5 Questions with Viet Thanh Nguyen (Part 2!), Author of Nothing Ever Dies

nothing ever diesPulitzer-Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen is our first-ever return guest for 5 questions! Last time, he was in town promoting his acclaimed novel, The Sympathizer. Since his visit, the book has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer.

This week on Wednesday, May 4, he will be discussing his new book of nonfiction at City Lights Bookstore, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, (published by Harvard University Press). with the one and only Maxine Hong Kingston. This event is not to be missed. More about Viet, and his answers, below.

Event: Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 7PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133

About Nothing Ever Dies: All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. From the author of the bestselling novel The Sympathizer comes a searching exploration of the conflict Americans call the Vietnam War and Vietnamese call the American War—a conflict that lives on in the collective memory of both nations.

From a kaleidoscope of cultural forms—novels, memoirs, cemeteries, monuments, films, photography, museum exhibits, video games, souvenirs, and more—Nothing Ever Dies brings a comprehensive vision of the war into sharp focus. At stake are ethical questions about how the war should be remembered by participants that include not only Americans and Vietnamese but also Laotians, Cambodians, South Koreans, and Southeast Asian Americans. Too often, memorials valorize the experience of one’s own people above all else, honoring their sacrifices while demonizing the “enemy”—or, most often, ignoring combatants and civilians on the other side altogether. Visiting sites across the United States, Southeast Asia, and Korea, Viet Thanh Nguyen provides penetrating interpretations of the way memories of the war help to enable future wars or struggle to prevent them.

Drawing from this war, Nguyen offers a lesson for all wars by calling on us to recognize not only our shared humanity but our ever-present inhumanity. This is the only path to reconciliation with our foes, and with ourselves. Without reconciliation, war’s truth will be impossible to remember, and war’s trauma impossible to forget.

viet new pic

About Viet Thanh Nguyen: Viet Thanh Nguyen is an associate professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America (Oxford University Press, 2002) and the novel The Sympathizer, from Grove/Atlantic (2015). The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, the Carnegie Medal for  Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in Fiction from the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. It is also a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, an Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. The novel made it to over thirty book-of-the-year lists, including The Guardian, The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Amazon.com, Slate.com, and The Washington Post.

About Maxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese American author and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1962. Kingston has written three novels and several works of non-fiction about the experiences of Chinese immigrants living in the United States.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Sitting in the green room, a.k.a. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s office,
waiting for the reading to start. Writers’ rooms are always mysterious places, at least to other writers and to readers. I wondered if I was sitting in a seat where some great work had been written, and hoped some of the magic would rub off on me.

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5 Questions with Ali Eteraz, Author of Native Believer

NativeBelieverVery excited to welcome Ali Eteraz, who is at City Lights on Tuesday, May 3 celebrating his new book, Native Believer: A Novel, published by Akashic. He’ll be discussing the book with writer/journalist Vanessa Hua. Ali took the time to answer our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

About Native Believer: Ali Eteraz’s much-anticipated debut novel is the story of M., a supportive husband, adventureless dandy, lapsed believer, and second-generation immigrant who wants nothing more than to host parties and bring children into the world as full-fledged Americans. As M.’s world gradually fragments around him—a wife with a chronic illness; a best-friend stricken with grief; a boss jeopardizing a respectable career—M. spins out into the pulsating underbelly of Philadelphia, where he encounters others grappling with fallout from the War on Terror. Among the pornographers and converts to Islam, punks, and wrestlers, M. confronts his existential degradation and the life of a second-class citizen. 

“Eteraz’s narrative is witty and unpredictable . . . and the darkly comic ending is pleasingly macabre. As for M., in this identity-obsessed dandy, Eteraz has created a perfect protagonist for the times. A provocative and very funny exploration of Muslim identity in America today.”
Kirkus Reviews

“In bitingly funny prose, first novelist Eteraz sums up the pain and contradictions of an American not wanting to be categorized; the ending is a bang-up surprise.”
Library Journal, Top Spring Indies Fiction Selection

About Ali Eteraz: Ali Eteraz is based at the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. He is the author of the coming-of-age memoir Children of Dust (HarperCollins) and the surrealist short story collection Falsipedies & Fibsiennes (Guernica Ed.). Eteraz’s short fiction has appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, storySouth, and Crossborder, and his nonfiction has been highlighted by NPR, The New York Times, and the Guardian. Recently, Eteraz received the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize judged by Mohsin Hamid, and served as a consultant to the artist Jenny Holzer on a permanent art installation in Qatar. Eteraz has lived in the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, the Persian Gulf, and Alabama. Native Believer is his debut novel.

