• Cal Performances at Home Beyond the Stage

My Old Home, A Novel of Exile:
Orville Schell and Peter Sellars in Conversation, with Musical Interludes

Illuminations “Fact or Fiction” Talk
Recorded Tuesday, March 30, 2021
Free and open to the public.
This event was available to view on demand for three months, through June 28, 2021.

Orville Schell, Peter Sellars, Zha Jianying, My Old Home book cover

Orville Schell—Director of the Center on US–China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, former Dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and a uniquely experienced observer of contemporary China—joins renowned theater director Peter Sellars for a livestreamed conversation centered on Schell’s just-published My Old Home, A Novel of Exile. Revealing complex truths as sometimes only fiction can, Schell’s book takes readers on a vast journey from the rise of Mao Zedong in 1949 to the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, a story of a son and his classical-pianist father swept away by the relentless series of devastating events that have marked modern Chinese history. Among other topics, My Old Home explores the huge divide that arose under the Chinese Communist Party between the imperatives of the individual and the state, especially as experienced by artists and musicians. Schell and Sellars will be welcomed by New Yorker contributing journalist, writer, and cultural critic Zha Jianying, who will introduce the conversation.

Orville Schell is respected for his many nonfiction books, articles, and videos covering decades of life and travels in China since 1974, and My Old Home—his first work of fiction—is a distillation of this extensive fact-based reporting, expressed through the experiences and inner lives of its characters.

Peter Sellars, a major figure in staging classical and contemporary world theater and opera—including landmark productions of the masterpiece of traditional Chinese Kunqu opera, Peony Pavilion, as well as the original production of John Adams’ now legendary 1987 opera Nixon in China—observes that Schell’s book is “epic [in] scope and pinpoint detail… illuminated from within and sustained by music.”

Zha Jianying 查建英 is a writer, journalist, and cultural critic in both English and Chinese. Her work has appeared widely in publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Nineties Monthly, Dushu, and Wanxiang. Her latest book (co-authored with Kato Yoshikazu), Freedom is Not Free: A New Decameron, was published in 2020 by Oxford University Press in Hong Kong and is currently excerpted at China Heritage, translated by Geremie Barmé. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Zha also has been a regular commentator on current events on Chinese television and worked for many years for the India China Institute at the New School.

Produced in partnership with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, this event is presented as part of Cal Performances’ Illuminations: “Fact or Fiction” programming, which examines the balance artists and authors strike between historical accuracy and poetic license to create work that resonates with meaningful impact without completely obscuring the truth.

This talk is free and open to the public, and will feature a Q&A session. The livestreamed discussion will also showcase recordings of some of the music that is featured in Schell’s novel.

Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
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