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California and the Imagination


ISSUE:  Summer 2015

Brian L. Frank “California as land’s end, world’s end: It collapses underneath the weight of such a reading, as it must,” David L. Ulin writes in our lead story. “It reveals the limits of our history—demographic history, social history, history of technology, our sense of this place as final landscape, last territory on the continent, where we face ourselves because there is nowhere to turn.” Ulin reminds us that one of the most enduring qualities of the California zeitgeist is the marriage between a sense of arrival and, having arrived, an impatience to get down to the experiment at hand, whatever it might be. 

The subjects of our profiles exemplify this spirit. Ryan Bradley introduces us to Art Laboe, the postwar disc jockey who pioneered the late-night dedication, while Jon Christensen takes us to Lauren Bon’s Metabolic Studio to learn how the artist-philanthropist plans to use the first water rights acquired on the L.A. Aqueduct in more than a century. And Carolyn Kellogg catches up with political activist Jodie Evans, spotlighting her work with Code Pink.


We approach California not as natives but as admirers. Ever since covering Classic Hollywood in 2013, we wanted to examine the state’s present-day culture. So we asked more than twenty-five writers, photographers, and artists to explore California as an idea and a place.

In “The Forgotten Village,” Gabriel Thompson visits the migrant camp that inspired The Grapes of Wrath. We meet Timoteo Bello and other field-workers pursuing the same dream of prosperity that called their Dust Bowl predecessors west. Peter Trachtenberg follows a different path into the cultural history of the tiger, motivated by Ang Lee’s special-effects masterpiece Life of Pi. 

Other long-form articles includeLili Loofbourow’s chronicle of how her Chilean family came to be Californian and Porochista Khakpour’s search for a cure in a maze of New Age treatments. And poet and mother Camille T. Dungy reminds us about the importance of investing in what is truly valuable.

The fiction, meanwhile, is as varied as the state’s microclimates: a dystopic future with Claire Vaye Watkins; 1950s animation with Todd James Pierce; befriending a stranger with Alex Espinoza; spiritual encounters in the Pacific with Karolina Waclawiak; and suburban sibling life with Val Brelinski. We have remarkable poetry, too, from Dana Gioia, Douglas Kearney, Luis J. Rodriguez, Kay Ryan, and others.

We offer three radically different photo essays: Tabitha Soren’s meditation on Manifest Destiny through baseball, Matt Black’s unflinching documentation of poverty in the Central Valley, and Rosamond Purcell and Dennis Purcell’s mesmerizing iPhonography along the Pacific Coast Highway.

The issue also includes the travel journals of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, an interview with Percival Everett, and a critical examination of Carol Muske-Dukes. And, stepping away from our theme, Duncan Murrell reports on one of the world’s largest fireworks competitions.

Measured against nations, California is the world’s eighth-largest economy. It is home to nearly 39 million people. We have devoted more than 125,000 words to covering California, and yet it remains elusive and mysterious. This, too, is part of its charm. 

–VQR

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