Photo by Charles Mujie

About Vanessa Hua: Vanessa Hua is an award-winning writer and journalist. For nearly two decades, she has been writing about Asia and the diaspora. She received a 2015 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award for Fiction, and is a past Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, FRONTLINE/World, Washington Post, Guernica, ZYZZYVA, and elsewhere. A former staff writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, she has filed stories from China, South Korea, Panama, Burma and Ecuador. Deceit and Other Possibilities, her debut story collection, will be published this fall (Willow Books).


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Ali Eteraz: I have been to City Lights a few times. Most recently was for a reading featuring the poet Shailja Patel, whose Migritude collection has been a huge hit among my friends. I have also wandered into the store at other times and gotten lost in the Existentialism section. It is also possible that I came in already-existentialist and simply stared at a stack of books and thought I was reading existentialism. One thing I have never done is to stop by the store solely to go to the bathroom. You’re welcome.

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5 Questions with Jewelle Gomez, Author of The Gilda Stories

gilda_cover_fullCity Lights just released the 25th Anniversary Edition of Jewelle Gomez‘s classic novel, The Gilda Stories. We had a big celebration at City Lights Bookstore on April 13, 2016 with Jewelle reading selections from the book to the many vampires in attendance.

Jewelle continues to tour, and this Saturday, April 30, she’ll be at Laurel Books in Oakland, CA. Her other tour stops in May include Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, among others. She took the time to answer our five questions. More about Jewelle and The Gilda Stories below.

About The Gilda Stories: This remarkable novel begins in 1850s Louisiana, where Gilda escapes slavery and learns about freedom while working in a brothel. After being initiated into eternal life as one who “shares the blood” by two women there, Gilda spends the next 200 years searching for a place to call home. An instant lesbian classic when it was first published in 1991, The Gilda Stories has endured as an auspiciously prescient book in its explorations of blackness, radical ecology, redefinitions of family, and yes, the erotic potential of the vampire story.

The Gilda Stories is groundbreaking not just for the wild lives it portrays, but for how it portrays them—communally, unapologetically, roaming fiercely over space and time.”—Emma Donoghue, author of Room

About Jewelle Gomez: Jewelle Gomez is a writer and activist and the author of the double Lambda Award-winning novel, The Gilda Stories (1991). Her adaptation of the book for the stage Bones & Ash: A Gilda Story, was performed by the Urban Bush Women Theater Company in thirteen US cities. The script was published as a Triangle Classic by the Paperback Book Club. Her other publications include The Lipstick Papers, Flamingoes and Bears, and Oral Tradition. She edited (with Eric Garber) a fantasy fiction anthology entitled Swords of the Rainbow and selected the fiction for The Best Lesbian Erotica of 1997 (Cleis). She is also the author a book of personal and political essays entitled Forty-Three Septembers and a collection of short fiction, Don’t Explain. Formerly the executive director of the Poetry Center and the American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University she has also worked in philanthropy for many years. She is the former director of the Literature program at the New York State Council on the Arts and the director of Grants and Community Initiatives for Horizon and the President of the San Francisco Library Commission. She lives in San Francisco.

gild sf gate

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Jewelle Gomez: I’ve been to many readings at City Lights but one of my favorites was an evening about five years ago with Margaret Randall, whose work I really admire. The event was perfectly representative of who I imagine she’d be: an amazingly eclectic collection of people from all parts of her life. There was so much wondrous political conversation before she read. Then her work is so galvanizing the discussion after was buzzing. It was emblematic, to me, of her life and what City Lights has meant to the literary world.

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Remembering Daniel Abdal Hayy Moore, July 30, 1940 – April 18, 2016

By Nancy Peters


Thinking of Daniel recently, I found in my bookcase a treasured copy of his poetry book Dawn Visions, which City Lights published in 1964. It is one of 50 limited-edition copies, the covers of which Daniel had hand-painted with bright Blakean images–moon, fire, wings, dark angel, and a path up a mountain to a radiant castle. I was struck by the book’s dedication to Indian musician Ali Akbar Khan and Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, which I didn’t remember having read before:

—you sit in the radiant Grove
and everything’s ear is a
cupped transparent shell for your sound—

This seems to me now a perfect emblem for Daniel himself, a bright, graceful and open spirit who created wonderful poetry, translations, theater, paintings, songs, opera, libretti, essays, and works for children. It was a delight to spend time with him, for he had an inquiring mind and a wry sense of humor.

