Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and Berkeley resident Michael Chabon will join San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll, “an East Bay local,” for an evening of conversation to benefit the academic and financial aid programs at Park Day School in North Oakland, 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 5 at Berkeley Rep.
Chabon’s three children are in their first year at Park Day School.
“And that’s combined with a longstanding admiration—and a fondness, even though I don’t know him that well—for Mr. Carroll,” Chabon said. “He’s a grandparent of a Park Day student with a history of strong involvement with the school. As a new parent, I wanted to show Jon Carroll how much it means to me, too—how much to both of us.
“Park Day School’s on a great historical site,” Chabon continued, “very much integrated in the fabric of Oakland: a former orphanage, and an old age home for women were both here. The school has quite a progressive educational system, incorporating recent research, and is very open in trying new approaches. It’s the kind of place you always think about in terms of the Bay Area, asking if there are better ways of doing things, yet holding onto fundamental academic studies. They teach children to respect themselves and other people.
“Everything is a balancing act in life, especially when it comes
to kids: discipline and freedom, academic work and social life. Park Day School has that flexibility, and the awareness that, for anything, you might be wrong. That kind of openness.”
Chabon has lived in Berkeley “this time since 1997; before, briefly, in 1985”—but regards himself as a California resident since 1985.
Asked about his observations of the area in that time, he mentioned: “Overall, in American society at large, there’s that movement from the cities to the suburbs and towards greater homogeneity—powerful, unstoppable. If you dropped down from an airplane in most places, you wouldn’t know where you are. Places I remember, like Pittsburgh, Penn., where I grew up, lived for a long time, the funky, bohemian sections have disappeared. Big box stores—Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, The Gap—replace everything.
“Berkeley is unusually resistant to these powerful forces. You still see so much diversity here, of every kind—religious, racial, sexual, diversity in age ... also retail diversity: mom and pop stores and start-ups. Only in Berkeley. It’s like a pocket universe.
“You travel around and say you’re from Berkeley, and people
say, ‘Oh, I know what that is!’ And a lot of that’s still around; a lot of the same people are still around.”
Asked about what he’s working on, Chabon said he’s writing a novel “set here, in Berkeley and Oakland. I’ve been thinking a lot about the things we’ve been talking about. This one is definitely informed by my deep love of genre, though not as explicitly as some of my other work.”
And in answer to a query about the progress of a film project announced last February by the Coen Brothers, of his Hugo, Nebula and Sidewise award-winning novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union (2007), Chabon relied, “They keep very busy. A movie just came out, and they’ve finished another one. I’ve heard they’re going to start on the script. I’m just in the same position everybody who loves the Coen Bros. is in—waiting for their next film.”
The program at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., will follow a cheese and no-host wine reception at 6 p.m. Tickets: $25; call 653-0317 x.103 or see www.ParkDaySchool.org