An excerpt from Saturnalia has been published in Shahrazad Press' new short story anthology, One for the Road. The third volume in a series, One for the Road is available for purchase on Amazon:

Man of Peace

Jimmy Carter discusses his ‘Full Life’ at Vroman’s Bookstore

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Weekly, 7/30/2015

From his early childhood in segregated Georgia and his early political battles to life during and after the White House, former President Jimmy Carter shares the often challenging experiences that shaped his social, religious  and political views in “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” which Carter will be signing tonight, july 30, at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.

A peanut farmer who became an engineer and nuclear physicist, rising to governor of Georgia and then president in 1976, Carter examines his relationships with his parents and wife of nearly 70 years, Rosalynn, and describes how his childhood friendships with African-American children later made him a defender of civil rights.

He also expresses his regrets and disappointments about the 1980 presidential election, in which he lost to former California Gov. Ronald Reagan, due largely to the Iranian hostage crisis in which 52 people were held for 444 days by Iranian revolutionaries overthrowing the government of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

In the book, Carter also shares how his Christian faith became the source of his empathy for others, as well as his hunger for peace and human rights, a passion that earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

“There are times when courage is required, and genuine humility is not easy to retain for those of us who are blessed with almost every possible advantage,” he writes. “To put myself on an equal basis with a homeless person, a drug addict, a destitute African family, or some neighbor who might be lonely or in need tends to make me feel uncomfortable. But when I succeed, I find that I am ennobling them — and myself. This is not just an idealistic theory, because I know from a few such occasions in my life that it has been true.”

Carter addressed the issue of inequity in American society — including the role that the criminal justice system plays — during his now-famous Law Day speech at the University  of Georgia in 1974.

“In general, the powerful and the influential in our society shape the laws and have a great influence on the legislature or the Congress,” then-Gov. Carter said. “This creates a reluctance to change because the powerful and the influential have carved out for themselves or have inherited a privileged position in society.”

Hunter S. Thompson was in the audience that day and was so impressed that he grabbed his tape recorder from his car in between trips to refill his iced tea with whiskey.

“I have heard hundreds of speeches by all kinds of candidates and politicians, but I have never heard a sustained piece of political oratory that impressed me any more than the speech Jimmy Carter made on Law Day in May 1974,” wrote Thompson in “The Great Shark Hunt.” “It was a king hell bastard of a speech, and by the time it was over he had rung every bell in the room.”

Since leaving the White House, Carter has become one of the most active and impactful ex-presidents in history. Most notably, he became a proponent of Habitat for Humanity, which provides housing and house-building opportunities for low-income people around the world. The San Gabriel Valley chapter is currently reviewing applications for nine single-family homes to be built in the Arroyo Seco in place of the old Desiderio Army Base.

He and Rosalynn also founded the Carter Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting disease, hunger, poverty, conflict and oppression around the world. In Africa, the Carter Center has led a coalition that reduced incidences of Guinea worm disease from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to just 126 today, putting the disease on the path to eradication.

Carter will be at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, at 7 p.m. tonight to sign copies of his new book, as well as his 28 other books.

He recently spoke with the Pasadena Weekly about his life and career.

Pasadena Weekly: Did some of these early events in your life that you describe in the book influence and shape your positions later?
Jimmy Carter: Well, yes. My early childhood and later my time in the Navy and when I was a farmer for 17 years, all of those early events before I got into politics shaped the attitude I have towards my country and towards myself.

And the campaign against Homer Moore [for Georgia State Senate in 1962] seemed like it prepared you for politics later.
(Laughs) Well, it did. I learned the hard way, but I also saw that there were improvements that needed to be made in the political system. But I think we have a much worse situation now, with massive quantities of money going into all the campaigns than those early days.

Citizens United certainly didn’t help.
No, well that was one of the worst decisions that the Supreme Court ever made. It’s really dealt a severe blow to the moral integrity and honesty and idealism of our electoral system.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote that your 1974 Law Day speech was a “king hell bastard of a speech” and made him give politics one last chance. Was that speech a turning point or high point for you as well?
I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time, until Hunter, who was there in the audience, started promoting the speech and talking about how good it was, so I went back and listened to it again. It’s kind of an extemporaneous speech, because I threw my prepared speech in the trash just before I made the speech, and then I wrote [a new one] on a piece of scratch paper. And it expressed my concerns about the fairness and objectivity of our entire judicial system, and I still have a concern about that. The poor people and the minorities, they suffer most from our judicial system, and it’s almost impossible to imagine a rich, white man getting executed, and so forth.

Has anything changed since then? Has anything gotten better? It seems like the criminal justice system still results in inequity and it’s still only the poor that go to prison.
No, I don’t think anything has gotten better, as a matter of fact. Since I left the governor’s mansion, we have seven times as many people in prison in America as we did when I was there. Per capita, we had one per thousand when I was governor. Now we have about seven people per thousand in prison. We’ve got 3,500 or more now in prison for life who have never committed a crime of violence. And we still have the death penalty, which we didn’t have when I was governor and when I was president. So I think we have gone backward in objectivity and fairness of our judicial system.

Do you think we’ll ever abolish the death penalty?
Well, I hope so. I think the general public is changing very slowly toward an aversion of the death penalty. If you ask the American public, “Would you accept an end to the death penalty if there was a mandatory life sentence without parole,” then the majority would say yes.

There seems to be a disparity between the Christianity of conservatives and the Christianity that you espouse, which seems to be more literally based on the teachings of Jesus in terms of peace, nonviolence and giving to the poor. What are your thoughts on that disconnect?
I wouldn’t want to criticize them but there is a certain dramatic difference now. When I was in office as president, as a matter of fact, there was a time when there was an allegiance formed between, you might say, the conservative Christians and the Republican Party. And so, since then they’ve been much more inclined toward severe punishment and going to war and that sort of thing to resolve differences than before. That never had happened before, but ever since 1978 or so, when I was in the White House, that partnership with the Republican Party has been in place. I think it’s gotten stronger perhaps.

Are you hopeful or skeptical about the new deal with Iran over its nuclear program?
I’m very hopeful and very pleased with it. I think it’s better for the United States and it’s better for the entire world than what we were faced with. And I have complete confidence with the fact that John Kerry has negotiated an agreement that can be enforced, and if the Iranians don’t comply with the agreement, then I don’t have any doubt that the sanctions will be re-imposed right quick.

And, of course, you’ve had personal experience with Iran. What are your personal thoughts? Do you think there was a deal between the Reagan campaign and the Iranian government to release the hostages after you left office?
I’ve never known for sure. All I know is we finished negotiating the freedom of the hostages while I was still president, and the airplane was parked at the end of the runway ready to take off that morning, and they didn’t permit the American hostages to go free until after I was out of office. But what kind of arrangement was made or deal was made, I don’t have any idea.

Do you think the public was misinformed about what happened or didn’t have access to the full story?
I don’t think the public ever gets access to the full story, because it’s distorted by all kinds of reporting and withholding of the truth from the public by various players, but I think that the last three days I was in the White House I never did go to bed at all. Three days and nights I stayed up negotiating for the release of the hostages and, of course, I was very pleased when they were released, but I was disappointed that the ayatollah held them in captivity longer than necessary.

What is your take on the 2016 presidential race so far?
Well, of course, the Republicans have, I think, 16 people running right now. And Donald Trump seems to be dominating the news. I don’t think FOX News and MSNBC could’ve survived without Trump these last couple weeks. I don’t think he has a chance to get the Republican nomination — certainly not to be elected president—but he has taken charge of it. And he’ll be one of the leading speakers or debaters when FOX has the first debate in August. I think the Democrats still have a good chance to win, and, of course, I’m a Democrat and I’ll support the Democratic nominee.