When, in 1970, Moore became a Muslim, having discovered in Islam the spiritual path that was right for him, he took the name Abdal Hayy and spent several years traveling in North Africa and Europe, active in the Sufi community.

City Lights published his second book of poems, Burnt Heart: Ode to the War Dead, a response to the Vietnam tragedy, in 1972. A great many more visionary volumes of poetry followed. His website The Ecstatic Exchange confirms the wide range of his prolific life as an artist in many media over half a century.

daniel moore books
Dawn Visions (City Lights, 1964) & Burnt Heart: Ode to the War Dead (City Lights, 1971)

Carolyn Forché aptly called Moore a “surrealist of the sacred.” Like his friend Philip Lamantia, everything interested him, all things taking part in the consciousness-cosmos he was impelled to explore. He pressed language to its limits, seeking image and sound that might put words to the unnameable Mystery.

Daniel was perhaps best known as the originator of the Floating Lotus Magic Opera. At the high point of the counterculture in the Bay Area, the FLMO presented two unforgettable open-air ritual dramas in Berkeley’s John Hinkel Park, ecstatic productions inspired by the chanting of Tibetan monks, Kathakali ritual, Asian folk and religious theater, as well as the flow of the 60s psychedelic zeitgeist. Staged at night and illuminated only by firelight, Moore used the natural environment to great advantage. “Our thirst for the primordial keeps us from using electricity to amplify any of the instruments or actors.” This was the central idea:

The whole vision is designed to be performed outside in the raw air of IT
on a hillside after civilizations blow all their plugs,
and still the spirit dances, approachable and manifestable
within us. . . .

Daniel’s vision attracted poets, musicians, dancers, actors, and artists, many of whom collaborated in this theatrical tour de force, as actors or as makers of beautiful costumes and painted masks, sets and backdrops. The drama itself involved an intense conflict between good and evil forces; actors wearing fantastic masks, and playing gongs & drums & horns, transformed the violent energies of war into an illuminated and jubilant space.

In her memoir, the painter Ariel Parkinson captured the experience. She suggested that . . . “Daniel’s vision was difficult for most people to stomach, his critique of this bloated, exploded planet and what transformation requires. Daniel had valuable ideas, poetic and philosophical, to express the age in a powerful way. Building a culture requires building a world of Imagination and Vision . . . The Foating Lotus Magic Opera existed. It exists. I took Daniel’s magic with me.”

All of us who knew Daniel and admired his work will take his magic with us.

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5 Questions with Reverend Billy, Author of The Earth Wants YOU

87286100270160LEarthalujah! City Lights is excited to welcome Reverend Billy Talen back to our store on Wednesday, April 20. This time he’ll be celebrating the release of his new book, The Earth Wants YOU, which City Lights is proud to publish. The Reverend took the time to answer our 5 Questions as he traverses the United States on his book tour. More about him, and his answers, below.

Event: Wednesday, April 20, 7:00PM. City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About The Earth Wants YOU: The Earth Wants YOU is a motivational handbook for earth activists, filled with inspired visions of a wild, creative, Earth-led cultural revolution. Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping offer up a heady mix of humor, insightful critique, passionate commitment, emotional catharsis, and example after example of vibrant direct action. Stop shopping and feel the love as you sign up for the struggle of our lives!


About Reverend Billy: William Talen moved to New York City from San Francisco in the early 1990s, where he had originally created a character that was a hybrid of street preacher, arguably Elvis, and televangelist called Reverend Billy. In New York, Talen began appearing as Reverend Billy on street corners in Times Square, near the recently opened Disney Store. Whereas other street preachers chose Times Square because of its reputation for sin, Reverend Billy’s sermons focused on the evils of consumerism and advertising—represented especially by Disney and Mickey Mouse—and on what Talen saw as the loss of neighborhood spirit and cultural authenticity in Rudolph Giuliani’s New York.

Talen is the author of various books, including What Would Jesus Buy?, which was also the title of Morgan Spurlock’s 2007 documentary about Reverend Billy and his mission. Though Talen does not call himself a Christian, he says that Reverend Billy is not entirely a parody of a preacher, and his Church of Stop Shopping has grown to number in the thousands.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Reverend Billy: Well I read Visions of Cody and then looked out my Wisconsin window and there was the highway and I put my thumb out. In the 70’s and 80’s I hitched everywhere and every off-ramp was an experience waiting, a job on a ranch, a love, a building full of squatters. Eventually I could be found lurking in the book store in North Beach, of course.

