For LitHop 2018, the show goes on

Carmen Giménez Smith is the new headliner for the annual literary festival, which features more than 150 writers

Back for its third year, LitHop 2018 boasts more writers than ever. Fresno’s annual literary festival unfolds Saturday, May 21, with readings throughout the afternoon at various locations in the Tower District, followed by a keynote event at Fresno City College. Everything is free.

The 45-minute readings kick off at 1 p.m. and continue hourly through 6 p.m. Poetry and prose are grouped together by theme, with a little something for everyone. (There’s even a session on “Cat Poems.”) Much like the Rogue Festival, with its abbreviated performance slots and multiple venues, LitHop conveys an overwhelming sense of literary abundance. So many words to appreciate!

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Carmen Giménez Smith is the 2018 LitHop headline reader.

The festival’s executive director, Juan Luis Guzmán, phrases it well: “The interest and appreciation people have for LitHop is a testament to the refuge of the written word. Attending the event is much like pressing ‘pause’ on the white noise of the day and taking shelter in poetry and prose.”

The festival had to regroup this past week because of the national outrage du’jour that we’ve all heard too much about. (Eight stories plus an editorial and op-ed, Fresno Bee? Really?) Carmen Giménez Smith, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle award in poetry and the author of a memoir and six poetry collections, is the headline reader. She replaces Randa Jarrar.

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When Google gets it wrong: Safiya Noble exposes how search engines reinforce racism

Noble, a prominent digital-age scholar and proud Fresno State alumna, will talk about her new book on Friday, April 20

Google hadn’t even been born — much less conquered the world — when Safiya Umoja Noble was a student at Fresno State in the late 1980s and early ‘90s protesting against apartheid, arguing for social justice and pushing for racial and gender equality on campus. When she wanted to “search” for something, she did it the old-fashioned way, in the library: She thumbed through yellowed card catalogs, hunted through ghostly microfilm and perused voluminous abstracts.

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So much has changed today, of course. Google is one of the most powerful companies on the planet, impacting our lives in a significant manner. And Noble has become an integral part of the digital age herself — in an academic watchdog role. Now a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, she’s been studying Google and other Silicon Valley behemoths, all the while arguing for accountability.

Noble’s new book, “The Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism,” is a pointed critique of how Google and other search engines marginalize people in “erroneous, stereotypical, or even pornographic ways.” She will speak on Friday, April 20, about the book — which is drawing national attention — at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library as part of the J. Printise Womack Lecture Series.

“It’s a hot topic,” she says in a recent phone interview.

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As Randa Jarrar cancels her LitHop appearance, an internet storm rages

The Randa Jarrar story has been consuming a lot of media oxygen today, both locally and nationally. (If you haven’t been following the controversy, it involves statements that the Fresno State professor made on Twitter following the death of Barbara Bush.) My immediate question when the story broke: How will this affect LitHop 2018? Jarrar is scheduled as Saturday’s keynote speaker. Short answer: She’s cancelling.

My biggest concern is that the incident will overshadow the joy of LitHop and all the hard work put into it. I don’t want that to happen.

Here’s the official statement from LitHop and Fresno City College:


Fresno City College and the LitHop 2018 organizers wish to send condolences to the Bush family as we join the rest of our country in mourning the loss of our former First Lady, Barbara Bush.

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The Randa Jarrar story was covered by the Washington Post.

The headline speaker for LitHop 2018, Randa Jarrar, has informed the LitHop organizers that she will not be a participant in this weekend’s events, which included her appearance at Fresno City College Saturday evening. Fresno City College and LitHop 2018 support her decision to withdraw.

While we respect the right to free speech, even objectionable speech, Jarrar’s statements are her own and do not reflect the values of LitHop or Fresno City College. We acknowledge the severity of her statements and take very seriously the concerns expressed throughout the community. The safety of each individual, including Jarrar’s, and all members of the LitHop and Fresno City College community is our paramount concern. We do not support violence or threats on social media or elsewhere; rather, we value civil discourse and look forward to the necessary healing ahead.

LitHop 2018 events will continue as scheduled with a different headline reader to be announced soon.


Meanwhile, there are many vigorous discussions taking place today on Facebook and other platforms. Some people are schooling others in 1st Amendment protections (sometimes mistakenly). Others are blasting Fresno State for not immediately firing Jarrar. She’s being called some pretty nasty names. Others are countering with anti-Bushisms. Tempers are high. And I get it.

