the larger Santa Clara community, 15 organizations are partnering with the Santa Clara City Library to host events; among them are the California Legacy Project, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and the de Saisset Museum. What’s your assigned reading? An old favorite, The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, the tale of a once-domesticated dog named Buck who winds up a sled dog in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. Big Read activities SCU is involved with include book discussions, demonstrations by Canadian dog sled historian Jeff Dinsdale, and an exhibition at the de Saisset Museum on Santa Clara Jesuit Bernard Hubbard, who earned the sobriquet the “Glacier Priest” and led annual expeditions to explore the wilds of Alaska.
Folks with a special interest in sled dogs might also want to check in with SCU’s Terry Beers; he owns a few sled dogs himself and regularly races them in Alaska. And he’s quick to point out that Jack London’s heroic pup Buck began his adventure just a few blocks from the Mission Campus; the dog belonged to a judge who lived in San Jose's College Park.
As for the future of publishing and the California Legacy Series: To be sure, the proliferation of e-books has changed the literary landscape, especially when it comes to reissuing material previously out of print. Certainly that will be a factor in what kind of books Heyday and SCU collaborate on in the next chapter of the publishing adventure.
Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, and Mary Austin, and others are waiting: At californialegacy.org, see Second Life movies, hear podcasts from the past 10 years, read about SCU faculty involved with the project, and much, much more.
Illuminate your view: Listen to excerpts from The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology.