Clark Brown’s Essays Collected in About Chico

Clark Brown, English (photo KM)
"It's about time," say readers of English Professor Clark Brown's About Chico. Brown's Chico essays were written over the span of a little more than twenty years, and Brown refers to the collection as "an intermittent history of Chico ca. 1975-1996."

Published primarily in the Chico News & Review, but also in The San Francisco Sunday Chronicle's This World and other journals and small magazines, many of the essays respond to "some local event or crisis or controversy," writes Brown in the introduction, but only after they had "settled in my head, finding their own shape and voice." Together they form a sense of the special place that is Chico, a place where Brown never meant to stay, but a place that became home.

I took a class in the short-story from Brown in the early 80s. I had arrived in Chico a decade before with as little knowledge of Chico as a place as any outsider. (We used to say, "Thank God it isn't Chino," as it could have been for all we knew.) Brown's wry humor, his broad and eclectic knowledge that extended far beyond literature, and his thoughtful intellect made his class especially valuable and stimulating. Beyond that, however, he provided an intellectual space in which (although he certainly provided high standards and had his own strong ideas of what was good writing) students were both heard and allowed to develop in their own ways.

I experience his essays similarly: a dry and self-effacing wit characterizes them throughout (except for the more serious such as "Three Who Were Hanged"). The eclectic allusions and references can range, even in one essay ( "Where the Wild Things Are," for example) from philosopher Aldous Huxley to former CSU, Chico Provost Gerald Stairs, to educator Clark Kerr, to nineteenth-century writer George Eliot, to Dr. Seuss. The irony, surprising connections and strange juxtapositions of ideas gently forces readers to look anew at the place we live and the people we are.

For those who have lived in Chico or been at the university for any length of time, the collection is an enlightening and memory-nudging experience that makes history out of our lives. For those new to Chico who have a desire to know to what kind of place they have come, it is a must read.

In November, Brown read from About Chico as part of the Writer's Voice series. The audience was often not just chuckling, but laughing out loud. I appreciated, again, the great intelligence and wit of the writer, and the kindness and humility of the man.

About Chico is available at the AS. Bookstore and Tower Books.


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