San Francisco has Mark Twain; Oakland has Jack London. Berkeley has had its share of literary lights as well. Some—George R. Stewart, who memorably destroyed the town in Earth Abides; Robert Hass, Maxine Hong Kingston, Josephine Miles, Ishmael Reed—had, or have, university connections. The town has also been hospitable to Beat poets, speculative-fiction writers, and other non-Establishment types. Heyday Books has an entire anthology (Berkeley! A Literary Tribute) of fiction, poetry and memoir set in Berkeley, with contributors running the gamut from John Kenneth Galbraith to Thomas Pynchon.
For most of what follows, I’m indebted to Don Herron’s The Literary World of San Francisco and its Environs (City Lights, 1985).
Just after writing Howl in 1955, Allen Ginsberg moved from San Francisco to 1624 Milvia St. in Berkeley, now the site of a nondescript apartment building. Jack Kerouac described the cottage that once stood there in The Dharma Bums, as the home of poet “Alvah Goldbook.” Shopping for produce in Berkeley inspired Ginsberg to write “A Supermarket in California,” with its vision of Walt Whitman “poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.”
At 1943 Berkeley Way, now swallowed by an apartment complex, Kerouac first saw On the Road in print. Kerouac’s mother and the legendary Neal Cassady were there when he opened the package from Viking Press. Yes, Beat icons had mothers, and Jack Kerouac had a close, if troubled, relationship with his.
1325 Arch St., in the hills north of campus, was the home of anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and his second wife, Theodora Kroeber, author of Ishi in Two Worlds. Their Bernard Maybeck-designed house is also the birthplace of their daughter, science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. LeGuin (The Left Hand of Darkness).
Another genre fiction landmark is Greyhaven, in the first block of El Camino Real, where Marion Zimmer Bradley, creator of Darkover, presided over a communal sanctuary for fantasy writers.
Anthony Boucher (real name William Anthony Parker White), a key figure in fantasy, science fiction, and mystery fiction as author and editor, lived in the tan stucco house at 2805 Ellsworth St., and later on Dana near Derby. It was Boucher who first introduced the work of Jorge Luis Borges to American readers, in a short story he translated for the unlikely venue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
Then there’s Philip K. Dick, dubbed “our own homegrown Borges” by LeGuin. Dick, who moved around a lot, was at 1126 Francisco St. for a while, in a frame house, now painted yellow, with a pine tree in front. Long before Blade Runner and Minority Report became hit movies, Dick—living hand to mouth—had to subsist on not-for-human-consumption frozen horsemeat from the Lucky Dog Pet Shop at 2154 San Pablo Ave. (several changes of ownership ago). There was talk at one point of creating a Lucky Dog Award for rising science fiction writers, but I don’t think this ever got off the ground.