Art & Culture

Marcus Books Reaches Milestone: The nation’s oldest independent Black bookstore celebrates its 60th anniversary amidst Black Lives Matter movement and global pandemic

Marcus Books, the oldest independent Black bookstore in the United States, turned 60 this year. Between global pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and the death of Marcus Books founder Dr. Raye Richardson at age 99, this has been a rollercoaster of a year for the Richardson family and their landmark shop and publishing press. Loud calls to support Black businesses have prompted increased attention on Marcus Books, a welcome shift at a time when Covid-19 has been decimating small businesses that rely on in-person interaction.  Covid-19 social distancing protocols meant that the store—which has hosted countless Black authors and icons, from Muhammad Ali to Toni Morrison—spent part of their milestone year unable to welcome customers into the shop. An online fundraiser started by loyal...

Comic Relief: Oakland’s ABO Comix publishes art by and for queer prisoners

“Every time I go to the post office, it’s almost like Christmas morning,” Casper Cendre tells me, describing a mountain of envelopes decorated with beautiful drawings sent to him from prisons all over the U.S.  Cendre is the director and co-founder of ABO Comix, a publisher and collective whose mission is to amplify the voices of LGBTQ prisoners through art. Since 2017, the Oakland-based group has collected and published comic art in anthologies that they distribute in and outside of prisons. Sales of these anthologies help to pay the contributors, who receive donations in their commissary funds. Copies of ABO’s books are distributed to prison libraries for free.  Now in their fourth year, Cendre and the four other volunteers who currently comprise ABO correspond with more than 2...

Check the Fridge: Oakland community tackles food insecurity with street corner fridges

As of early August, over 130,000 people in the Bay Area had lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus shutdown. We’ve all seen the shuttered restaurants, cafes and shops in our neighborhoods. The long term impacts of the pandemic are numerous, but unemployment has exacerbated one issue in particular: hunger. There were already 870,000 food-insecure people in the Bay Area before the Covid-19 crisis (more than the entire population of San Francisco), and need has only grown. As food banks and food-justice organizations work to meet increased need, some community members have taken it upon themselves to end food insecurity in their neighborhoods, one fridge at a time. Several groups, including a grassroots community organization and a grocery startup, have installed free fridges in the East Bay ...

The Silver Stream

Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films Come on, admit it, you miss going to the movies. The $15 ticket price on a Saturday night, the $8.75 bag of popcorn, the enormous plastic cups of soda that invariably get spilled and the resulting sticky floors. The blaring pre-event “feature,” usually an infomercial for pre-teen-favorite websites and TV shows, blasting at top volume. Followed by endless coming-attractions trailers (Tom Cruise! Margot Robbie! Those adorable Trolls!). And finally, the feature film itself. Summertime at the multiplex wouldn’t be the same without SpongeBob Squarepants 3, Top Gun: Maverick, or My Spy, with the delightful Dave Bautista.  See what we’ve been missing out on? Of course, there are other options for stuck-at-home, movie-loving audiences bewildered by conflicting shel...

Up in Smoke Again

“For years, dispensaries were hit regularly by cops with badges,” says Dale Sky Jones, chancellor at Oaksterdam University. “During the riots, Oakland cops did nothing to protect them. They circled their own wagons, defended themselves and watched robberies go unchecked.”

Black Equity Matters

Photo by Dave Adamson. In the wake of the tragic and violent death of Black father and community member George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests around the country—including here in the Bay Area—have led to major changes in racial justice and police policy, including the defunding and restructuring of local police departments, investment in Black-owned businesses and more. But now, Bay Area racial justice is entering a whole new arena: football. A group of Oakland business people have proposed bringing a new, exclusively Black-owned football team into Oakland to replace the Raiders.  The proposal, sent by the African American Sports and Entertainment Committee, is the first step in a long process to bring the NFL’s first Black-owned team to the city. The NFL has acknowledged the proposal...

