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Q&A: Michael Chabon

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon talks Telegraph Avenue.


Photo by Jennifer Chaney

Berkeley author Michael Chabon is a rock star in literary circles, so it makes sense that he will be a headliner at Notes and Words, an event that pairs writers with rock bands. We caught up with the Pulitzer Prize winner to talk about the upcoming benefit as well as his next novel, Telegraph Avenue, due out this fall.


Q: At Notes and Words, you’ll be sharing the stage with the band Cake. If you could use an alternate universe to pair any author and musician, who would you pick?

A: Wow, that’s a fun question to think about. How about ... Oscar Wilde and David Bowie?

Q: The show benefits Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland and takes place at the Fox Theater. Can you talk about the value of these East Bay institutions?

A: As a parent of four children, I have had to visit that portal of the emergency room a few times. The extremely high-quality and thoughtful and sensitive care that my family has directly received at Children’s Hospital is consistent with everything I have heard from other parents in the community. When I drive by the hospital on Highway 24, or fly over the hospital into Oakland Airport, I always find a sense of comfort when I see the rubber ducky on top. It’s a place that radiates comfort and promise.

The first time I went inside the Fox, I could not believe my eyes. It’s a perfect venue—and when you see those enormous idols with the glowing eyes on either side of the stage, you don’t even need a band to play.

It’s always amazing when something so undeniably good happens in the world. The Fox Theater coming back to life is one of those things, especially when you think about how easy it would be for it to have been demolished or turned into a dollar store.

Q: The Fox is on Telegraph Avenue, which happens to be the title of your next novel. You first told Diablo about this idea back in 2000, when you had written Telegraph Avenue as a television pilot. A lot has changed on Telegraph since then: Will the resurgence of Oakland’s Uptown district play a part in your story?

A: Not really, because I split the difference between 2000 and now: The book is set in 2004. It’s amazing to think about how long ago 2004 feels like now, but it was sort of a transformational time in the area.

Telegraph Avenue is really a story about two families of characters, so the location won’t matter as much to someone in Iowa, who should be able to enjoy it and relate to it without knowing about all the places that are mentioned. But a reader who knows the Temescal district on Telegraph Avenue will be able to provide an epilogue to the events in the book.

Part of the book is about how the past can haunt the present, and there were so many things that happened while I was writing that informed that idea. For example, Neldam’s Bakery closing after so many years; here was this favorite corner bakery, and then one day, it was gone. It was a sad day for the community but actually very helpful to me as I was writing.

Q: You were featured as a character on The Simpsons, along with Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Franzen. Did that make you the coolest dad ever, in the eyes of your children?

A: Sure, we all love The Simpsons, so that was pretty cool. My kids were very tickled by that.

Notes and Words takes place April 28. For tickets and information, go to notesandwords.org.


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