In the Democratic field, who do you like, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or someone else?
I think there’s still some searching going on about that, although Hillary’s in the lead by far and has done the best job of raising money, so she has a tremendous advantage. I think all the odds are that she will be the nominee. But I think Bernie Sanders has been a surprising candidate, and I think if Elizabeth Warren had run, she would be even stronger than Bernie Sanders.

What can the two parties do to address the issue of income inequality in the 2016 race?
I hope that the candidates on both sides, both the Republicans and Democrats, will address that because it’s gotten much worse since I left office. Because with the advent of Citizens United and pouring money into [elections], it gives rich people much greater influence over the Congress and the president when they are in office, and, of course, they get increasingly better deals on taxation and help from the government and so forth, compared to the average working person. I hope that will be changed, a day into this election, but I’m not sure it will.

Have we made any progress in terms of resolving the Israel/Palestinian issue or establishing peace in the Middle East?
No, I think it’s in a low ebb right now. It’s at the worst state that I have known since I’ve been involved in politics, and that’s been a long time. We have fewer influences in both Israel and among the Palestinians than we ever have before. The Netanyahu government has indicated quite clearly that it has no intention of complying with international law or with the policy of the United States. So, at this point, I don’t see hope for progress in the immediate future.

Do you think eventually it could change? For example, similar to the Cuba situation, which seemed doomed but can come back from the brink at some point?
Well, the Carter Center doesn’t give up. We have full-time offices in Jerusalem, the West Bank and also in Gaza, so we continue to work over there constantly to try to find some way to reopen the possibility of a peace agreement. But unless we have help from the US government and help from the Israeli government, I don’t think we’re going to make any progress. I don’t see any immediate prospect of that being done.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to be more effective outside of government than you were when you were in office, or did your experience in government allow you to be effective outside of it?
The latter. I think the fact that I was president of a great country has given me the ability to do what we do at the Carter Center. It gives me access to almost everybody in the world. We have a lot of influence when I go somewhere, so we’re able to negotiate peace agreements with people, we’re able to observe troubled elections — we’ve just finished our 100th troubled election — and this coming year we’ll treat over 70 million people for terrible diseases. So I would not be able to do any of those things unless I had been president first.

Shahrazad Press of Berkeley, CA, has published the first issue of its short story anthology, entitled My Keys Don't Know Where I Am!!! The anthology features one of Justin Chapman's short stories, "The Devil's Breath." Buy it here for $10.

The second issue, also featuring two short stories by Justin (called "All It Takes" and "Rise") is titled For the Sheer Lamb of It! It is available here, also for $10.

Shahrazad Press of Berkeley, CA, has just published the second issue of its short story anthology, entitled For the Sheer Lamb of It! The anthology features two of Justin Chapman's short stories, "All It Takes" and "Rise." Buy it here for $10.

The first issue, also featuring a short story by Justin (called "The Devil's Breath") is titled My Keys Don't Know Where I Am!!! It is available here, also for $10.
Thanks to everyone who came out to Justin's book reading at the Half King in New York City!

The Los Angeles Press Club has nominated Justin Chapman as a finalist for the 57th annual Southern California Journalism Awards for his feature story in the December 25, 2014, issue of the Pasadena Weekly about Joan Williams finally riding in the Rose Parade nearly 60 years after being denied due to her race.

Williams was selected as Miss Crown City 1958, a Rose Queen-like honor at the time. She was supposed to ride on a City of Pasadena float in the Rose Parade that year. When city officials discovered she was African American, however, they canceled the float and denied her the ride in the parade, along with other perks she was supposed to receive. In November 2013, Justin broke her story in PW. A year later Tournament of Roses officials offered her a spot on the lead float in the 2015 Rose Parade, and then-Mayor Bill Bogaard issued a formal apology to her. Justin's nominated story, "Justice on Parade," explains how that offer came to be:

The LA Press Club awards ceremony will be held Sunday, June 28, from 4:30 to 9 p.m. at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Here is a list of all the finalists:

Here is some coverage of the nominations by the Pasadena Weekly:

Justin has been requested by the Hatchery Press to read from his book Saturnalia. The Hatchery Press is a unique and creative space for writers and artists to work and play.

