music in the park san jose

.Getting Lit, Thanks to SJSU’s Center for Literary Arts

For 35 years, San Jose has seen some of the world’s greatest living writers come to downtown

music in the park san jose

Last February, the acclaimed author Percival Everett arrived in downtown San Jose for an event at Hammer Theatre’s black box venue upstairs, as part of the Center for Literary Arts reading series at San Jose State University. Everett read from his recent novel, The Trees, and was then interviewed on stage.

Compared to 35 years ago, when the university and the city were not the greatest of companions, this series, especially in Hammer Theatre, exemplifies what should be happening in a real urban place. Benefactors host authors in their homes, faculty bring them to local restaurants, and students get to learn from some of the greatest writers alive.

Everett is a genre in and of himself, and his appearance was indicative of the top-level literary digs that SJSU continues to present.

Just this last academic year—and all of 2023, for example—there were Pulitzer Prize winners, esteemed urban music critics, poets and the inimitable Joy Williams in her trademark dark sunglasses.

We’ll get to everyone else in a second. First, back to the trees.

Everett was his usual genius self, a master of dark satire. The text of The Trees included a list of all the people who’d ever been lynched in the United States. When Everett stood there on stage and read off every single one of the names, out loud in his own dark gravelly voice, it took about 10 minutes.

In all my years of attending author events, this was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever witnessed. The audience was floored. The silence in the room just screamed. It was moving.

I had not read the book. I didn’t know what he was going to read. Which made it even more powerful.

Of course, being the local pursuer of noir history, I just had to flip through the book and see if the list of those lynched included Thomas Thurmond and John Holmes, who were notoriously strung up in St. James Park, after being jailed for murdering Brooke Hart in 1933. Turned out they were indeed mentioned in the book.

Following the event, after Everett had finished signing everyone’s books, I pointed to Thurmond and Holmes on the pages of The Trees. I told him those two were lynched right down the street, since he wasn’t aware of the connection. The fact that we were now sitting at Hammer, just a few blocks from where the crime unfolded, was mind-blowing.

“I love those kind of stories,” Everett told me.

As a third-generation San Jose State graduate, I couldn’t think of any better way for me to help deepen the city’s companionship with SJSU than that moment, with Everett, right there and then.

I did not plan this ahead of time. I was among those dining with Everett at Scott’s Seafood before the event and then simply showed up to the gig like always, just as I’d done for countless other author events. But man, what a night.

This was only one author event of several in the 2023/24 season.

Last September, Hua Hsu, who won the Pulitzer for his memoir, Stay True, arrived to read from the book and answer questions.

To a degree, Hsu was a South Bay product, so he came with stories and memories of Tower Records and pro soccer matches. The pregame was at Mezcal that time around, as it was when K-Ming Chang showed up the following month. At 25, Chang was wise and intellectual far beyond her years.

The Mezcal pregame continued just last week, before Leila Mottley sold out the same room upstairs at Hammer.

Going back even further, a year ago, Pulitzer winner Anthony Doerr gave a wicked presentation in Morris Dailey Auditorium, just a few weeks after Hanif Abdurraqib rolled through Hammer Theatre.

Did I say Joy Williams wore dark sunglasses everywhere? Well, she did, even at Il Fornaio afterwards.

If you missed any or all of this, have no fear. You still have a chance to see the university’s Spring Writer in Residence Kate Folk on May 7 at Hammer Theatre. 

Thirty-five years ago, none of this would have happened off campus, because aside from exceptions like Original Joe’s, few venues and restaurants were open past 9pm. Things are better now. Hail Spartans, Hail!

Gary Singh
Gary Singh
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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