Today on Speaking Out of Place I talk with the intellectual, writer, and activist Hilton Obenzinger about his remarkable life as all those things. He starts by talking about his earliest exposure to art and politics, as both a witness to and participant in such moments as the takeover of the Office of the President at Columbia University in 1968, the Farm Worker’s strike in California, the fight for the I-Hotel in Manilatown, activism around Indigenous rights in the 70s, to his work in the anti-apartheid movement and the anti-Zionist struggle for Palestinian rights, and finally to his recent work on Stanford’s Chinese Railroad Workers History project and his poetry on living through the pandemic, environmental crises, and the fascism of the Trump era. Winner of an American Book Award, and a published scholar, Hilton Obenzinger has been the embodiment of an engaged writer through some of the most important moments in US and world history.
Hilton Obenzinger writes poetry, fiction, criticism, and history. His books include Witness: 2017-2020, Treyf Pesach [Un-Kosher Passover], an autobiographical novel Busy Dying, How We Write: The Varieties of Writing Experience at Stanford University, Cannibal Eliot and the Lost Histories of San Francisco, American Palestine: Melville, Twain and the Holy Land Mania, New York on Fire [selected by The Village Voice as one of the best books of the year], and This Passover Or The Next I Will Never Be in Jerusalem, which received the American Book Award. Born in Brooklyn, he participated in the Columbia University rebellion of 1968, graduated in 1969, helped to operate a community printing press in San Francisco’s Mission District, and was active in the anti-imperialist, Native American, and Palestine solidarity movements. He taught writing, literature and American studies at Stanford University, and is Associate Director Emeritus of the Chinese Railroad Workers in North America project.