Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Writers making change in the pandemic age

This week, and what a week it was, I’m pleased to introduce you to several writers living and working in San Francisco, all of them striving

Poet and activist Thea Matthews in the Mission District on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

toward a more just and equitable society in their own unique ways.  First, poet and activist Thea Matthews is a San Francisco born and raised writer, celebrating the publication of her first poetry collection for a local press. She’s also deeply involved and on the frontlines of the Movement 4 Black Lives. Read more about where she’s been and where she’s going in this week’s San Francisco Examiner column, SFLives.

Also publishing today, a story I was reporting on and off for about five months on the Writers Grotto, a community of authors who found they needed to recreate their organization so that it would be more inviting to writers of color. You can read the full story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle Datebook  (and one day, I promise to a write story about the process of reporting it).

I love my work, seeking out the stories on the lives of the people and places that show San Francisco at its best. What a privilege it is to be trusted to tell these stories and deliver them to you, especially in these times. As ever, I thank you for taking the time to read and I bid the best to you and your families as the pandemic runs its course. May the moral arc of the universe continue its bend toward justice.

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Black Power,, Books, Poetry, racism, San Francisco News, ,

Poetic activism in the pandemic age: Tony Robles writes home

I first heard of the work Tony Robles was doing to stem the tide of gentrification in San Francisco when I returned here, following a decade of living in Los Angeles. A housing advocate, particularly devoted to keeping seniors in their homes, and a cultural worker whose art is poetry, whether in the fight to preserve bookstores or entire neighborhoods, from the Fillmore to the Mission, Robles was a strong presence in the various communities he represented, from North Beach to City Hall and South of Market. Combining community and culture in the spirit and tradition of his uncle Al, one of our city’s beloved poet activists, Robles is a fighter for the city he’s allowed to hate — because he loves it — even though he’s left us for rural North Carolina…

In 2017, I was happy to include Tony’s piece “Conversation With A Buffalo,” in Your Golden Sun Still Shines, the San Francisco story anthology I edited for Manic D Press (and which his open letter to another Tony, Bennett, helped deliver the book’s title, a reference to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”). Now that Robles has left his heart here for real, having relocated to Hendersonville, he’s receiving some well-deserved recognition for his work as a poet. I hope you’ll read the full story of his life and work, particularly as it relates to the role of artists in the age of the pandemic in my biweekly column for the Examiner, SF Lives. And oh yes, a big thank you to Tony: Mabuhay! Read the column here.

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Book news, Books, Poetry, San Francisco News, Tales of the Gentrification City, , , , ,

A Dream of Fillmore Street

People walk by the Clay Theatre in Pacific Heights on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, two days before the single-screen movie house closes its doors after 110 years. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The mood went dark on Fillmore Street three weeks into January as locals took in the news that their cinema, The Clay Theatre, would be closing without a fight or fanfare before the month’s end.

A fixture between Clay and Sacramento streets for over 100 years, “The Clay is a pillar, a cornerstone of the neighborhood,” said Fred Martin, stationed behind the counter of Browser Books, one block down. Noting its great projection and offbeat programming, “there has to be some way to keep it. If they could do it with The Vogue, they can do it here,” said Martin, referring to another historic theater, just a few blocks west.

“This is Pacific Heights. There’s money here.”

The Landmark Theatre chain was tight-lipped about The Clay’s abrupt closure; its press announcement cited “the changing theatrical landscape and challenges to independent exhibition.” But Martin notes, the independently owned and operated Vogue seems to be doing fine, despite the challenges in film markets.

Read the whole SFLives column in today’s San Francisco Examiner

Filed under: Arts and Culture, California, column, gentrification, income disparity, new article, San Francisco News, Tales of the Gentrification City, ,

The Painters

For the last several years, my beat has generally been arts and culture: A lot about  books, the City of San Francisco and its people, and of course music, from folk to jazz.  But for reasons unexplained, I ended last year and begin the new decade with three consecutive stories on women who paint. 

Sylvia Fein is a surrealist and a centenarian, living in Martinez. Her enthusiasm not only for painting but for life (she’s an olive rancher, a sailor and a vintner) is an inspiration. The San Francisco Chronicle sent me to her home for the interview; her egg tempera on gesso board paintings and custom frames remain on view at the Berkeley Museum of Art and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) through January.

Deirdre White is a painter and arts educator. Five years ago I talked to her and her husband Tom Heyman about artists and gentrification. At the end of 2019, I spoke to White for my San Francisco Examiner column, SF Lives, when the Spring classes she teaches and others inside and outside her department at City College of San Francisco were abruptly cut just before Thanksgiving.  She has an exhibit opening January 31 at Ampersand International Gallery in San Francisco Her large canvas oil “carts and rigs” are informed by the lives and belongings of people who live on the streets here. Now That My Ladder’s Gone is on view through February.

