EL CERRITO -- Tess Taylor, recently the National Public Radio's "Newspoet" and currently a poetry reviewer for NPR on "All Things Considered," has had a fascinating intellectual journey since leaving El Cerrito to attend college in the East in 1996.
Taylor has established herself as an up-and-coming star in the world of poetry. She's managed to excel in it, according to her peers, while helping to popularize it, no minor feat at a time when most Americans seem to be becoming less literate and less concerned with the written word.
After living and working in the East since attending Amherst College in Massachusetts, Taylor settled in El Cerrito last year with her husband, Taylor Schreiner, who works for Twitter in San Francisco, and their 15-month-old son Bennett.
Since then, she's turned her muse to the contrasts she experienced living on both coasts, the traditions and continuity of the East compared with the transient culture of California.
She is dwelling more deeply on her home state now with a freshman writing course she is teaching at UC Berkeley that she is calling "Imagining California."
She has chosen internationally famous California writers John Steinbeck and Joan Didion for the reading list. She has also included "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner, the late Stanford professor and novelist who, like Steinbeck, had a close-up view of the West in his early years, and "City of Quartz," a documentary analysis of Los Angeles.
It is not exactly an ESL class, but Taylor said many of her students are from somewhere else and native speakers of languages other than English. She sees the experience as an opportunity to reflect on what it means "to be from someplace else," as she puts it.
"I'm surprised to come back (to California)," she said. "I'm feeling really called to it again."
The process of becoming a recognized poet began in the East. After college, Taylor settled in Brooklyn and doubled as a freelance writer and a waitress in an Italian restaurant.
"After college I didn't have any money to buy a car, so I moved to Brooklyn where I wouldn't need one," she said.
She had put together a modest selection of 30 poems which she entered in the Poetry Society of America's Chapbook Fellowship Competition. To her surprise, she won.
Her more recent work has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, the Boston Review, The Times Literary Supplement and the New Yorker. Her first book "The Forage House" will be released in September.
That recognition led to the opportunity at NPR, where she wrote and read poems on the air about the daily news.
Taylor said she moved to El Cerrito with her family from Wisconsin when she was 6 after her mother found a post-doctoral position at UC Berkeley. She attended Harding Elementary and Portola Junior High schools in El Cerrito before moving on to Berkeley High School because she wanted to take Latin. She said Latin has been a help in her writing and teaching.
Dorothea Lange's photos of industrial Richmond during World War II have been an inspiration lately.
"I'm really interested in everything around here, writing poems about Dorothea Lange, wanting to write poems about Richmond," she said.
Read the poem Tess Taylor wrote about El Cerrito that she read at a recent City Council meeting where she received a proclamation from the city online at http://bit.ly/Tbj6vN