5 Questions with Rob Roberge, Author of Liar

liar bookRob Roberge is in conversation with Joshua Mohr on Wednesday February 10th at City Lights Books about his acclaimed new book, Liar: A Memoir (published by Crown). He took the time to answer our 5 questions.

Event: Wednesday, February 10, 2016, 7:00PM at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, CA  94133.

About Liar: When Rob Roberge learns that he’s likely to have developed a progressive memory-eroding disease from years of hard living and frequent concussions, he is terrified by the prospect of becoming a walking shadow. In a desperate attempt to preserve his identity, he sets out to (somewhat faithfully) record the most formative moments of his life—ranging from the brutal murder of his childhood girlfriend, to a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, to opening for famed indie band Yo La Tengo at the Fillmore in San Francisco. But the process of trying to remember his past only exposes just how fragile the stories that lay at the heart of our self-conception really are.

As Liar twists and turns through Roberge’s life, it turns the familiar story of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll on its head. Blackly comic and brutally frank, it offers a remarkable portrait of a down and out existence cobbled together across the country, from musicians’ crashpads around Boston, to seedy bars popular with sideshow freaks in Florida, to a painful moment of reckoning in the scorched Wonder Valley desert of California. As Roberge struggles to keep addiction and mental illness from destroying the good life he has built in his better moments, he is forced to acknowledge the increasingly blurred line between the lies we tell others and the lies we tell ourselves.

“Roberge’s writing is both drop-dead gorgeous and mind-bendingly smart.”—Cheryl Strayed

About the Author: Rob Roberge is the author of four books of fiction, most recently The Cost of Living (2013). He teaches creative writing and his work has been widely anthologized. He also plays guitar and sings with the Los Angeles-based band the Urinals.

Photo: Still from LARB interview, 2014
Photo: Still from LARB interview, 2014

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Rob Roberge: I made it a point to get to City Lights the first time I was in the city as an adult. My memory of it was that I expected it to be a special experience because of its enormous importance in the literary fabric of America for so long. And it was quite a memorable experience. Later, when I had a piece (very early in my career) taken for a City Lights anthology, I took it as a sign that I had made it in some way.

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Rad Women read Rad American Women A-Z: Carissa Potter & Heather Van Winkle Read “G Is for the Grimke Sisters”

After taking a break during the winter holidays, we’re back with more rad women reading Rad American Women A-Z! This week, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Heather Van Winkle and Carissa Potter, two amazing artists who run the printmaking studio People I’ve Loved. After reading from the book about how the Grimke Sisters fought for justice for women of all races and socioeconomic situations, Heather and Carissa discussed inter-sectional feminism, supporting their community in Oakland, and developing their own business.

This is the next installment in the video series from City Lights where we ask women we admire to read their favorite entry of our New York Times-bestselling children’s book, Rad American Women A-Zand answer some questions about what it means to be a rad woman today. The book is authored by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahland published by City Lights/Sister Spit.

People I’ve Loved is a few individuals longing for connection/a small printmaking workshop based out of Oakland, California. They specialize in hand-printed & assembled objects in an Oakland farmhouse with a lemon tree.

Check out the other videos in this series and follow People I’ve Loved on Twitter.

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Frank Lima Celebration

Lima_Frank[1]by Garrett Caples

A celebration of the life and work of Frank Lima, hosted by Julien Poirier and Garrett Caples, featuring readings by David Shapiro, Ron Padgett, Tony Towle, Bob Holman, Wendy Xu, Susie Timmons, Filip Marinovich, Guillermo Parra, Tim Keane, and Helen Lima.

On Wednesday, January 27th, at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, we will celebrate the life, work, and long overdue return to print of Frank Lima, via a new and selected poems called Incidents of Travel in Poetry, edited by myself and Julien Poirier and published by City Lights.  The oldest of three sons of a Mexican father and a Puerto Rican mother, Frank Lima was born in Spanish Harlem in 1939.  A hotel cook who passed his trade onto his eldest son, Frank’s father Philip was thrown out of the household for slashing his wife’s face with a razor when Frank was around 12, and later died of alcoholism and exposure in Central Park.  The young Frank was also subjected to sexual abuse by his mother, as well as a Catholic priest, leading to his dropping out of school, joining a street gang, and becoming addicted to heroin.  During his incarceration in a juvenile drug rehabilitation program on North Brother Island in the East River, Frank began to write poetry with the encouragement and support of the painter Sherman Drexler.  Drexler would bring Frank’s work to the attention of such poets and artists as Robert Lowell, Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, and Elaine de Kooning.  Lima also took up amateur boxing around this time and won a prestigious French cookery award, apprenticing under future White House chef René Verdon. Continue reading