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5 Questions for Julien Poirier, Author of Out of Print

Always a special nighOutOfPrintt when we celebrate one of our own publications at City Lights! Julien Poirier reads from his new poetry collection, Out of Print, No. 14 in the City Lights Spotlight Series, at our bookstore on Tuesday, April 19. Joining him is fellow Spotlight Series poet Elaine Kahn, author of Women in Public. Julien answered our 5 questions. More about him, and his answers, below.

Event: Tuesday, April 19th, 7:00PM. City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Ave., San Franicsco, CA 94133.

About Out of Print: The third full-length collection by Julien Poirier, Out of Print is a truly bicoastal volume, reflecting the poet’s years in New York as well as his return to his Bay Area roots. Consider it a meetinghouse between late New York School and contemporary California surrealism, a series of quips intercepted from America’s underground poetry telegraph, or an absurdist mirror held up to consumerist culture.

“Julien Poirier’s poems calibrate the vernacular in a sublime mathematics of commonalities. The effect is that of feelings on the run, enunciated clearly. In a sudden down-draught–’You’re wind, you melt on my tongue’–he’ll take the contemporary love poem into new stretches of believability while knowingly calling to account the failings that, whether perennial or merely topical, hem round ourselves to disastrous effect. For, no mistake, Out of Print means business: a forceful wake-up call, allowing as how for this old world the time for meaningful action may well have run out and we’ve joined the fabled damned, lost but for such eloquence, affection, and mad, mad laughter in Hell’s despite.”–Bill Berkson

About Julien Poirier: Julien Poirier is the author of several poetry collections, including El Golpe Chileño (Ugly Duckling, 2010), Stained Glass Windows of California (Ugly Duckling, 2012), Way Too West (Bootstrap, 2015) and Out of Print (City Lights, 2016). In 2005, he published an experimental newspaper novel, Living! Go and Dream (Ugly Duckling). With Garrett Caples, he is the co-editor of Incidents of Travel in Poetry: New and Selected Poems by Frank Lima. He is also the editor of an anthology of writing by Jack Micheline, One of a Kind (Ugly Duckling, 2008), and a book of travel journals by Bill Berkson, Invisible Oligarchs (Ugly Duckling, 2016). A founding member of Ugly Duckling Presse Collective, Poirier edited the newspaper New York Nights from 2001 to 2006. He has taught poetry in New York City public schools and at San Quentin State Prison. He lives in Berkeley with his wife and two daughters.

Julien Pic 1.14.12

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Julien Poirier: I remember meeting Dennis Hopper at City Lights in the early 90s, during the filming of a scene in Flashback. The store was full of booms and wires but still open for business. I was buying a book when Dennis Hopper walked through the front door in a buckskin hippie jacket and make-up. I said, “Dennis Hopper!” He said, “Hi.”

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Selections from The Beats Abroad by Bill Morgan

BeatsAbroadThe Beats Abroad: A Global Guide to the Beat Generation presents the fourth installment in Bill Morgan’s Beat Guidebooks, this time chronicling the travels of America’s greatest countercultures’ many international visits. While the Beat Generation claims its roots in New York and San Francisco during the 1940s and 50s, its writers traveled and lived all over the world, seeking inspiration from the different cultures and literary scenes.  Beat historian Bill Morgan traces both the influence that international epicenters such as Paris, Tangiers, and Mexico City had on the Beats and the influence they had on writers abroad. The book includes an introduction and postscript by Morgan, as well as extensive and detailed notes on the hundreds of entries included in the book.

Arranged geographically by continent, country, and city, Beats Abroad serves as a travel book that illuminates the lives of Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Corso, and others. Including addresses for a number of these places, Beats Abroad can provide an intimate sightseeing tour for travelers. It locates specific places like the hotel in Tangiers where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch, the tiny Parisian hotel that became home to many of the less-than-wealthy writers, and the concert hall in London where Bob Dylan influenced Allen Ginsberg to hold a poetry reading for 7,000 attendees.

Here follows a sampling of the entries accompanied by a few of the hundreds of photos one can find in the book.

Allen Ginsberg in Jerusalem:

Late one night Allen disappeared and didn’t return to his hotel room. It turned out Allen had sneaked across the border into Palestinian territory and spent several days with boys who made a living collecting spent Israeli ammunition for scrap metal.  Allen found it sadly ironic when they showed him fragments of bombs made in America by the Bethlehem Steel company.