The event will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 23, 2015. The Hatchery Press is located in Hancock Park at 5611 Clinton Street, Los Angeles, CA 90004.

For more information, visit

Pasadena Public Library hosts annual Author Fair

By Sammy Wu, Pasadena City College Courier, 3/18/2015

The Pasadena Public Library hosted their its Annual Author Fair on February 21 where many independent, freelance writers from around the Pasadena area gathered to speak to fans and to give readings of their books.

Justin Chapman, a graduate of both Pasadena City College and the University of California, Berkeley, recently finished a trip across Africa, going to areas such as Cape Town and Mityana, Uganda. In his trip through Africa, he has been involved in a plethora of exciting events, such as witnessing a witchcraft healing ceremony, nearly dodging death in a car accident, and visiting a poor township.

All of these events were collectively written about in his new paperback book Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia.

Chapman encourages people of all ages to pick up his book, which has already received positive reviews.

“I hope that the book will open people’s eyes to the real Africa, beyond what is depicted in television documentaries and fleeting media accounts of atrocities and struggles,” said Chapman. “The stories Saturnalia contains and the conclusions it draws are important and should not be passed over or forgotten.”

Moreover, journalist and children’s author Yvonne Senkandwa debuted two of her books at the event: “Nkinzi and Nammikka Have a Tea Party”and “Nkinzi and Nammikka Go to the Farmer’s Market.” The two books take place in Kampala, Uganda, and it is intended to promote Ugandan cultural pride and language among its readers, specifically those who are Ugandan.

Senkandwa, who was born in Kenya to Ugandan parents, expressed the importance of taking pride in one’s cultural identity.

“I simply set out to write about the day-to-day life experiences of the African girl in the international world, to let the African girl know that the world will demand she knows her value and self-worth,” Senkandwa said. “It is important that the African girl loves herself, as she joins other little girls of other races and ethnic backgrounds in her global communities. It is also important that the African girl does not feel different in any way because of her skin color.”

Furthermore, Nancy Young was present to promote her book “Strum,” which was a finalist in the USA Literary Fiction contest and a recipient of the Independent Publisher Book Award. The novel centers on a young deaf man, Bernard, who is awakened one day by the sound of music created by the spirits of his great grandfather, who was Iroquois, and his great grandmother, who was European.
The music leads him to a nearby forest in his hometown of Quebec, Canada. It is at this forest that he sees a 800-year-old tree naturally fall down, and he decides to collect the wood to make two guitars. One guitar is later shipped to Europe, while the other is sent to Asia. The story then follows the trajectory of these two guitars.

“I was inspired by my personal journey and the journeys of people I know, when writing the book,” Young said. “I travel a lot as a child and as an adult. I have been to Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and Europe, and it is such experiences abroad that motivated me to write a book on love, family, culture, environment, spirituality, and magic.”

The Pasadena Public Library is located at 285 East Walnut St. and will host another Author Fair in October as part of ArtNight Pasadena.

Lessons learned in wild Africa

By Sammy Wu, Pasadena City College Courier, 2/26/2015

Justin Chapman, alumni of Pasadena City College and University of California, Berkeley, has many accomplishments under his belt.

At age 19, he began writing for the Pasadena Weekly, and from there, went on to publish news-breaking stories for over 20 leading publications, including LA Weekly, Berkeley Political Review, and At 19 years old, he was also the youngest elected member to serve on the Altadena Town Council, beating out the 57-year-old vice chairman of the council by earning 63 percent of the vote.

Now with the release of his book, Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia, he can add author to his resume.

The book centers on his three-month excursion across Africa in Spring 2012 from Cape Town, South Africa, to Mityana, Uganda. During the journey, he barely avoided being institutionalized in a mental hospital, stayed in a poor township that valued art-making, was almost killed in a car accident, wandered about the mythical Zanzibar island, watched a witchcraft healing ceremony, and relapsed into his heroin addiction, all while hunting for compelling stories and finding love in the most unexpected of places.