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The Genius of Huey P. Newton

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

© ’15 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Huey P. Newton, Black Panther party minister of defense, raises his arm as he is literally surrounded by newsmen and others at Philadelphia’s International Airport on Friday, Sept. 4, 1970 in Philadelphia upon his arrival for a three-day convention. Man at right is not identified. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)
Huey P. Newton, Black Panther party minister of defense, raises his arm as he is literally surrounded by newsmen and others at Philadelphia’s International Airport on Friday, Sept. 4, 1970 in Philadelphia upon his arrival for a three-day convention. Man at right is not identified. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

To those of us who were alive–and sentient, the name Huey P. Newton evokes an era of mass resistance, of Black popular protest and of the rise of revolutionary organizations across the land.

To those of subsequent eras, youth in their 20s, the name is largely unknown, as is the name of its greatest creation: The Black Panther Party.

To those of us now known as ‘old heads’ and elders, such a transition from then to now seems almost unimaginable, but alas, looking out into the present is proof positive that the old saying, “History is written by the victors” has more than a grain of truth to it.

History, it seems, is many things, but kind to the oppressed, it is not.

It never has been.

It is up to the oppressed, of every generation, to plumb the depths of history, and to excavate the ore of understanding, to teach us, not what happened yesterday, but to teach us why today is like it is, so that we may learn ideas to change it.

For history belongs not so much to those who have lived it, but more so to those who have inherited it.

It is in that spirit that we examine the life of Huey P. Newton.


Huey Percy Newton was born in Louisiana in 1942, named for the populist LA Governor, Huey Pierce Long (1893-1935); know in the state as “The Kingfish”.

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5 Questions with Finn Brunton, Co-Author of Obfuscation

obfuscationFinn Brunton is at City Lights Bookstore on Wednesday discussing his new book he wrote with Helen Nissenbaum, Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest (published by MIT Press). Below are Finn’s answers to our 5 questions.

Event: Wednesday, January 13, 7:00PM at City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About Obfuscation: With Obfuscation, Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum mean to start a revolution. They are calling us not to the barricades but to our computers, offering us ways to fight today’s pervasive digital surveillance–the collection of our data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers. To the toolkit of privacy protecting techniques and projects, they propose adding obfuscation: the deliberate use of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection projects. Brunton and Nissenbaum provide tools and a rationale for evasion, noncompliance, refusal, even sabotage—especially for average users, those of us not in a position to opt out or exert control over data about ourselves. Obfuscation will teach users to push back, software developers to keep their user data safe, and policy makers to gather data without misusing it.

Brunton and Nissenbaum present a guide to the forms and formats that obfuscation has taken and explain how to craft its implementation to suit the goal and the adversary. They describe a series of historical and contemporary examples, including radar chaff deployed by World War II pilots, Twitter bots that hobbled the social media strategy of popular protest movements, and software that can camouflage users’ search queries and stymie online advertising. They go on to consider obfuscation in more general terms, discussing why obfuscation is necessary, whether it is justified, how it works, and how it can be integrated with other privacy practices and technologies.

This important book is essential for anyone trying to understand why people resist and challenge tech norms, including policymakers, engineers, and users of technology”
danah boyd, author of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens and founder of Data & Society

About Finn Brunton: Finn Brunton is Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT Press).

finn brunton

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Finn Brunton:  I was born and raised in the Bay Area, and I’ve been to City Lights many times. All my visits to the bookstore are a continuous, jagged line, with each zig and zag an encounter with something I found there that knocked me into a new trajectory: RE/SEARCH books, Clarice Lispector, Guy Davenport, Chris Kraus, Mishima! Because of the layout of the place, every time I visit City Lights it seems bigger inside than I remember–like the books on its shelves have covert pagination, opening out surface on surface, each filled with more words.