Up in Smoke Again: The looters arrived and the call for help went unanswered

Illicit weed, black-market weed, flooded Oakland’s streets and suites before looters robbed cannabis and cash from local dispensaries during the riots following George Floyd’s murder. Now, the city is even more saturated than ever before with illicit weed. Looters not only hit dispensaries, they also hit cannabis gardens, distributors and manufacturing centers. Reeling from the violence, Oakland and its citizens are haunted by the police department’s failure to protect private property. Something’s rotten and stinks like the Bay at low tide. “Marijuana businesses are accustomed to being hit,” Dale Sky Jones tells me, during a long, one-sided phone conversation that might be called a rant. The Chancellor at Oaksterdam University—the world’s most prestigious institution devoted to the study ...

Post This: The Oakland Museum of California’s online political poster collection is more relevant than ever

As Alabama State students, my parents were very active during the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did they march, boycott and attend the churches where King gave his famous speeches, they also bore witness as Stokely Carmichael, later known as Kwame Ture, succeeded John Lewis at the helm of The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and re-animated the term “Black Power,” first coined by Richard Wright. My mother was working in Watts as a probation officer during the 1965 riots, and my father helped take over the administration building at Howard University just months before I was born.   Being a “Black Power baby,” I began to dig into the books, memorabilia and ephemera my parents, as organizers and protesters, collected at a very early age. On one occasion—I must have been ...

#WeLoveBookstores: A movement to save the cultural heart of our neighborhoods

By Katrina Fadrilan Many Bay Area natives hold a special memory of their local, neighborhood bookstore; whether it was buying a copy of Howl from City Lights, relaxing in the hammock on the back porch of Feldmans and sorting through their new stack of books, or crowding into Moe’s with all 20 other UC Berkeley comparative literature majors for poetry flash on a Thursday night. In countless ways, bookstores color our lives. Yet these landmarks are endangered. In fact, local bookstores were endangered long before the pandemic. First, there was the rise of the chains such as Barnes and Noble, and Borders. Then there was the gradual transition from print to e-books. Along with, of course, the emergence of Amazon. So when the pandemic occurred and small, local, non-essential Bay Area businesses...

Sights of Sounds: Joel Bernstein sees the light

Acclaimed rock ’n’ roll photographer and longtime Rockridge resident Joel Bernstein was still a teen when he asked Neil Young if he could play with Young’s new mother-of-pearl-inlaid Martin D-45 backstage. After a few minutes, when Young was called to go onstage, Bernstein quickly tuned the instrument and handed it back. Three years later, Young remembered the perfect tuning and asked Bernstein to be his guitar tech. Bernstein continued carrying his camera as he toured with Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Prince, documenting both iconic moments and quiet, reflective ones from a vantage most fans never see. Bernstein also captured images from the biggest stadium tour since the Beatles—Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1974 sweep—which became a blueprint for the 1970s model that fol...

Garagiste Bay: Yes, there is good wine coming out of Central CoCo County

By Amy Glynn I’m on a small stage in a swanky art gallery fashioned from an orphaned Wells Fargo branch—there’s a weird and wonderful installation in the vault, snacks are being served from the teller’s counter, paintings and sculptures spring up like a flush of tasty wild mushrooms from the decaying remains of Finance and all of this spells a metaphor we definitely need more of. A live jazz band pauses its set of bossa and old-school swing.  I’m pairing a flight of local wines with a flight of local poets, hoping to illustrate five characteristics common to both crafts: words like tension and structure and typicity. While each poet reads, the audience tastes a sequence of small-batch wines—a sauvignon blanc whose fresh grassiness strikes a surprising accord with certain nostalgic chi...

Denial: A ‘presumed positive’ story

By Katherine Butler Day One: It’s allergies. You wake up and stare at the bright morning sun. Are you awake? Have you slipped through the multiverse into an alternate time frame with a pandemic and a living sock monster as president? It’s hard to tell, because your head feels like it’s been filled with balloons and rainwater. Your six-year-old calls out to ask if he can watch Pokémon before homeschooling, even though this will cause him to behave like he’s been on a bender with an English punk rock band from the 1980s. You say, “Yes” and sit up. You’re an underwater sea creature who has flopped onto the beach, and now you’re going to dry out in the sand for a bit.  Shit, your allergies are really acting up.  Day Two: It’s fatigue.  Your allergies are not only acting up, they...