Gary Snyder in Kyoto, Japan

In May 1965, Gary Snyder arrived in Japan on the freighter Arita Maru, determined to pursue studies at the Shokoku-ji Zen Temple in Kyoto under the tutelage of Miura Isshu Roshi.  This was very unusual for a Westerner at the time.  Gary would remain in Japan off and on for the next decade, studying Rinzai Zen, writing, and translating poetry from the Japanese.  In the summers he went backpacking with friends, exploring the country’s wilderness areas, and he climbed many mountains in the north during his first year here.

snyder kyoto


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5 Questions with Elizabeth Crane, Author of The History of Great Things

history of great thingsAuthor Elizabeth Crane is at City Lights this Tuesday, April 12, celebrating her new book, The History of Great Things: A Novel, published by Harper Perennial. She’ll be in conversation with Eden Lepucki. Matthew Zapruder will be the master of ceremonies for this special evening. More about Elizabeth, her new book, and her answers, below.

Event: Tuesday, April 12 at 7:00PM. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About The History of Great Things: In two beautifully counterpoised narratives, two women—mother and daughter—try to make sense of their own lives by revisiting what they know about each other. The History of Great Things tells the entwined stories of Lois, a daughter of the Depression Midwest who came to New York to transform herself into an opera star, and her daughter, Elizabeth, an aspiring writer who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s in the forbidding shadow of her often-absent, always larger-than-life mother. In a tour de force of storytelling and human empathy, Elizabeth chronicles the events of her mother’s life, and in turn Lois recounts her daughter’s story—pulling back the curtain on lifelong secrets, challenging and interrupting each other, defending their own behavior, brandishing or swallowing their pride, and, ultimately, coming to understand each other in a way that feels both extraordinary and universal.

About the Participants:

Elizabeth Crane is the author of the novel We Only Know So Much, and three collections of short stories: When the Messenger is Hot, All this Heavenly Glory, and You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Her stories have been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. She is a recipient of the Chicago Public Library 21st Century Award, and her work has been adapted for the stage by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company. A feature film adaptation of We Only Know So Much will be released in 2016.

elizabeth crane

Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me originally published by Flatmancrooked, and recently re-released by Nouvella Press, and the best-selling novel California. The Los Angeles Times named her a Face to Watch for 2014.

Matthew Zapruder is a poet, editor, translator, and director of the MFA creative program at Saint Mary’s College of California. His poetry has been published by Copper Canyon Press and his work has also appeared in The Boston Review, The Believer, Fence, Bomb, McSweeney’s, Jubilat, Conduit, Harvard Review and many others. Together with Joshua Beckman he is co-editor of Wave Books.

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit? If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Elizabeth Crane: I was at City Lights on a stop for an Akashic tour for my third collection of stories, You Must Be This Happy to Enter. I was paired with Nina Revoyr and Abraham Rodriguez, two fantastic authors and humans, and we drove from Seattle to LA. City Lights was a highlight; I remember well the crowd spilling out the door of the upstairs room, the laughter and good San Francisco vibes. We felt the love!

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Grateful Message to Bolinas by Reverend Billy

rev billy and crowd

Reverend Billy Talen of the Church of the Stop Shopping Choir is the author of the newly released handbook for earth activism and anti-corporate cultural revolution The Earth Wants YOU, published by City Lights Publishers. This essay, written by Rev. Billy after an event that took place at St. Mark’s Church in New York City, has been reprinted with permission from the Bolinas Hearsay.

I say neighbors because once you’ve lived in Bolinas you never really get far away.  I moved to Bolinas in 1977, although I wanted to be in New York City, where I thought I would be a great poet.  But I had arranged to chant the poem Howl at a big concert and I chanted it without permission and I accompanied my recitation with an interpretive dance which may have been a total embarrassment I don’t know.  I was spinning around shouting the first part of the poem, about knowing “the best mind of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…”  

But of course I never knew them,  but I was a reader.  I wasn’t around when they were hitchhiking across the country when “the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas…” In fact, I was whirling around shouting about terrifying experiences I wanted to have.  Meanwhile, I loved the performance.  Was I becoming a poet star?  And then I felt a hand reach into my frenzy and take the microphone from me and I looked up and it was Allen Ginsberg, and he took me by the hand, back to my seat, in front of thousand people.  He told them, “This young man’s time is up.”

What?  Oh no!  What have I done!  I could see Patti Smith and Andy Warhol looking away.  I had failed.  I had failed miserably.  And that is when I came to Bolinas.  I took my VW bus across the country and moved into a room near Agate Beach, just above the parking lot, and I licked my wounds.  Of course I had come to the one town where so many citizens would know my comic tragedy.  I wasn’t getting away, exactly.  

