California Studies Association

The latest news, events, and perspectives from the CSA

CSA selects Susan Straight for Carey McWilliams Award. Straight will give keynote at CSA conference April 26

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The California Studies Association issued the following press release today:

For immediate release

March 10, 2014

Contact: Rachel Brahinsky  — rbrahinsky (at)

California Studies Association to award writer Susan Straight with Carey McWilliams honor.  April 26 conference at University of California, Berkeley will highlight Straight’s work as part of a day focused on the theme “California on Fire.”

*Note that our conference location has changed since earlier announcements. The event will be held – free and open to the public – at UC Berkeley*

The California Studies Association, a statewide group devoted to scholarship and new thinking on the history, politics and cultures of California, is honoring writer Susan Straight at its annual conference. The one-day conference, to be held April 26, from 9 AM – 5:30 PM in UC Berkeley’s McCone Hall, is titled California on Fire, and will feature panels that address the literal and metaphorical fires consuming the state – from climate change to the real estate market. Straight will give the keynote conference talk. See below for the complete schedule.

The California Studies Association

The California Studies Association (CSA) is an independent organization, dedicated to the exchange of ideas about California, the promotion of an integrated understanding of California as a region, and to creating a public discourse on the future of this richly textured state. The CSA embraces the broadest spectrum of concerns about California, its people, politics, economy, environment, science, arts, history, and literature. Through an annual California Studies Conference and other programs, the Association creates a public forum for the discussion of California, past, present and future. It promotes public education about California and serves as an umbrella group for California Studies programs at all educational levels.

The Association includes people from every walk of life: faculty and teachers, students, policy makers, labor organizers, business people, local historians, writers and artists. It features the contributions of everyone who studies California, makes practical contributions to the State, or seeks to express the fabric of this multiethnic society. It values the cross-fertilization of ideas between fields of expertise and around the state and emphatically maintains a balance of academics and non-academics in its leadership, membership and activities.

CSA seeks deeper bonds among all Californians and a stronger sense of the common weal, through networks of small and large institutions, across diverse communities, and among activists, experts, civil servants, writers, artists and performers. It hails the discovery of better ways to live and work in California and more enlightened public policies that serve the broadest definition of the people of this state.

Carey McWilliams Award

Straight is our 2014 selection for the Carey McWilliams Award, which is given each year to a writer, scholar, or artist who lives up to the best tradition of McWilliams’s work. That is, someone whose artistic vision, moral force, and intellectual clarity give voice to the people of California, their needs and desires, sufferings, struggles, and triumphs.

McWilliams (1905–1980) is best known for his writings about California, including the condition of migrant farm workers and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. His activism took other forms as well. In the early 1940s, he led a campaign to overturn the convictions of mostly Latino youths following the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial. He also helped cool the city’s temperature during the Zoot Suit Riots, when scuffles between servicemen and Latino youths spun out of control. From 1955 to 1975, he edited The Nation magazine, where he sponsored important investigative reporting as well as trenchant social, political, and cultural analysis.

Previous McWilliams Award honorees include Maxine Hong Kingston, Mike Davis, Laura Pulido, Robert Gottleib, Peter Schrag, and Kevin Starr, among others.

Susan Straight

A professor of creative writing at UC Riverside, Susan Straight is the author of eight novels, dozens of short stories and essays, and commentaries that have appeared in a variety of publications and web sites.  She was a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of an Edgar prize, among many other honors and awards.

Straight is a native of Riverside and still lives in the working class neighborhood where she grew up, and she’s part of an extended multiethnic Riverside family of about 200 relatives. Straight writes about multiethnic working class people whose lives are difficult and often tragic. While most of her characters live in Rio Seco, she stretches their stories back to family roots in the African American South and the rural villages of Mexico.

Walter Mosley says that Straight’s work creates “an alley, a neighborhood, a history that is as rich and tragic as any Shakespearean tale.”  The Los Angeles Times observes that  “you’ve never seen writing like this about this part of Southern California—the parking lots and backyards, the dusty foliage no one bothers to name.”  The Boston Globe says that despite their often tragic lives, Straight’s characters “still recognize the splendor of the natural world, from the pepper trees behind the taqueria to the orange blossoms in the alley scenting the midnight air.”  This spring Susan Straight will also receive the Los Angeles Times Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement in literature.

One of her novels tells the story of a Black firefighter in the 1990s and she plans to focus her talk at the CSA conference around that text and the ways that fire shapes life in Southern California.

Call for Maps and Graphics Still Open!

Please note that the Call for Films has been cancelled but the Call for Maps and Graphics – to be displayed in large format during the conference is still open. See our website for details.


California Studies 24th Annual Conference: California on Fire

Preliminary Schedule: Please see our website for conference registration (available soon). The event is free and open to the public, but please register so we know how much coffee to pour!

9:00 AM – Coffee & Registration

9:30 –  Welcome: Rachel Brahinsky, CSA steering committee chair

9:45-11:15  – Session One: “FIRE” Power: Finance, Insurance, Real Estate.  The institutions fanning the flames

Dominique Tan, Resident & Community Organizer, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO)

Darwin Bond Graham, PhD, Sociologist and Journalist

Sarah Knuth, PhD Candidate, Geography UC Berkeley

Moderator: Javier Arbona, California College of the Arts

11:15-11:30  Break

11:30 AM -1:00 PM – Session Two: Is it getting hot in here? California in the age of climate chaos

Jason Henderson, Professor of Geography, San Francisco State University

Sabrina Bornstein, Environmental Programs Specialist , South Bay Cities Council of Governments

Celeste LeCompte, journalist and co-founder of Climate Confidential

Moderator: Alex Tarr, UC Berkeley

1:00-2:00  Lunch Break

2:15-3:30 – Keynote & Carey McWilliams Award Presentation — Susan Straight, award-winning novelist, essayist and social critic

Award Presentation by Rachel Brahinsky and Charles Wollenberg

3:30-3:45  Break

3:45-5:15 – Session Three: Fighting Fire: Community responses to the urban crisis

Erin McElroy, founder and director, Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

Ron Sundstrom, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, University of San Francisco

Eric Ares, Los Angeles Community Action Network

Moderator: Rachel Brahinsky, University of San Francisco



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