Anna Lisa Escobedo is among the group of artists, not all but mostly women, who collaborated on the large mural Alto al fuego in la Misión, a tribute to those who’ve lost their lives to police violence in San Francisco and to state violence at the US border. Centered around the figure of Amilcar Perez-Lopez, I spoke to several artists on the project, including Carla Wojczuk and Lucia González Ippolito while covering the story for Current SF. The project was photographed beautifully by Ekevara Kitpowsong; we’ve worked together on several stories together about local muralists last year (including one on Juana Alicia whose work also inspired this newest addition to the Mission District’s mural scene).

Despite what you may have heard, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area still has plenty of art and artists living, working, thriving, creating beauty and making their statements here. Come and see us in the new year.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, San Francisco News, Women's issues, , , , ,

Border Songs

Here in California, with both ends of the state engulfed in catastrophic fire, matters of basic survival are at the forefront of our minds. For those of us living with the comfort of hot water, a warm bed and a roof over our heads, it doesn’t take a crisis to take our lives for granted. Of course for refugees, whether from fire, or for migrants seeking asylum, life is an ongoing crisis. This month I had the unique opportunity to talk to two San Franciscans who risked their own comfort to cover the migrant communities at the U.S./Mexico border.

Mabel Jiménez. Portrait by Ekey Kitpowsong/Current SF.

Photographer Mabel Jiménez  was moved to personally investigate the migrant camps and shelters growing in Tijuana. Over the last several years the border town has been a landing spot for refugees from around the world, particularly from Haiti and Central America. Additionally, LGBTQ migrants from around the globe have banded together in their own communities where they can find shelter, acceptance and safety. Jiménez gained the trust of these travelers at risk: Many of them are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries, only to find further complications in Mexico.  I hope you’ll read her full story and see some of the intimate portraits she shot at CurrentSF.  An exhibit of her photos in on view at City College of San Francisco through November 9.

 

Jorge Argueta. Portrait by Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner

Jorge Argueta is a poet, author of children’s books and a librarian in his home country of El Salvador.  His migration to San Francisco in the ’70s during El Salvador’s civil war landed him in the center of a growing and active Central American community in the Mission District where he pursued writing. Forty years later, he returned to San Salvador to meet with migrants headed for the U.S. border, hoping to encourage them on their journeys. Of course the migrants encountered all forms of difficulty during their caravan to the north and were ultimately turned away or separated from family. Argueta turned one of those stories into a novel in verse, Caravan To The North.  I hope you’ll read more of his story in my San Francisco Examiner column, SFLives.

Though the poet and the photographer have life experience that’s vastly different, they have a common heart and a common goal: They love life and the world around them. Both Argueta and Jiménez are very much engaged in their work, in their immediate communities and matters of global importance. They help where help is called for, then they step back and use their gifts to further their causes and share their stories with others.

Everyday is a crisis for someone, somewhere in the world, but I didn’t want our present disruption to deter from sharing my stories about about two extraordinary San Franciscans and their stories, with you. I hope you’ll read both and take something from them to carry with you as we move together through this beautiful catastrophe called life.

Read more about Jorge Argueta in the SF Examiner

Read more about Mabel Jiménez in Current SF

 

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Books, photography, Poetry, San Francisco News, , , , , , ,

Summer Film Score: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Once in a great while, a film score really grabs me from the inside out: It’s not just the beauty of the suite or piece of music alone, but when the sounds are perfectly matched with the mood, look, and feel of the story being told on screen and the elements combine to make one extraordinary whole, the inextricable links between music and movie become entwined with the soul, as if we’ve heard these strains somewhere before. The Last Black Man in San Francisco, directed by Joe Talbot with music by Emile Mosseri,  is the ideal marriage of sound and image for The City right now. It’s melancholy but not maudlin; it’s shimmering but not overwhelmingly bright and it surprises with its subtlety. I have much to say about the film, and its operatic dimensions cut from indie cloth, but I’m not yet done formulating my thoughts (I’m a little stuck in the real life tragedy of it all). For those of us living here, thinking about the state of our city comes second to surviving it. Living in a place of such extreme, rapid and frankly terrifying gentrification is a job in itself; for those of us born here, we live everyday with the specter of something we love being taken from us — again, and again — rendering our home unrecognizable. The grief is ongoing and it feels like it will never end. It’s a daily discipline simply to get up and out of bed to ready one’s self for the day ahead: Who or what will we lose next?  At least now we have a soundtrack to accompany the loss.

Full interview with Emile Mosseri in this month’s Tourworthy.