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My Top 20 cultural events of 2017

I offer my picks for the best of the year in theater, classical music, dance, opera and visual arts

For more than 15 years, I’ve written a year-end piece I refer to simply as my “Top 20.” The full title, I guess, would be “Donald’s Top 20 Cultural Events of the Year in the Central San Joaquin Valley.” Or, because there’s only one of me and far more offerings each year than I could ever attend (even if I went out almost every night), the most realistic way to describe this yearly endeavor would be “Donald’s Top 20 List Out Of All the Stuff He Manages To Get To.”

“Cultural” is a pretty broad term, and I have to narrow that down a bit, too: In this case think of it as shorthand for “theater-classical-music-opera-dance-poetry-visual-arts.” As in years past, I declare up front that I cover more theater events than anything else because they’re the most likely to be repeat performances, meaning that my reviews can be useful to readers trying to decide whether to go to a future show.

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In the end, does love prevail? Laurie Pessano, as Mrs. Tottendale, and Charles Rabb, as Underling, in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo / Good Company Players

I’ve also fiddled a little this year with the structure of this list: Rather than a hodgepodge of 20 events, I’m grouping my shout-outs by three categories: theater (with 10 entries); and music/dance and visual arts (with five each).

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In ‘Hold This Stone,’ a generation keeps important memories alive

Nikiko Masumoto and Brynn Saito open an innovative theater piece about Japanese-American internment camps in World War II

Nikiko Masumoto and Brynn Saito are yonsei, or fourth generation Japanese Americans. They’ve often talked about the reality that theirs will likely to be the last generation to know family members who lived and survived through the American internment camps of World War II.

In “Hold This Stone,” an innovative theater piece scheduled for just two performances this weekend (it opens Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Fresno Soap Co.), the two friends and artists collaborate to explore the ramifications of memory — and more. I caught up with Masumoto to talk about the show (which is sponsored by CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP) and the Yonsei Memory Project, which she and Saito founded.

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Brynn Saito poses at the monument to Japanese Americans at Simonian Farms.

Q: When you were growing up, how much did you know about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II? How old were you before you got the complete story?

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Catching up with John Scalzi

The well-known science fiction writer — and former Fresno Bee movie critic — returns for a quick visit and update on his career

Earlier this month I was perusing a New York Times interview with Tom Hanks about his reading habits. I always eat these kinds of stories up. The reporter asked Hanks who his favorite novelists are.

His reply? Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, Amor Towles, John Scalzi.

There was a time early in the career of Scalzi, my friend and a former Fresno Bee colleague, when I would have been stunned to see his name bandied about by beloved actors in the national press. But I’m used to it by now. Scalzi, who preceded me as movie critic at The Bee, has had great success as a science-fiction author. He’s probably best known for his book “Old Man’s War,” which kicked off a popular series. He’s won a Hugo Award, served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, is a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and writes the widely read blog Whatever.

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Old friends: John Scalzi and I talk about old times and new books at Fresno’s Radisson Hotel.

He was passing through Fresno last week with his wife, Krissy, and I got the chance to hang out with him for a couple of hours. What a treat!

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In the ring with Joseph Rios

In his debut book of poetry, Fresno City College alum uses boxing as a literary device

Boxing is in Joseph Rios’ blood. So is poetry.

Which makes the location for the launch party celebrating “Shadowboxing: Poems and Impersonations,” his debut poetry book, rather appropriate.

Rios will give a reading 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at Heartbeat Boxing, 155 Van Ness Ave., Fresno.

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Boxing and poetry: Joseph Rios will launch his new book Thursday. Photo / Rafael Cardenas

“It will be my first time reading from a boxing ring,” he says.

The Los Angeles resident grew up in the Fresno area and has strong ties to his hometown. The book uses an autobiographical-style central character named Josefo, a Chicano adolescent working and becoming a poet in the farm territories of Central California. In a daring stylistic move, Rios borrows the poetic language found in boxing lore and in the “Rocky” films.

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Quick pick: ‘Claiming Face’ at Fresno State

Here’s a chance to spend part of a day with a noted illustrator, author, progressive educator, activist and publisher. Maya Christina Gonzalez is the second winner of the artist-in-residence fellowship prize given by the Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Fresno State. As part of her week-long residency at the university, Gonzalez is offering a workshop using self-portraiture titled “Voice is a Revolution: Personal Healing to Change the Larger Narrative.” It is free and open to the public.

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The workshop is 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, in Room 140 of the Kremen Education Building. Lunch is provided. A description:

Participants are asked to bring a photo of themselves. This begins the journey. Using exercises from her “Claiming Face” curriculum, Gonzalez leads people through beautiful portraits to personal stories and finally toward larger healing narratives as the day’s workshop progresses. No creative experience or proclivity necessary, only the call to attend and claim your voice.

I like the the three rules of “Claiming Face”:

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