The book, which is intended as a travel diary and an anthropological journal, grew out of a series of blog posts collectively called “Saturnalia: A Trek Through the Lands of Lawlessness.” The posts were infused with intense and often overwhelming emotions because Chapman would write his experiences as they were happening to him. He said many people were moved by his stories and waiting to see what would happen next. Such reaction was what motivated him to turn the blog into a paperback book.

The process of writing the book was difficult and time-consuming, for contrary to what Chapman initially thought, it took much more than just simply copying and pasting. Yet, the process was also cathartic because he learned a lot about himself—his limitations and his strengths.

And now he hopes that he could somehow inspire other readers, particularly those from this generation, about the undiscovered gems of Africa, as well as the lessons he learned along the way.

“I hope that the book will open people’s eyes to the real Africa, beyond what is depicted in television documentaries and fleeting media accounts of atrocities and struggles,” said Chapman. “The stories Saturnalia contains and the conclusions it draws are important and should not be passed over or forgotten.”

“This book can be beneficial and influence in positive ways the relationship people in the rest of the world have with Africa. There are remarkable changes going on in Africa and people should know about them,” he added.

The book has already garnered positive reviews from a myriad of renowned writers.

“Chapman’s vivid prose turns every paragraph into a photograph of a strange, dangerous but alluring land. As his characters indulge themselves with sometimes reckless abandon, the author communicates a sense of adventure for adventure’s sake and draws the reader into riding along without hesitation,” said Joe Piasecki, editor of The Argonaut and former Los Angeles Times reporter.

Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, Skagboys, and The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, called the book “the perfect metaphor for contemporary American youth, painfully trying to work through its own baggage, and openly and sincerely seeking to engage with the world beyond the USA’s established physical and cultural borders.”

Chapman originally planned on staying in Africa to become a diplomat for the U.S. Foreign Service in Africa. He even took an exam for a placement in the department, and he passed the first round, which only 3,000 of the 20,000 applicants pass annually. He did not pass the second round of exams, but he wanted to try again had he not met and fell in love with his fiancée, Mercedes Blackehart, upon coming back to America.

He now resides in Pasadena, California, with Mercedes and their dog Fiona, cats Mason and Dixon, and tortoise Stockton. He is the secretary for three board of directors: ACLU Pasadena/ Foothills chapter, Men Educating Men About Health, and West Pasadena Resident’s Association. In addition, he is the Project Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy.

Swimming in words

Pasadena Central Library hosts Author’s Fair Saturday

By Ellen Snortland, Pasadena Weekly, 2/19/2015

Walk into my home in Altadena that I share with my husband, and — if you’re a neat freak — prepare for a screeching desire to scream and then flee. In almost every room you’ll find books everywhere, with many stacked in precarious piles; there is the scent of paper, leather bindings and candles. For bibliophiles? Ahhh … you are home. Put up your feet and spend a few decades. I’ll bring you a cup of tea.

Many of us are becoming antique in our love of physical books. But what we’ve also got going is a love of e-readers, because we can walk around with a device that only weighs 10 ounces, yet can contain as many books as we have in the entire house with room to spare! It is the best and worst of times for reading and writing geeks.

Nature dictates readers as well as writers adapt and learn how to do the best we can to survive in a technological revolution. As we dive deeper into the digital age, there’s a balancing act many of us do between convenience and conventional ways. It’s convenient for readers to shop online. It’s author suicide to not be on Amazon or have some kind of online presence. On the other hand, there’s really nothing like having an author read directly from her or his work in person, with real blood and bones, pen and ink, brick and mortar all in one place.

And that place is a real, honest-to-goodness library or book store. I’m urging you to put down this newspaper (or the book you’re already reading), and get your butts in gear to show up and support Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, our most famous ferociously independent bookstore.  In addition, you’ll want to visit Altadena’s own lovely and eclectic store Hoopla! where local authors are routinely celebrated. And let’s not forget about the Pasadena and Altadena Public Libraries and their myriad and distinctive branches that appeal to all readers, even those just learning how.