Filed under: Arts and Culture, film, gentrification, San Francisco News, , , , , , ,

Double Duty

“Look, Ma!  I made the papers!” This week, I filed stories for my hometown’s two daily newspapers, The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner. The milestone (or over-achievement) is significant to me because I have wanted to be a hometown reporter since at least since the age of nine and definitely since I was a teenager, editing my high school paper, though I fell into music journalism as a career. I’m pretty sure what my journalism teacher would have to say about making the move to cityside reporting, though he’s no longer here to say it, nor are my university media studies professors who sent me out into the world to work as an independent reporter, while finishing my senior year.

Honoring skateboarder Pablo Ramirez, who died on April 23. Photo by Kevin N. Hume for the Examiner.

I’m thinking of my own youth, age, and the cycle of life because it’s been a season of terrible losses for my communities and in the world; some have hit closer to home than others, but it was the death of 26-year-old skateboarder and musician, Pablo Ramirez, that really opened the floodgates of grieving for me (and in those moments, I tend to write).  Following his story to the top of Twin Peaks, I had the privilege of speaking to his mother, Loren Michelle, and learned more about his life. They are the subject of my column, SFLives, this week wherein I also tried to shed some love and light on The City’s beloved skateboard community.  I’m so grateful to have had the sense to follow my nose on this story, and for the photos by staff photographer Kevin Hume that accompany it, and especially to the Pablo Ramirez Foundation.

The piece for The Chronicle is about another San Franciscan,  Patrick Marks, a longtime Bay Area bookseller, who made the leap to opening his own store, The Green Arcade, at the same time online bookselling began to rise.  Ten years later, his business is alive and well, serving readers of all kinds, but particularly those who are eco-conscious or interested in utopian futures.  Anyone who reads me regularly knows about my interest in the preservation of small bookstores.  Covering Patrick and the Green Arcade was a chance to celebrate one of the best in the business. That it coincided with my return to the Chronicle Datebook section after a 20-year hiatus (I think the last story I wrote for them was about Soul Asylum hitting the charts), is an aside, but it’s a reason enough for me to celebrate: The Chronicle has been Northern California’s newspaper of record since 1865; it’s the paper I grew up reading.

Patrick Marks at The Green Arcade. Photo Michael Short, special to the Chronicle.

I see now that one of the things I was reminded of by following the story of Pablo, attending his memorial, speaking to his mother and stepfather and the people around them, was how important it is to pause. To breathe. To reflect on and appreciate what we have, to express gratitude for the people and the beauty and the love and the life and world around us — right now. I’m grateful to do work that I truly love. I appreciate not not only yours and others, but my own life. And I’m exhausted. Last night I filed a third story about legendary muralist Juana Alicia which will publish soon in the digital CurrentSF where I am also a frequent contributor (though I’m mostly there to compliment the images of award-winning San Francisco photographer, Ekey Kitpowsong).

My horoscope this week said I would be recognized for my work, particularly if I work in publishing. I shook my head like I do and laughed it off (while secretly hoping someone of power and influence, my own neighbor or maybe even my dog would take notice). And then I got it: Yesterday’s papers might be lining your trash bin, but I can still celebrate me and you and us today. Thank you to Pablo and Patrick and Juana Alicia for keeping me on my toes, inspiring me to stay in the game. “Life is beautiful.”

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Keep On Pushing, San Francisco News, What Makes A Legend, You Read It Here First, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The City Is Already Speaking, Vol 3

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, our local independent bookseller’s coalition, United Booksellers of San Francisco, has managed to publish our third chapbook in one calendar year with the cooperation of San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck. In what she calls our chapthology series, we bring you volume three of The City Is Already Speaking, featuring Cathy Arellano, Jorge Argueta, Kitty Costello, JoAnn DeLuna, Lourdes Figueroa, Sandra Garcia Rivera, Charlie Getter, Lauren Emiko Ito, David Kubrin, César Love, Naomi Quiñonez, Tiny (Lisa Gray-Garcia) and Katie Tomzynski.  So far, we have published new and previously published work by San Francisco Bay Area poets Josiah Luis Alderete, Dee Allen, Simon Crafts, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Flavia Elisa, E.K. Keith, Thea Matthews, Alejandro Murguía, Linda Noel, Raul Ruiz, Kim Shuck, Ricardo Tavarez, Avotcja, Charles Curtis Blackwell, bloodflower, Paul Corman-Roberts, norm mattox, Gail Mitchell, Leroy F. Moore, Jr., Richard Sanderell, Norma Smith, Maurisa Thompson, and René Vaz, Featured visual artists have included Michael Roman, Kate Razo, Veronica Solis and Anna Lisa Escobedo. As one of three co-editors and a contributor to the project, I can tell you the effort is truly gratifying when we see the faces of the contributors as well as our readers upon publication.  This is a labor of love by our local community of poets and the bookstores who support their work.  I’d like to thank everyone, especially the readers who make the continued publication of this series possible.  Because we are a grassroots, non-proift/break-even project, we’ve gone into the red on this edition, but you can help us by placing your order at United Booksellers or stopping by one of our participating stores (Alley Cat, Adobe Books, Green Arcade, Bird & Beckett) and purchasing your copy. You can also attend a reading (a live reading of this work will take place on May 12 at 4 PM at Adobe Bookshop in San Francisco). With appreciation for all you do to support the literary arts in the Bay Area and in your area, we thank you for