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5 Questions with Barbara Jane Reyes, Author of To Love As Aswang

too much happensaswang

Our 2016 events seasons starts up this Tuesday with a poetry double-header. Barbara Jane Reyes and Kathleen Weaver both read from their newest poetry collections at City Lights Bookstore. Reyes answers to our 5 Questions are below.

Event: Tuesday, January 11 at 7:00PM. 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About To Love as Aswang: Songs, Fragments, and Found Objects (published by PAWA):

The Philippine aswang is a mythic, monstrous creature which has, since colonial times, been associated with female transgression, scapegoating, and social shaming, known in Tagalog as hiya. In the 21st century, and in diaspora, she manages to endure. Barbara Jane Reyes’s To Love as Aswang, the poet and a circle of Filipino American women grapple with what it means to live as a Filipina, or Pinay, in a world that has silenced, dehumanized, and broken the Pinay body. These are poems of Pinay tragedy and perseverance, of re-appropriating monstrosity and hiya, sung in polyphony and hissed with forked tongues.

About Too Much Happens (published by Post-Apollo Press):

After years of translating and presenting other writers, Kathleen Weaver has now produced a collection of her own poems, Too Much Happens, a collection that mingles personal and major social concerns in an attempt to give voice to a sense of increasing fear for a cherished world in crisis. Catastrophic wars, child soldiers, dried lake beds, the relentless onslaught of bad news. “What shall we do with what we know?” Too Much Happens poses a question for which no answer is clear in a world skirting a perilous edge.

“Days, slaves to the sun, / the sun herds them into shadows. // A valley fills with traveled light / and snowmelt.” Once you step in between these lines, you know you’ve reached home: heart-and-mind, the body-and soul of why poetry matters. Nearly one of a kind, Kathleen Weaver lyrically weaves love and social awareness with language. To a cyber-bashed, corporatized, red-lit planet prison, her bright voice rejoices in green-lights.”
—Al Young


About Barbara Jane Reyes: Barbara Jane Reyes was born in Manila, the Philippines, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. To Love as Aswang is her fourth full-length collection of poetry. She is the author of the poetry collections Gravities of Center (2003), Poeta en San Francisco (2005), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Diwata (2010). Her work explores a variety of cultural, historical, and geographical perspectives. With her husband, the poet Oscar Bermeo, Reyes co-edits Doveglion Press, which publishes political literature. She has taught creative writing at Mills College and Philippine studies at the University of San Francisco.


City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Barbara Jane Reyes: I think my first trip to City Lights was when I was in high school. I attended a Catholic high school in Hayward, and doing things like going to City Lights wasn’t something on people’s radars, so it’s not like my cool quotient was boosted in my classmates’ social memories. But I thought I was super cool, buying William Blake books and all.

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“Mumia and the Multitudes” by Seth Tobocman

mumia comic 1 mumia comic 2 mumia comic 3 mumia comic 4

Seth Tobocman is an author, artist, and educator living in New York City. Perhaps best known as the co-founder and editor of the comic journal World War 3 Illustrated, Tobocman’s bold graphics have been immortalized in exhibitions, in the pages of The New York Times, and on the sides of buildings around the globe.


For more about Mumia Abu-Jamal and the movement to end mass incarceration and state oppression, visit Prison Radio and follow Bring Mumia Home.

For more about the writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, check out Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings out now from City Lights. Also available exclusively from City Lights is the new pamphlet, To Protect and Serve Who? Organizing a Movement to Abolish Police Violence typeset on Mumia’s typewriter.


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Puerto Rican Obituary: The Work of Pedro Pietri and New Book Selected Poetry

Pedro-Pietri pp
Pedro Pietri performing at the Poetry Project in New York City.

“There was no one in this country as ferocious as brilliant or as necessary as Pedro Pietri. In these days of growing inequality it is his rebel vision I turn to for hope and for strength. A towering poet, absolutely peerless, explosively talented, a pioneer, and iconoclast, and activist, to whom the entire spoken word movement owes a debt beyond calculation.”—Junot Diaz

Pedro Pietri was a poet known for redefining the standards of spoken wordThrough the 1970s and 80s his humorous yet hauntingly truthful performances awakened the souls of many Puerto Rican immigrants who had fallen asleep on unfulfilled dreams. Though many would have liked to have called New York their home, it is obvious from Pietri’s work that a warm welcome was never offered them.