On Saturday, in what is the second of a now-annual event, the Pasadena Public Library is sponsoring
Author Fair. The fair features many familiar San Gabriel Valley authors in and out of the Pasadena Weekly’s line-up, including me and Justin Chapman, along with other familiar authors like Anne Louise Bannon, Elizabeth Pomeroy, Petrea Burchard and way too many others to mention in this small space.

We’ll be selling, signing and speaking. Thus you have all the materials together in one place; the fluids and material essentials of our intellectual lives in this community: flesh and blood (the authors), brick and mortar (the library) and pen and ink, or fingertips and keyboards. These are the liquids and solids of our collective work toward understanding human beings and our experience together.

OK, I know I’m geeky. But really, what else is writing and reading other than the attempt to glean what it is like over there, in that other body or universe inhabited by other people?

In my writing, I attempt to point at and illuminate the darker realms of violence that we all encounter and what to do about it. Yes, we all experience and process violence, whether it’s a direct threat from a stranger, an abusive boss we are afraid of, or vicariously through the paralysis we feel when our child comes home to say she or he is being bullied at school. My latest book, The Safety Godmothers, is funny and practical; it provides real-world answers to highly relatable and ordinary boundary violations, which includes verbal, emotional and physical self-defense success stories.

Chapman, my colleague at the Weekly, writes about his journey from Cape Town, South Africa, to Uganda in his newly released Saturnalia. It is an emotional, geographical and spiritual journey that is hair-raising and hysterical, sometimes within the same paragraph.

Lest you think, “Wait a minute … this is blatant self-promotion,” let me clear that up for you. Why yes, Dear Reader, you’re darn tootin’ it is! Think about the books that became the commercial successes we all love. Do you have any idea the type of resources that big publishers use to promote their already successful authors? A big fish (and wonderful) author like J.K. Rowling has a huge PR fleet behind her; she doesn’t need to self-promote. So we smaller fry — whether self-published or with small independent publishers — need to promote ourselves or our words will never reach you. Never.

So bring the kids! Exult in the gorgeousness of the Pasadena Central Library, while bathing in the sensual experience of being with books. There’ll be coffee and pastries available at the Espress Yourself Coffee Bar. The authors will be live and possibly nude! Just kidding. We will be clothed, but you have to admit it got your attention.

Make it a new habit with your family to attend this event each year.

Author Fair is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St., Pasadena;  SAVE THE DATE! Lisa Gaeta and I will be having a special reading and author signing event for “The Safety Godmothers” at 7 p.m. March 9 at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320, write, or visit for more information.

On Friday, March 27, between 7 and 8 a.m. Justin will be interviewed about Saturnalia on Crown City News Sunrise, a live morning TV show on KPAS. He will also participate in the show's "Morning Buzz" segment discussing the important local, state, national, and international issues of the day.

CCN Sunrise runs on the Arroyo Channel 32 in Pasadena on AT&T Uverse and online at

Here's a link with information about the show:

Intertwined narratives tell of adventures in Africa

Reviewed by Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews, 1/16/2015

Justin Chapman’s travel memoir Saturnalia tells two intertwined stories. One is the travelogue of a young American writer venturing alone through several southern African nations; the other is a memoir of a drug addict starting to relapse while abroad. The former is the stronger of the two plot lines, but both are told in conversational prose that generally works at conveying the ups and downs of the author’s untethered existence while in Africa.

Starting in Cape Town, Chapman journeys through other parts of South Africa before he visits Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Rwanda, and stays for an extended period in Uganda. He relates experiences that will be familiar to backpackers, from the way those sharing a hostel become important friends for just a few days to how something as minor as needing to buy camera batteries can become a complex ordeal. But he also memorably tells of dealing with corrupt police who demand bribes, interacting with annoying fellow expats, and surviving genuine danger in unfamiliar environs.