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Poetry, San Francisco News, Tales of the Gentrification City, ,

The Lives of San Francisco’s Poets

 

Some people write poetry. Others write about poetry.  I write about poets, among other people and living things. This week, San Francisco remains in the throes of celebrating poet, painter, and publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti who turns 100 years old on March 24.  He is indeed a person and a cause worthy of an extended celebration: A champion of art not only in his own work on the page, but at every opportunity he gets to speak publicly about the City, and as proprietor of City Lights, the bookstore he founded in 1953. There has been and will be much more written about Ferlinghetti as we move into his birthday month’s second half and upon the publication of his new novel Little Boy (pure poetry); I’ll leave it those better qualified to speak to his influence. I can however report firsthand that last Sunday,  on an unseasonably sunny and warm day, poet laureates past and present and assorted other people crammed into the cave-live Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library for a long afternoon of reading and speechifying in the name of Ferlinghetti’s centennial. There were some laughs and appreciation, but it was largely the kind of event that Ferlinghetti himself might have described as a gathering of “all you poet’s poets writing poetry about poetry.” I mean, I don’t know, I’m just going by what he’s written and what the poet’s poets said about him that day (at some point I lost altitude — not enough air in there).

As Ferlinghetti’s celebration continues, and in anticipation of poetry month in April and well, just because I can, I’ll point you to four recent profiles I’ve compiled about the lives of poets from our City of Poets.  All are in some way connected to Ferlinghetti’s legacy.

In this week’s San Francisco Examiner, I profiled Josiah Luis Alderete, a Spanglish speaking poet with North Beach roots and a Mission District corazón. An amazing performer, his pieces with titles like Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez and Pinche Piñata will set you straight. Read his story here

Kim Shuck is San Francisco’s seventh and current poet laureate:  She is a tireless artist, educator, activist and advocate.  Her poems make racist statues disappear.  Read her story here

Alejandro Murguía was San Francisco’s sixth poet laureate and is the de facto poet laureate of the Mission District. His personal story spans beyond poetry and our city limits, from the bracero camps to the war in El Salvador. Read his story here

Finally, Tongo Eisen-Martin has been reading and resisting across the country the last couple of years. If you’ve had the good fortune to hear him recite his poems in person, then you know. He’s done some deep research into extrajudicial killing of Black lives and his poetry is alive on arrival. Read his story here

None of the tellings of the stories of these poets and their lives would be possible without the poets themselves, The City of San Francisco, The San Francisco Examiner and its photographer Kevin Hume, and the independent booksellers of the Mission District (particularly Modern Times Bookstore Collective, where I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance of these extraordinary artists). Thank you to everyone involved in making San Francisco’s poetry community exceptional and accessible.  And oh yes: A hearty thank you and a very Happy Birthday, Mr. Ferlinghetti. Your insurgent poetry continues to inspire we who are waiting for the rebirth of wonder with you.

 

Filed under: anti-capitalist, anti-war, Arts and Culture, Poetry, San Francisco News, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Witness

IMG_1697

Treat Street, Mission District, San Francisco

Every Saturday I walk by them, the two women who ring the bell and the single man who answers the door and greets them. For an hour or more, or for at least as long as it takes for my own standing lunch date, they huddle in the doorway, reading pages from Awake or The Watchtower. I’m incredibly moved by this scene of the same three strangers, week in, week out, and the conversation I imagine them to be having about matters of this life and after.

One afternoon, at the moment I passed, the women were waiting at the gate, with no sign of the man. I thought Ha! he’d tricked them, and decided to sit out their Saturday ritual, though that was the moment he stumbled forth, buttoning his shirt, opening the door, apologizing to them for the delay. The women weren’t troubled at all and told him to take his time.  They seemed happy to wait.

It is the tender nature of the exchange, between two people of faith and one on the fence, and the simple kindness and respect with which they relate to each other that reminds me of civility, the likes of which is rarely on display in The City where behemoth tech buses roll. I wonder what the two ladies in their simple pressed blouses and tan loafers make of those.

There were days, not long ago, happier times on these blocks, when people strolled in their Sunday best even on weekdays, acknowledging each other with a tip of the hat and by appellation — Miss, Mister, Missus. I’ve told myself so many times, this old world no longer exists, and yet here it is, unfolding for me to witness, every Saturday afternoon in the Western Addition.

 

Filed under: San Francisco News, serial, Sunnyside Up, Tales of the Gentrification City, ,

Tweet Tweet

Recent Posts

Browse by subject or theme