5 Questions with Rebecca Solnit

rebeccasolnitbookWe’re thrilled to welcome Rebecca Solnit and Peter Turchi to City Lights for a special event this Sunday, where the two will be in conversation about “language and place”. They are both celebrating new publications.

Solnit’s new book is a special collection of essays, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. Turchi’s is A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic, a book about the magic of writing, both published by Trinity University Press.

Rebecca and Peter answered our 5 Questions, with Turchi’s to appear this Friday.

Event: Sunday, December 7, 2014 @ 5PM. “On Language and Place: Rebecca Solnit in conversation with Peter Turchi.”

About the Book: Rebecca Solnit is beloved as an activist and a passionate writer who speaks truth to power, and as the title of her latest book suggests, the territory of her concerns is vast. In her signature alchemical style, Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness combines commentary on history, justice, war and peace, and explorations of place, art, and community. The 29 essays gathered here encompass celebrated iconic pieces as well as little-known works to create a powerful survey of the world we live in. This rich collection tours places as diverse as Haiti and Iceland; movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring; an original take on the question of who did Henry David Thoreau’s laundry; and a searching look at what the hatred of country music really means.

“Her swerving sentences roam, loop, and circle back, then take flight again; her meditations often encompass personal history, art, philosophy, and literature within the same paragraph. Her work is both cerebral and intensely personal. She takes big risks.”— Boston Globe

dec jsAbout the Author: San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit is the author of thirteen books about art, landscape, public and collective life, ecology, politics, hope, meandering, reverie, and memory. They include Men Explain Things To Me, The Faraway Nearby; Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas; A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster; Storming the Gates of Paradise; A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities; Wanderlust: A History of Walking; As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art; and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. She has worked on climate change, Native American land rights, and antinuclear, human rights, and antiwar issues as an activist and journalist. A contributing editor to Harper’s and a frequent contributor to the political site Tomdispatch.com, Solnit has made her living as an independent writer since 1988.

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

Rebecca Solnit: Lost in the mists of time is my first visit to City Lights, since I grew up in the Bay Area, but I do have distinct memories of browsing there in between sets at punk rock shows at the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco’s first and finest punk club around the corner on Broadway, when I was 15 or 16. I was so poor then: I remember yearningly looking at Kathy Acker’s Great Expectations but not buying it.

Like a lot of bookstore lovers, I read a lot standing up in the store (and then I got less poor and I’ve been buying books there ever since and published my first book there, which involved a lot of drinks at Vesuvio’s across Kerouac Alley with my editor and with City Lights’s wonderful Gent Sturgeon, who took beautiful care of me back in those fledgling, flailing days). Growing up with City Lights is growing up with poetry, with bibliophilia, with the understanding that books and bookstores are a very cool thing.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

RS: Nick Cave’s cover of the song Bob Dylan wrote for Johnny Cash: “I’ve Been Everywhere.” I can’t find that one online, but here’s Mr. Cash with the lyrics scrolling by:

This is a book about places, from the Arctic to Detroit to the orange gates of the sublime Shinto shrine outside Kyoto, with a bunch of Occupy Wall Street and Silicon Valley and everything in-between. Also, the lyrics begins with Winnemucca, a place I came to love (along with the rest of the Highway 80 string of little towns in Nevada) during the adventures recounted in Savage Dreams, my second book.

I was totin’ my pack along the dusty Winnemucca road,
When along came a semi with a high an’ canvas-covered load.
“If you’re goin’ to Winnemucca, Mack, with me you can ride.”
And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside.
He asked me if I’d seen a road with so much dust and sand.
And I said, “Listen, I’ve traveled every road in this here land!”

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

RS: I fear it was a Dick and Jane book. Happily I moved right along.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

RS: Itch to write.

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no Wi-Fi).

RS: My beloved, the Library of Congress or at least the San Francisco Public Library, and a lifetime supply of sunscreen.


You can find Rebecca Solnit’s many great books at your local bookstore. For more info on Rebecca, check out her official site. The event is this Sunday, December 7, at a special time of 5PM. Stay tuned for another Q&A tomorrow Peter Turchi.

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