Crime Time 

The legacy of Chester Himes

SAT 5/14

The late crime novelist Chester Himes was a paragon of popular African-American fiction writing, a born storyteller who perfected his art in prison (he served seven and a half years in Ohio for robbery) and then later, behind such unforgettable characters as Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, emerged as the black answer to Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane. Himes' successes -- Crazy Kill, All Shot Up, and Cotton Comes to Harlem with Coffin Ed and Gravedigger; If He Hollers Let Him Go, A Case of Rape, and more -- set the standard for African-American crime fiction from Walter Mosley to Renay Jackson. Which brings us to this year's Chester Himes Black Mystery Writers' Conference, taking place this Saturday at the James Moore Theater of the Oakland Museum. The tenth annual conference, subtitled "A Decade of Sleuthing: Celebrating the Creativity of the Black Mystery Writer," opens with a symposium on the elements of contemporary urban crime fiction as exemplified by East Bay author Jackson (Oaktown Devil, Turf War). Is so-called "hip-hop fiction" really all that different from, say, the hard-edged tough-guy lore of Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim? Jackson himself, in company with Himes scholar Norlisha Crawford and panelists Nichelle Trimble, Gammy Singer, and Glenville Lovell, try to come up with the answer at the 9:15 a.m. panel discussion. How deep do you want to go into black crime fiction? There are four other panels in the all-day event (8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), including a student writing contest, talks by authors on the literature of race and politics, and the Himes Award presentation. Topicality is the name of the game -- the 10:30 a.m. panel, hosted by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Benson, addresses the pros and cons of intensive news coverage of crimes.

The conference is sponsored by the Friends of Chester Himes (FOCH), and the $65 admission includes morning refreshments and lunch. To register, e-mail or The Oakland Museum of California is at 1000 Oak St. For more info: FriendsofChesterHimes.orgKelly Vance


Lit Happens

Our Man in Rwanda

A young widow learns that letting go isn't the sort of process you can plan -- so she ends up in Oregon, in local gal Lolly Winston's debut novel Good Grief. Bereavement and the Beaver State go hand in hand at Altamont Books (Wed., 7 p.m.). ... So hot: The appropriately named Heather Ash demonstrates firewalking with an almost-real bed of coals at Bookshop Benicia to celebrate You Can Do It!, a merit-badge handbook for grown-up ladies (Thu., 7:30 p.m.). ... No, it's not mellow; it's Blitzkrieg at Barnes & Noble, with St. Mary's College MFA students Joseph Kim, Allison Landa, and Matt Russell reading their explosive works at the Oakland store (Fri., 6:30 p.m.). ... His reportage feels so real that it hurts, but in a good way. New Yorker contributor Philip Gourevitch reads from We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda at the Oakland Library's West Branch (Sat., 2 p.m.). ... It's the lane where Allen Ginsberg used to live: Contributors read from their works in Milvia Street Magazine at a publication party at Vista Community College, 2020 Milvia St., Berkeley (Sat., 2:30 p.m.). ... Occasional memory lapses don't mean you have Alzheimer's: Adam Rosenbaum offers technical and commonsense tips in How to Remember Not to Forget. Remember to meet him at Spellbinding Tales (Sat., 7 p.m.). ... Burl Willes collected more than four hundred historic postcards to create Picturing Berkeley: A Postcard History. Ask him where the windmills went at Cody's Fourth Street, where his signing launches a day of jazz in the neighborhood (Sun., 11:30 a.m.). ... Why the long face? Mary Jane Ryan discusses her new book The Happiness Makeover: How to Teach Yourself to Be Happy and Enjoy Every Day, at El Cerrito Library (Tue., 7 p.m.). ... He broke out of a Berkeley cult that merged mind control and hypnosis with a twisted take on Christianity and lived to tell the tale. Steve Sanchez discusses his book Spiritual Perversion at the Book Zoo, 2556 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley (Tue., 7:30 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus

SAT 5/14

Noise Employs

Bay Area avant-noise-rock innovators move through the ranks of 7 Year Rabbit Cycle almost as frenetically as the breeding of the band's titular Leporidae. Big, weird guns Devin Hoff, Adam Werner, Cain Blanchard, and Steve Gigante have already cycled out; the current lineup features Rob Fisk and Kelly Goode (formerly of Deerhoof), Miya Osaki (the Chinkees, Asian Man Records), Ches Smith (Good for Cows, Redressers), Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), and prolific writer George Chen (Megaweapon, Chen Santa Maria, USOutofOurUterus). Each new incarnation brings creative takes on the ol' improv stomp-and-howl, and if you head down to 21 Grand's newish space at 416 25th St. in Oakland this Saturday, you're sure to get your head caved in and freshly reconfigured. Brothers and sisters in noise also appearing: Oakland improv electronic duo D. Yellow Swans, Burbank trio Rose for Bodhan, and Hello Astronaut, Goodbye Television, from Tujunga (it's near Los Angeles). All ages, $6-$10 sliding scale, 8:30 p.m., 510-44-GRAND. -- Stefanie Kalem

SAT 5/14

Abnormal Forman

These punks might just get lucky

Back in 1997, the headliners for 924 Gilman's annual Punk Rock Prom were Olympia scene queens Sleater-Kinney, who were, at the time, perched just on the cusp of widespread crossover acclaim. This year's funky formal offers a chance to show off your Lee Nail tiara and duct-tape suit to the tune of San Francisco's Two Gallants; the barely-old-enough-to-drink duo currently have as good a chance as any to break out of the regional underground and bust out big all over. A drummer and a singer-guitarist thrashing out ragged, hobophile blues -- Fantasy Under the Moonlit Sea it ain't, but you still might be able to steal second base on the dancefloor. Also on the bill in Berkeley is that accordion-toting songsmith from Seattle, livewire character and Punk Rock Prom return performer Jason Webley, plus local punks This Is My Fist, Abi Yo Yo's, and Acts of Sedition. The magic begins at 8 p.m. and the cover is $5 ($4 if you're rocking the prom attire). All ages. Info: 510-525-9926, 924Gilman.orgStefanie Kalem


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