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Best of the East Bay - People

Vince Neil, Ledisi, Mary Roach, Amani Toomer, Wall-e, Robert Hass...


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Model Mom - Christy Turlington Burns

Christy Turlington; Photograph by Pamela HansonEasily one of the world’s most recognizable women, Christy Turlington Burns is still turning heads—she recently appeared in Escada and Chanel ads—and has launched her own line of yoga clothes and skincare products. The East Bay native’s current focus, however, is on family and philanthropy. She and her husband, filmmaker Edward Burns, have two children, Grace, four, and Finn, two, and Turlington Burns is an ambassador for the African health relief program, RED, and the poverty fighting organization, CARE. Turlington Burns’ recent trip with CARE to visit mothers in Peru drew the attention of the Today Show and Marie Claire magazine—and gave Diablo a reason to catch up with the former Danville resident, who now lives in New York.

What inspired your trip to Peru?
After giving birth to my second child, a healthy baby boy, I could not help but think of all the mothers who have shared this experience yet with different outcomes. This is when I learned about the project in the Ayacucho region of Peru. Peru has the second highest rate of maternal mortality in South America. I was horrified upon learning that nearly 600,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth. Many of these tragedies are preventable.

The FEMME project, a coming together of CARE, Columbia University, and local government, brings health-care practitioners together to find better methods of serving the large number of women needing assistance who are too intimidated to seek help in a clinic or traditional hospital.

How did you get involved with CARE?
My mother [Elizabeth, who still lives in Danville] has been a longtime CARE supporter through her former flight attendants’ organization, World Wings. Her involvement set the tone for the more specific work I am now doing on behalf of CARE.

Since your last appearance in Diablo, you’ve had Grace and Finn. What do you like most about being a parent?
I love that I can’t “master” being a parent. It truly works only when I surrender to it, which is on all accounts never that easy. My children are my teachers, and I learn more when I stop and listen to them. It is the most challenging work that I do but also the most rewarding.

How has motherhood affected your businesses and your philanthropy?

Motherhood has changed everything about me—what I value and what is most important. I find it difficult to justify time away from them … pursuing something that does not feed me spiritually.

I have begun to venture away for very brief visits to Africa on behalf of RED and to Latin America on behalf of CARE. This work is extremely important to me. I feel as though I am setting an example to both my children regarding human rights and how they deserve protection. Motherhood has without a doubt guided my interests in working with CARE and RED. I see firsthand the importance of a mother’s role in a child’s life and how central a role women play in any given community.

It’s interesting that your husband’s brother, Brian Burns, married your sister, Kelly. How much fun are your family reunions?

This has been such a wonderful connection for all of us. We truly are one big family now, as my sisters and I are interchangeable among even our own children. Family is a gift, and we feel extremely blessed.

How often do you come back to Danville from New York?

We get back to the East Bay only once or twice a year. Typically, the family will come over to visit us for longer periods in the summer and over the Thanksgiving holiday. What I miss most about California is the climate and the smell of eucalyptus in the summertime. On my visits, I love taking long walks in Las Trampas hills or around the Lafayette Reservoir. —Peter Crooks


Hot Shot - Jayne Appel

Jayne Appel; Photograph by Marc Abrams/Stanford AthleticsBasketball fans typically focus on the men’s game, but one of the best hoops stories to emerge this season centered on the women’s college game and featured an East Bay–grown star.

Pleasant Hill’s Jayne Appel was the sophomore center whose six-foot-four-inch presence near the basket helped the Stanford Cardinal women make it to the NCAA final for the first time in 16 years. For several months leading up to that April 7 championship game, images of Appel, either swatting away opposing players’ shots or draining her own, became fixtures in local and national sports news.

The 2006 Carondelet High graduate ended the season as Stanford’s top rebounder and number two scorer—averaging 15 points per game—behind the blazing-hot Candice Wiggens. Beyond her stats, Appel helped Wiggens, the team’s ebullient leader, infuse fellow players with the girls-just-wanna-have-fun-playing-basketball spirit that made their journey to the finals such a joy to watch.

Alas, the Cardinal ended their 23-game winning streak by losing in the final to the University of Tennessee. But two weeks after that loss, in an interview at a Stanford campus café, Appel shrugged off the disappointment. With a friendly smile and bright blue eyes, she said that she and her teammates accomplished exactly what they set out to do: play together as long as possible.

“I think that made it almost easier when we lost because there was no next game,” she says. “We knew, no matter what, that this was the last 40 minutes we were going to play together. We really bonded this season.”

Appel has always approached basketball as fun, even at a national championship level where every move is dissected by commentators, fans, and opponents. “It doesn’t really affect me. I don’t really know what I’m thinking about in a game. I just love to play.”

Sports were a daily pastime for Appel and her three brothers growing up, in part because their parents banned TV during the week. Appel started playing basketball competitively when she was eight; her six-foot-eight-inch father, Joe Appel, who played basketball for Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, was her first coach. Jayne Appel also played soccer, swam in the summer, and played on her high school water polo team. The variety saved her from getting burned out on any one sport, she says. Basketball became her main focus at Carondelet, where, as captain, she led the Cougars to the state finals.

Heavily recruited by top programs around the country, Appel chose Stanford. She was eager to work with Stanford’s legendary coach Tara VanDerveer, but practical considerations were her primary consideration. “I asked myself, Where would I be happy if I got hurt and couldn’t play? Also, it would haunt me the rest of my life if I could have graduated from Stanford and didn’t.”

She hopes to play professionally in the WNBA after graduating but is studying psychology to prepare for a postbasketball career, either as a psychiatric nurse or in crafting public policy on mental health issues.

