The On the Road with California Humanities conversation series was part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative, an extensive collaboration between 46 state humanities councils with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Campfires Initiative set out to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize—a prestigious honor first launched by publisher Joseph Pulitzer in 1917— “in ways that [would] deepen and inspire the public’s engagement with and understanding of the value of great literature, history, music, drama, and journalism.”

Throughout 2016, over 200 Pulitzer-winners and finalists participated in over 700 free, public “campfire” events nationwide with both in-person and virtual attendees. Through our On the Road series, California Humanities held six such events highlighting Pulitzer-winners across the Golden State, including journalists, food critics, novelists, playwrights, academics, artists, and more.

In a panel moderated by USC Professor William Deverell that drew over 500 attendees, Pulitzer-winning historians Alan Taylor and Elizabeth Fenn kicked off the On the Road series at Pasadena’s Huntington Libraries and Gardens, discussing the importance of historical literacy, which, according to Fenn, provides “more than job skills—it’s about the human spirit.”

After hearing from Fenn and Taylor, we headed to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, where legendary late Angeleno restaurant critic, Jonathan Gold, anchored a panel about the future of food in his home state. Alice Waters, and Sarah Smith from the Institute for the Future discussed the future of food in this land that includes both plenty and need with author and Central Valley peach grower Mas Masumoto.

Although California produces almost half of America’s fruits, nuts, and vegetables, one in seven Californians are experiencing hunger—a glaring problem among many that the speakers on the sold-out panel sought to address.

“Food equality has to begin…when children are young,” said panelist Alice Waters, the California chef, and restaurateur who popularized the farm-to-table movement. “I want to advocate for free school lunch for every child in this country—organic, local foods [and] school-supported agriculture.”

After a stop in San Jose to discuss journalism and democracy with Pulitzer-winning reporters and authors Héctor Tobar and Rob Kuznia, along with authors and journalists Frances Dinkelspiel and Mark Arax, California Humanities traveled to the Steinbeck Center in Salinas to talk about water conservation with Pulitzer-winning experts, followed by a conversation in Fresno about the storied history of California’s farmworker movement. This conversation included Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bettina Boxall joined by Felicia Marcus, Chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board, Abby Taylor-Silva, Vice President of Policy and Communications at the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and Bruny Mora, alumni of the University of California – Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay Aquarium Teen Programs.

The tour then continued to Fresno where noted director and playwright Luis Valdez, founder of El Teatro Campesino led a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winner Miriam Pawel on how the farmworker movement of the past can help inform the future of agriculture, along with Dawn Mabalon, Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University and Samuel Orozco, author and National News and Information Director of Radio Bilingüe.

A group of performers stand on stage.
A youth performance by Destiny Arts Center brings the On the Road series to an end.

Finally, the On the Road series wrapped up in Oakland with a lively youth-focused celebration showcasing music, spoken-word poetry, and dance performances by California creatives. Artist and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, led a conversation with electronic music pioneer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Morton Subotnick, together with Sarah Crowell, Artistic Director at Destiny Arts Center, and Jordan Simmons, Artistic Director at East Bay Center for the Performing Arts. The evening included spoken word artist Donté Clark and youth music and dance performances.

According to Julie Fry, California Humanities President and CEO, going “On the Road” with Pulitzer-winners—and more than a thousand individual attendees across the state—was well worth it.

“This initiative has made us think about our role in sparking ongoing dialogues in communities, and we are thinking of continuing this sort of discussion going forward,” said Fry. “It provides a direct connection to the people of California, makes humanities-rich discussions accessible to the public across the state, and engenders wonderful partnerships.”