Highway 99: A Literary Journey wrote the Central Valley back into the story of California, often defined by North and South. It also spoke to questions of diversity that persist in the current dialogue around U.S. identity today. Stan Yogi, editor of the literary anthology, explains: “We in California encountered that twenty years ago in 1996, around prop 187 and the backlash against immigrants then. We are seeing that playing out in other parts of the country now.”
California Humanities explored the road as a metaphor for California by producing the anthology, “Writers in Conversation” events, and reading and discussion groups that brought people together to discuss stories about their communities. The anthology mapped the literary landscape of the Central Valley, featuring 130 works ranging from early Yokut stories to contemporary fiction. California Humanities partnered with local publisher Heydey Press and public libraries throughout the region to build and strengthen community around a common literary heritage. Major authors, such as U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Richard Rodriguez, led conversations in their hometowns and placed their writings in the context of local history and regional concerns.
For Yogi, the project engaged with the idea that “all communities—whether we define community by geography, ethnicity, or interest—have to have shared stories to make it a community.” By initiating and guiding collective conversations around local history and regional fiction, the Highway 99 project helped local and newer residents alike to build a common story and thus, to experience our shared humanity across the state.