His most well-known poem, “Puerto Rican Obituary,” offers this much. This footage, unearthed for the 40th anniversary of the Young Lords Party, which Pietri was a very active member, shows him reciting the poem at the height of this movement. He first read the poem at the Young Lords’ takeover of the First Methodist Church, back in December 28, 1969.

Pedro Pietri’s other work is noted for being often playfully absurd, which chronicle the joys and struggles of Nuyoricans—urban Puerto Ricans whose lives straddle the islands of Puerto Rico and Manhattan—and define the Latino experience in urban America. Angry, heartbreaking, and hopeful, his writings are imbued with a sense of pride and nationalism and were embraced by the generation of Latino poets that followed him.

Some, like the “Telephone Booth” poems from his book Out of Order negotiate this effortlessly, displaying a kind of playfulness and truth one can track line by line.

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5 Questions with Robert Jensen, Author of Plain Radical

plain radicalIn our last event of 2015, we welcome back to City Lights an old friend. Robert Jensen will be at City Lights Bookstore this Thursday discussing his new book, Plain Radical: Living, Loving and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (from Soft Skull Press).

Event: Thursday, December 10, 7:00PM, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133

About the Book: There was nothing out of the ordinary about Jim Koplin. He was just your typical central Minnesota gay farm boy with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology who developed anarchist-influenced, radical-feminist, and anti-imperialist politics, while never losing touch with his rural roots. But perhaps the most important thing about Jim is that throughout his life, almost literally to his dying breath, he spent some part of every day on the most important work we have: tending the garden.

Plain Radical is a touching homage to a close friend and mentor taken too soon. But it is also an exploration of the ways in which an intensely local focus paired with a fierce intelligence can provide a deep, meaningful, even radical engagement with the world.

Drawing on first-hand accounts as well as the nearly 3,000 pages of correspondence that flowed between the two men between 1988 and 2012, this book is about the intersection of two biographies and the ideas two men constructed together. It is in part a love story, part intellectual memoir, and part political polemic; an argument for how we should understand problems and think about solutions—in those cases when solutions are possible—to create a decent human future.

“In a brilliant fusion of memoir and biography, Robert Jensen captures the bedrock Northern Plainsradicalism of his longtime friend and mentor. This is storytelling at its best and most inspiring, reminding the reader of what will be required for both survival of life itself and a future of mutuality.”—Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

Photo by Nerissa Escanlar
Photo by Nerissa Escanlar

About the Author: Robert Jensen spent his twenties working at newspapers as a reporter and copy editor, receiving an M.A. in journalism and public affairs from American University. After earning a PhD in media ethics and law from the University of Minnesota, in 1992, he began his teaching career at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is a professor in journalism and interdisciplinary programs. Jensen is also active in a variety of national political movements and community organizations.

Robert is the author of 3 City Lights publications, Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (2004), The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege (2005), and Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialog (2013).

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

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Rad Women Read Rad American Women A-Z : Helen Tseng Reads “T Is for Temple Grandin”

Graphic designer Helen Tseng is today’s guest for the Rad American Women A-Z Video Series and she is truly rad: check out her delightful illustrations here and tune in to the Astral Projection Radio Hour she co-hosts on BFF.fm for “occult vibes, sonic spells, and snack-o-scopes.” This week, Helen reads the “T is for Temple Grandin” section from Rad American Women A-Z and talks about her admiration of Grandin’s ability to turn what others considered a weakness into her superpower.

This is the next installment in the video series from City Lights where we ask women we admire to read their favorite entry of our New York Times-bestselling children’s book, Rad American Women A-Zand answer some questions about what it means to be a rad woman today. The book is authored by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl and published by City Lights/Sister Spit.

Helen Tseng is a designer and illustrator based in San Francisco. She has collaborated with 99% Invisible, Lucky Peach, Momofuku, K.Flay, Imgur, Bustle, Artcrank, Airbnb, Google, and more. Helen is currently a New Media Fellow at Fordham University’s Urban Law Center, and she is a co-host of Astral Projection Radio Hour, a witchy feminist radio show on BFF.fm. She tweets at @wolfchirp, and you can see her work at helentseng.com.


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