North Korea, La Mission, and Found Plays -- just another week in San Francisco

Last night, fiction writer and Stanford lecturer Adam Johnson read at our second annual Gina Berriault award event at San Francisco State University's Poetry Center. He read to us from a novel in progress that is set in North Korea. One of the story's main characters was a loudspeaker that made us, as an audience, chant nationalist propaganda in English and Korean.

Johnson was, in a word, phenomenal.

Every now and then I have these glimpses of how other people live creatively. On Monday, while interning at KQED's Forum, I had the opportunity to meet Benjamin Bratt and his brother Peter, two talented men in the film industry whose latest work, "La Mission," tackles the thorny yet common theme of clashing cultures and ideologies in one of San Francisco's most fascinating districts. The younger Bratt, who is most known for his television work, spoke eloquently about this desire to channel both the artistry and complexity of a bridge between generations and ideologies. I was struck not so much by both Benjamin and Peter's obvious talent, but by the way they made it all so personal. They grew up here. They've heard stories. They've driven low-riders. They have a desire to reconnect with a population that they both identify with and systematically question.

One local story that I find particularly exciting is a new SF State project headed by Theatre Arts Professor Joel Schechter, who while researching a book on 1930s Yiddish plays, stumbled across a lost script outline originally devised by the Works Progress Administration's Federal Theatre Project in 1937. Schechter and a group of his graduate students then adapted the outline into a musical called Money, an aptly named piece both for its Great Depression origins and for its current economic relevance. Talk about the creative process - what must it be like to revive a story decades old, one that brings startling new meaning in the post-housing-crisis world.

I wonder what our country would look like, if we had a Federal Theatre Project now, if the government valued the arts in a way that it did the sciences or academia. Maybe then there'd be more out there about up-and-coming writers and artists whose work makes life digestible, even powerful.