Why do story and photograph work so well together?
How is it that a wonderful story told to me on a front porch
can be enhanced so much by black and white photography in a way
that the human brain responds viscerally and takes in the entire world?
- UCR Creative Writing Professor Susan Straight
The essays of Joan Didion and James Baldwin were early inspirations to renowned writer Susan Straight who has collaborated with eminent photographer Douglas McCulloh for More Dreamers of the Golden Dream. “Didion wrote about California as no one else had, but though I learned so much from her elegant and incisive sentences, I felt as if she didn’t know my people – here in inland Southern California – and I determined to write about them. The history of Riverside’s Eastside, in particular, is part of my family,” says Straight. Unique to Southern California, the inland area saw an epic migration of former military men from a wide range of places; Straight’s father-in-law and many of his neighbors were black men from Oklahoma, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and elsewhere who chose Riverside after being stationed at March Air Force Base. Their stories of life in Southern California always fascinated Straight, and her generation heard amazing stories of the Old South and the New California. The community has remained close and strong, but the older people are disappearing now and the Eastside is becoming fragmented due to fire, loss, and development.
Straight and McCulloh present several stories for More Dreamers; some feature older residents and high school athletes, and some about the actual physical place, including The Place – a landmark club now gone – and Daisy Carter’s house, which burned down in 2012, but remains a legacy of the Eastside.
The photographs taken of Eudora Welty, Mary Ellen Mark, Don Bartletti, and others were also inspirations for Straight’s novels and short stories. Straight and McCulloh have been working together on KCET’s ArtBound project, as well as on assignments for BOOM and The Huntington Library. “To see the landscape through photography and pair that with the stories people are willing to tell me is a wonderful confluence and a great chance to help others see my particular world,” says Straight.
Douglas McCulloh is an artist, writer, and curator. He is an honors graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and holds an M.F.A. in photography from Claremont Graduate University. He is a three-time recipient of project support from the California Council for the Humanities and has curated 14 exhibitions, including three for the California Museum of Photography. McCulloh is one of six artists who transformed an abandoned Southern California F-18 jet hanger into the world’s largest camera to take the world’s largest photograph. He views this photograph as a marker of the border crossing between 170 years of film-based photography and the era of digital dominance.
McCulloh exhibits widely in the U.S., Europe, China, and Mexico and has shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing; Musée de l’Elysee, Lausanne; Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône; Institute de Cultura de Barcelona, Barcelona; Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles; Southeast Museum of Photography, Florida; Asian Cultural Center, New York City; and UCR/California Museum of Photography, Riverside.
McCulloh’s most recent curatorial project focuses on international blind photographers. Since 2010, Sight Unseen has traveled to ten institutions, including Kennedy Center for the Arts, Washington D.C.; Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City; Manuel Alvarez Bravo Center for Photography, Oaxaca; Center for Visual Art, Denver; Flacon Art Center, Moscow; and Sejong Center, Seoul.
Susan Straight has published eight novels: Aquaboogie; I Been In Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All The Pots; Blacker Than a Thousand Midnights; The Gettin Place; Highwire Moon; A Million Nightingales; Take One Candle Light a Room; and Between Heaven and Here. Her first middle grade reader, The Friskative Dog, was published by Knopf in March 2007. Her picture book, Bear E. Bear, was published in 1995 by Hyperion Books.
In 2011, Straight received the Gina Berriault Award for Fiction from San Francisco State University. In November 2007, Straight received The Lannan Award for Fiction for her body of work. In 1998, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction.
She has published essays and articles in numerous magazines and journals, including The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Harpers, The Believer, The Nation, Reader’s Digest, Real Simple, Family Circle, Salon, Oxford American, and Ms.
She has also been a regular commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.
Born in Riverside, California, in 1960, Straight still lives here with her three daughters. She is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside, where she has taught since 1988. She received the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2008. Currently, she is the Director of the Master of Fine Arts Program and serves on the Academy of Distinguished Teachers at the university.