Rebecca Solnit Inspires “Infinite” City Living

10.20.11 Foghorn 3

During the Fall Fest events a few weeks ago, Rebecca Solnit presented to parents and students at an on-campus book discussion. (Infinite City was selected for the University’s summer reading program this year.) The author spoke about finding inspiration, overcoming challenges, and eating pink popcorn.

As the early afternoon sunlight flooded in, a vivid array of parents and students entered Kalmanovitz Hall. Gazing at the crowd, one could make out a series of tattered campus maps, laminated nametags, and Market Café coffee cups. Meanwhile, Rebecca Solnit was busy preparing for an in depth discussion about her latest book, Infinite City.

Right on cue, a speaker emerged to give a brief introduction. Cell phones were politely stowed into coat pockets and patent leather purses as people shifted their attention towards the front of the room. He began with a joke to liven up the audience. “Although there are some pretty good acts at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, I think you picked the right rock star to see today,” he said. “But please hold off on the stage-diving until after the show.” Laughter emanated through Kalmanovitz as a few latecomers snuck in quietly through the double glass doors.

Instantly, Rebecca Solnit’s calming voice quelled every murmur in the room. She stood directly in front of the audience, grounded in a pair of black ballet flats and chino pants. “I’ll try to talk over the rustling of all the It’s It wrappers,” she said. A few audience members chuckled as they clutch their chocolaty sandwiches, taken from the free ice cream cooler outside. “I hope you know that you’re eating quintessential San Francisco treats,” Solnit said with a grin. “In fact, the city is known for Rice-a-Roni and that delicious pink popcorn stuff.” Solnit elaborated on some impressive foodie history, referring to San Francisco’s undeniable culinary appeal.

The author briefly discussed a few different chapters in her book. Projected on the screen behind her were sample images from Infinite City’s detailed full-color drawings that accompany each story. She spoke about various neighborhoods in San Francisco, noting The Tenderloin’s distinct ruggedness and The Mission’s charming but eclectic vibe. According to Solnit, each part of the city can bring out certain elements of a person’s character. “Who you are changes as you move from place to place,” she said.

Solnit’s book encompasses a unique spectrum of relevant issues that San Franciscans face today. She creatively explains concepts through both text and image, using old-fashioned maps as inspiration for her artistic process. Throughout the book, she discusses the future of the arts scene, the growing sustainability movement, and the general culture that pulses through the city. These topics are close to Solnit’s heart and ultimately motivated her to write Infinite City. Candidly, Solnit admitted that she couldn’t take all the credit. Behind the book is a dynamic team of artists, cartographers and writers, who all collaborated to make it a success.

Although she’s not a native SF resident, Solnit came to the city at a young age. She then officially moved to San Francisco when she was eighteen. Passionate about its buildings, its nature, and its people, the author has taken a strong interest in educating citizens through the written word. Solnit fell in love with San Francisco as soon as she experienced its distinct vibe. “Walking around, just exploring the city…it’s magic,” she said.

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