And people like Gino Sky and Rosalie Sorrels and Ken Botto and Lewis Macadams took me in hand, and even the Hearsay News. I wrote poems for the Hearsay, when Jim Anderson was editor.  I met Jim’s friend Charles Fox, who made me dream more than ever. And eventually I began to perform again, but my own stuff now, very influenced by the Beats, of course, strange operas about hitchhiking in the middle of the night in the middle of Iowa.  I must have performed at the BPUD and down on Wharf Road a hundred times, until I took the big leap back over the hill, to try again.  

Bill Talen, often called “Reverend Billy”, will read from his new book The Earth Wants YOU, published by City Lights Publishers, at Point Reyes Books, offsite at Point Reyes Community Presbyterian Church, 7 PM, Saturday April 23.  Contact Steve Costa [email protected] or Kate Levinson [email protected] for more information.

To see Reverend Billy’s full event schedule click here. Learn more at www.revbilly.com.

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“Rev. Billy Vows to Levitate the de Young, a Museum on the Rise”

Performance artist and eco/anti-consumerist activist Reverend Billy Talen is getting ready to kick off the celebration for the release of The Earth Wants YOU, the Reverend’s manual for the earth-led revolution. Starting this Sunday, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir are hitting the road for a nationwide book and album release tour.


Leah Garchik of The San Francisco Chronicle spoke with Reverend Billy about his upcoming stop in San Francisco, in which he plans to activate the city from the ground up … and up.

If you think nothing exciting ever happens around here, at high noon April 20, the Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping will levitate the de Young Museum.

This, he says, is to express his disapproval of the use of Roundup to control shrubbery around the museum. The concerns of the reverend, former San Franciscan and current Brooklynite Billy Talen, are both chemical and societal … and seem to have something to do with touting his book and CD, “The Earth Wants You.” He’ll be at City Lights that night.

But what’s levitation got to do it? “It’s an old shamanistic trick,” says the Rev. Billy, “to take people out of the traditional schedule of their perspective.” I tell him I’m picturing the museum rising from its foundation, tilting this way and that while connoisseurs of Oscar de la Renta frocks skitter across the polished wood floors. “That would be a good party,” says Rev. Billy. “For my congregation, I would say if former levitations are any indication, the tilting will be different for different people in the congregation. We’re not fundamentalists.”

As to the “virulent poison” to which the reverend refers while outlining what he sees as the problem, a maintenance agreement specifies that the grounds around the de Young are landscaped by Rec and Park. “We apply pesticides approximately once a year on problematic areas of surrounding hardscape under Department of Environment oversight,” says Rec and Park general manager Phil Ginsburg.

Revved up about demographics, the reverend notes that he preached about the same subject recently in front of New York’s Central Park Conservatory. “A spiritual scrubbing is what this band of  socialites needs,” he said. As to what San Francisco’s “band of socialites” has to do with weeds, he drifts off the conversational path, citing the de Young’s current exhibition of “Oscar de la Renta’s amazing gowns.” It’s time, he says, to get them “to disassociate from fossil fuels.” The spray, he says, is “being used for cosmetic reasons.”

Talen says Rec and Park staff cuts have resulted in “chemicalizing with this stuff,” but his levitation plans are directed at the “socially ascendant group of people that maintain that institution of high culture” rather than the park brass.

But Ginsburg, apparently inspired by the reverend’s religious fervor, wishes to “ask Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping to ask his cousins Rev. Charles of the Church of Clean Your Room and Rev. Sam of the Church of Put Your Phone Down to put in a good word with his boss on behalf of his teenage daughters and their parents.”

de young meme

After achieving this impossible feat, Reverend Billy will be appearing at City Lights that night at 7:00pm for the Bay Area book launch of The Earth Wants You as part of his 20-city nationwide tour. You can see his full event calendar here.

For the better part of the 21st century, Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir have spread their message, from Occupy Wall Street to the St. Louis offices of Monsanto (and the police station in nearby Ferguson, Missouri) to the stage at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York, and out into arenas opening for Neil Young. Reverend Billy was the subject of Morgan Spurlock’s documentary What Would Jesus Buy? 

You can get a copy of The Earth Wants YOU! from the City Lights website right now, or at your local independent bookseller starting April 12. Learn more at Reverend Billy’s official website, http://www.revbilly.com/.

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