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 Patch.com. 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; http://tinyurl.com/PasAuthFair.  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 email@vromansbookstore.com, or visit vromansbookstore.com 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 www.crowncitynews.com.

Here's a link with information about the show:
crowncitynews.com/ccnsunrise