With teammate Wiggens already turned pro, there’s talk that Appel will become the new leader and face of the Stanford franchise. Ever the team player, she brushes off that notion. “I think everyone will step up.” Meanwhile, she’ll spend the next six months recovering from shoulder surgery, improving her outside shooting, and getting excited about next year’s possibilities for the Cardinal women: “Next year, we have a great class coming in.”
—Martha Ross


Poetic Justice - Robert Hass

Robert Hass; Photograph courtesy of HarperCollinsWhile most poets are fated to toil in obscurity, former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass has achieved literary stardom. Hass, a UC Berkeley professor, won the 2007 National Book Award and this year’s Pulitzer Prize for poetry for his latest book, Time and Materials. The book is a collection of poems that includes meditations on the Iraq War, lyrics about the natural beauty of Northern California, and elegies to his friend, the Nobel Prize–winning poet Czeslaw Milosz. The 67-year-old Hass discussed the role of poetry in our world at his Kensington home.

How did you come to write poetry?
I was born in San Francisco and grew up in San Rafael. I think by the time I was in high school, I vaguely wanted to be a writer. And, in college at Saint Mary’s, I wrote poetry and fiction.

I went to graduate school [at Stanford]. Dropped out, actually, for a year, and tried to write a novel, and found myself writing more poetry. I got access through [Stanford’s] library to literary magazines, and I saw there was all this interesting stuff going on: the Beats in San Francisco; the New York School poets; a new feminist poetry, Sylvia Plath and Adrienne Rich. It just seemed to me that what was happening in American poetry was terrifically exciting. And, I took a course from an old reactionary poet and critic named Yvor Winter. I found him terrifying; I didn’t like his ideas about poetry, but I’d never heard anybody talk so passionately about anything. It was a 10-week lecture course, and I sat there arguing with him in my mind every step of the way. But, I found myself going home and working on poems.

Your wife, Brenda Hillman, is also an acclaimed poet and a professor at Saint Mary’s. Do you ask her for feedback on your work?
Yes. From the beginning, there was some impulse to keep our work separate, but ultimately, yes. When I finally have a poem that I think is OK, I’ll show it to her and get her feedback. And she shows me hers. That’s a great gift. Time and Materials includes both Gary Snyder–esque nature poems and poems that address the human cost of war.

Did you feel compelled to write about the Iraq War?
Yeah, I did. I spent 15, 20 years translating Czeslaw Milosz’s poems from Polish. He saw some of the worst horrors of the 20th century, and one of his great themes is that political poetry is almost never any good, but you can’t not read it. … Writers of my generation were raised on the Civil Rights Movement and the anti–Vietnam War movement—actually, Korea was the beginning of our awakening. So, yes, it comes into my poems. I think one of the things this book does is try to come at the subject in several different ways.

As an example, one of your poems is titled “Bush’s War,” but you don’t talk about Iraq until the last quarter of the poem—instead, you write about Germany. Did you intend to compare American citizens now to German citizens during World War II?
Yeah. I mean, the moral scale is quite different. Maybe there are 100,000 innocent people dead in Iraq, and there were what, 45 million people dead in World War II? The response to that poem has been interesting because older people get it, but younger people have said, “If this is called ‘Bush’s War,’ why are you talking about World War II?”

Maybe this comes back to the question of age. Having lived through, as a distant witness, enough of the balance of the 20th century to have a feeling for the horror of war and its damage—not only to the people on whom it’s inflicted but to the soldiers who fight in it—I was just astonished at how easily the country was talked into going to war.

Did your time as Poet Laureate change your opinion of the role of poetry in the world?
No. It required me to think about it more clearly. First of all, lots of people generalize about how poetry used to be more important at this time or that time, [but] if you look at empirical evidence, nobody knows what they’re talking about. Literacy only reached a large part of the population starting in the 1850s, which is around the same time that printing presses evolved that put books within the reach of middle-class people. Anytime before that, we’re talking mostly about aristocrats passing manuscripts back and forth. When Wordsworth was writing, for example, only 20 percent of English women could produce a signature. Forty percent of men. What percentage of the [American] population went to university [in the 1920s] when Wallace Stevens was starting to write his poetry? Four percent.

So, I came to see that literacy is the core issue. First [address] literacy, then the concern that people read things that are alive and challenging. And, it turns out that, if you study the history of literacy, a taste for poetry is a kind of indicator for the health of a society, in the way that out in the marshes in Point Reyes, if the yellowthroat shows up every spring, then we know that the ecosystem is still healthy.

Are you still working on the issue of literacy?
The main work I do is with a program called River of Words. As Poet Laureate, I started a program to get kids to make art and poetry about their watershed. Not taking any political positions or doing any advocacy at all, just saying kids should get to know the natural world around them. We set up a program to offer prizes to children for their work, and we bring four artists and four poets to Washington, D.C., every year. The kids read their poetry and have their work shown at the Library of Congress. A book of the children’s poetry, which is called River of Words, [was] published this April—10 years’ worth of kids’ work about America.

What is poetry’s place here in the East Bay?
Because of the Beat generation and Lawrence Ferlinghetti and City Lights Books, the San Francisco Bay Area became, next to New York City, the epicenter of poetry in the country. And then, because the University of California is where it is, Berkeley became a big part of that epicenter. Poetry in Contra Costa County has essentially spilled over from those two places. Walnut Creek and Lafayette and Orinda, the inner suburbs, [are] sprinkled with poets writing about that atmosphere and that experience. [That is] one of the lucky things about being in this area: It’s a place where writing is alive. —Justin Goldman

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