BPLF Authors Dinner 2013 - Berkeley CA.
Mickey Hart and Joel Selvin at the Berkeley Public Library Foundation Authors’ Dinner on Saturday Feb. 9. Photo: Richard Friedman

By Mal Warwick

Who knew? Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart isn’t just a musician. It turns out he’s also a musicologist of considerable note, and he’s collaborating with neurologists to conduct research on the potential use of rhythm to reawaken brain function in people with dementia. Hart’s brief conversation in the spotlight with Event Chair Linda Schacht Gage at Saturday’s 11th Annual Berkeley Public Library Foundation Authors Dinner was the hit of the evening. Yes, Hart writes books on his research, too, and he was one of thirty recently published authors honored at the dinner.

Running a close second as a crowd-pleaser was Sam Barry, a San Francisco humorist, the brother of Pulitzer-Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, whom he closely resembles and whose greetings he passed along. Sam Barry was recently a candidate for Mayor of San Francisco, running under the slogan, “How bad could he be?” But there’s more. Barry is also a virtuoso on the harmonica, and one short command performance led to an electrifying encore that left smiles stretching all across the room.

The dinner was held in the high-vaulted second floor of the Central Library, transformed into an elegant dining space. Photo: Richard Friedman

Now solidly entrenched as a Berkeley tradition, the Berkeley Public Library Foundation Authors Dinner has been a sold-out affair for the past decade despite a tariff that has climbed to $500 per plate. The event has been chaired since its inception by Linda Schacht Gage, and emceed every year by her former Channel 5 and KQED “Newsroom” colleague Bill Schechner. Pulitzer-Prize-winning Berkeley novelist Michael Chabon served as Honorary Co-Chair for the dinner with his wife, the author Ayelet Waldman (who missed the spotlight because of illness).

Among the thirty authors celebrated at the dinner were fantasy novelist and screenwriter Peter S. Beagle, cookbook writer Carol Field, poet Maxine Chernoff, UC Berkeley economist Barry Eichengreen, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning historian Leon Litwack, Beat Generation poet David Meltzer, novelist Gail Tsukiyama, and Stanford historian Richard White.

Pam Houston and Linda Schacht Gage at the BPLF Authors’ Dinner. Photo: Richard Friedman

Saturday’s event attracted enough local political figures to jump-start a revolution: State Senator Loni HancockAssemblymember Nancy Skinner, two-thirds of the Berkeley City Council, including Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Linda Maio, Gordon Wozniak, Darryl Moore, Susan Wengraf, and Laurie Capitelli, as well as City Auditor Anne-Marie Hogan.

Despite their numbers, the politicos were outnumbered by other local notables including former PBS “NewsHour” correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth, computer scientist John Gage, 4th Street developer Denny Abrams, former Berkeley head librarian Regina Minudri, Meyer Sound owners John and Helen Meyer, former Chronicle music critic Joel Selvin, Sybase co-founder and environmental activist Bob Epstein, former Cody’s owner and now literary agent Andy Ross, philanthropist and political activist Steve Silberstein, former housing activist and now investment adviser Marty Schiffenbauer, and realtors Barbara and Kim Marienthal, as well as head librarian Donna Corbeil and many members of her staff. No doubt there were legions of other local celebrities present. Those are just the ones I know and stumbled across in the crowd.

A unique centerpiece created by one of the artists featured at Berkeley’s Castle in the Air store graced every table. Photo: Richard Friedman

The annual Authors Dinner is the biggest source of funds for the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, other than gifts to its capital campaigns. The money supports Executive Director Kirsten Cowen and the ongoing advocacy efforts and other programs she coordinates.

There have been two successful capital campaigns: the first, for $4 million around the turn of the century, spearheaded by former Berkeley City Auditor Anna Rabkin, to pay for the fixtures in the elegant new Central Library; and the second, just concluded, for $3 million, chaired by Linda Schacht Gage, to renovate or rebuild the city’s four branch libraries. (Two of the branches – North Berkeley and Claremont – have already reopened. Both South Berkeley and West Berkeley will debut within six months.)

David Meltzer at the BPLF dinner. Photo: Richard Friedman

The event was held in the high-vaulted second floor of the Central Library, transformed into an elegant dining space – extremely crowded with 310 guests – by event organizer Marjorie Randell-Silver and her team. A brilliant installation by celebrated artist Vita Wells graced the library’s main entrance, rarely failing to attract favorable notice. (For a view of Wells’ work, visit the library before Feb. 28 or check into her website.) On every table was a unique centerpiece created by the artists featured at Karima Cammell’s  4th Street art shop, Castle in the Air, where the objects will be on display this month.

Read a press release by the Berkeley Public Library Foundation about its successful, recently-completed $3 million Branch Library Improvement Campaign.

View a full photo gallery of the dinner by photographer Richard Friedman.

Mal Warwick is a long-time Berkeley business owner and author whose newest book, The Business Solution to Poverty, will be published Sept. 9 by Berrett-Koehler. Mal may be reached at mal@malwarwick.com

To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.

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