One notable anecdote involves the author covering a village’s traditional investigation into charges of using witchcraft, journalistically detailing the procedure while skeptically criticizing the superstitions behind it. Another describes having a train-trip discussion about depression interrupted by a spectacular view of giraffes feeding. Chapman sometimes comes off poorly in his own narrative, seeming snarky or even petulant, but this provides a different take on a travel-narrative protagonist, and hints at a self-destructive side that gradually dominates the book.

The drug-addict storyline is always present, as Chapman speaks frankly about the Africa trip being partly a way to quit heroin. He never goes long without popping Xanax or getting high with other travelers. Because relapse seems inevitable, this aspect of the book isn’t quite as compelling as the rest. Still, Chapman is aware of the travel experiences he passes up by allotting time and resources to the quest for a fix, which adds a layer of melancholy on top of the more obvious effects of his drug habit.

Overall, Saturnalia does a nice job capturing the angst of a young writer trying to experience a different life while struggling to avoid the pull of his old one. Whether emotionally affected by a Rwandan genocide memorial or physically impacted by a sudden car crash in Zimbabwe, Chapman comes away from his African journey with some interesting stories, and he shares them in an open and often engaging manner.
There was standing room only at the launch event at Vroman's Bookstore on January 13. Special thanks to everyone who came out to support this book. Vroman's staff had to ask the publisher to go out to his car and get more books, because the 40 they ordered weren't enough! Vroman's also said it was the largest turnout they've had in quite awhile, and told Justin he could come back any time.

Art Aids Art had a table at the event selling art from the township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town, South Africa. Tom Harding spoke about that organization and how Justin came to visit them in Cape Town. Then Pasadena Weekly deputy editor Andre Coleman introduced Justin, who showed photos and told stories about his three-month trip through Africa, read a chapter from Saturnalia, and signed copies for those standing in a line that wrapped around the room.

Here are some photos of the event:

Justin will have a booth featuring his book Saturnalia at this year's Get Healthy Pasadena, an annual health conference hosted by Men Educating Men About Health (MEMAH) and Pasadena City College (PCC). Justin is the Secretary of MEMAH's board of directors. The event offers FREE health screenings for men and women over 18.

In addition to screenings for diabetes, prostate, BMI, hearing, vision, dental, blood pressure, cholesterol, and stroke, for the first time Get Healthy will feature three additional screenings:

  • SureTouch, a non-invasive, radiation-free breast screening (B. Smith L.Ac. - Pasadena Breast Wellness Center; Sponsored by Women Educating Women About Health)
  • Ultrasound for liver and kidney, with a liver specialist on hand to provide analysis and advice based on your ultrasound (Dr. Shafiei - West Coast Ultrasound Institute; Dr. Mena - Huntington Medical Research Institutes)
  • PULS test, which detects the #1 cause of heart attacks: unstable cardiac lesion ruptures (G. McLane - GD Biosciences; Dr. Jacobi - Healthy Living Medical)

In addition to the great local restaurants who have provided food at Get Healthy in previous years and will be returning - such as Whole Foods, The Corner Bakery, Buca di Beppo, Stonefire Grill, Heirloom, Bristol Farms, Robin’s Woodfire BBQ and more - this year’s Get Healthy food court will include local favorite Tender Greens and a cooking demo by California Pizza Kitchen. Lunch will be provided, courtesy of the Food Court, to participants who complete 5 or more screenings.

Get Healthy’s Speaker Series includes 3 seminars this year. A men’s only talk on Prostate & Sexuality will begin at 9 a.m. At 10, top medical doctors who are also on MEMAH’s board of directors (including Jerome Lisk, MD, Joshua Jacobi, MD, and Mauro Zappaterra, MD) and the Women’s Advisory Board (Beauty Swe, MD) will discuss Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the heart, pain and “Improving a Healthy Attitude”. The final seminar on domestic violence begins at 11, with a panel including Pasadena Chief of Police Phillip Sanchez, Ahmad Elhan of the Allstate Foundation, Tara N. Thacker, MD, of Kaiser Permanente, Sandra Abarca, MS, of Planned Parenthood, and Linda Offray, Founder of Sheppard’s Door. The invited moderator for the domestic violence seminar is Beverly White of NBC.

For more information or to make a screening appointment, call (626) 389‐2759 or visit

Photo by Mercedes Blackehart

Quest for self

Saturnalia author Justin Chapman recounts his adventures in Africa Tuesday at Vroman’s Bookstore

By Carl Kozlowski, Pasadena Weekly, 1/08/2015

After graduating from UC Berkeley in 2009, Justin Chapman could have been like millions of other American millennials, with a lack of job prospects limiting his vision for his life. But Chapman stands out in a crowd, having been elected to the Altadena Town Council at age 19, as well as establishing himself as a top freelance writer for Pasadena Weekly long before he finished his education at the prestigious university.

Instead of taking a dead-end job or an internship, Chapman earned the money to follow his lifelong dream of traveling in Africa. The riveting blog that he created along the way of his three-month adventure in the summer of 2012 has now morphed into the travel memoir Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia, and he will be discussing and signing the tome Tuesday at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.

“The idea was to do as much writing as possible, and the fact that it’s now turned into my first published book is the cherry on top of the cake,” says Chapman, 29. “It worked out beyond what I thought it could have. I had already done travel writing in Thailand, Europe and China and this was to see whether I could put my money where my mouth was and do a full book on travel writing.”

Chapman says he had wanted to visit Africa “since I was a little kid,” and had already been to 18 other countries before he embarked upon his journey to that continent, figuring that “it seemed the grandest adventure I could think of.” He teamed up with Art Aids Art, a charity organization he had previously profiled in the Weekly due to its work in helping impoverished African women find American markets for their art, and went along in 2012 on one of the group’s “jungle justice” trips to Cape Town, South Africa.

Aside from his connection with that charity, Chapman also received help from a priest his mother knew in Uganda, who agreed to shelter the young traveler when he passed through his area. Since the priest lived 3,000 miles from Cape Town and Chapman wanted to see that vast expanse of land up close, he rode buses and trains between the destinations.

“I had no idea what cities or even countries I was going to visit, or how I’d get there,” recalls Chapman. “I figured out my trip as I went, and after a couple of weeks in Cape Town, I decided to go to Johannesburg and stayed in a hostel before heading into Zimbabwe. I mapped it out as it happened.”

That fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach resulted in a series of memorable adventures, including a 30-hour “bus ride from hell,” a massive car crash without any available seatbelts, an encounter with a pygmy tribe that grew massive amounts of marijuana and opium, and a facedown with a bogus witch doctor. He fell in love with life there so much that he took the exam required for consideration of employment in the US Foreign Service in Africa.

“I really loved Africa, and when I was there I wanted to be a diplomat of some kind,” he explains. “I passed the first test, which only 3,000 of 20,000 applicants pass every year, but didn’t pass the second exam. I would have tried again if I hadn’t met Mercedes, my fiancée, soon after returning here.”

Indeed, out of all that Chapman learned in his travels, the most important was that he was ready to find love. His fiancée, Mercedes Blackehart, helped him design the book and by extension, “changed my life around, by being this rock for me.”

Now working as a project fellow, researcher and writer for the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, in addition to serving as the secretary for three boards of directors, Chapman clearly is not ready to slow down.

Saturnalia sports a glowing endorsement from Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh: “The best and most arresting travel books are the ones that also take us on the author’s inner journey. Justin Chapman’s memoir is a perfect metaphor for contemporary American youth, painfully trying to work through its own baggage, and openly and sincerely seeking to engage with the world beyond the USA’s established physical and cultural borders. Don’t miss this one.”

“I’m advocating adventure for adventure’s sake, getting out and seeing the world, a living-in-the-moment approach to life,” Chapman said.

Justin Chapman will discuss and sign Saturnalia: Traveling from Cape Town to Kampala in Search of an African Utopia at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit