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Reading Steve Tollefson, Berkeley ‘writer at work’

By Cathy Cockrell

The writings of the late Steve Tollefson, creator of “Berkeley Writers at Work,” will be celebrated in a session of the venerable campus author-interview series, set for Tuesday, Oct. 20, from 5 to 6:30 p.m., in Doe Library’s Morrison Room.

Steve Tollefson

Steve Tollefson (UC Berkeley photo by Peg Skorpinski)

“We know — knew — him as a colleague, teacher, mentor of new faculty, organizer of the Distinguished Teaching Award, and tireless advocate for teaching excellence across campus,” wrote Tollefson’s successor as director of the campus’s Center for Teaching and Learning, Richard Freishtat, in an invitation to the campus community.

“A fortunate few of us knew him as a writer,” he added. Through a staged reading of Tollefson’s writing, “you will recognize Steve’s wit, his humanity, his plain good sense.”

Tollefson, who died in June at the age of 66, came to Berkeley in the early 1970s to teach writing. But as a minister’s son “who tries to practice what he preaches,” as he put it, he also exercised the skills he taught. In intelligent, down-to-earth essays and stories, he tackled a broad range of topics — from names in fiction (Holly Golightly, Yossarian, Humbert Humbert, Eustacia Vye, Queeqeg were favorites,) to his sweaty efforts to memorize poems while working out at the gym.

In 1997 Tollefson created Berkeley Writers at Work as a way to focus on faculty members as writers. “Research at Berkeley is highlighted in many ways on this campus; to a lesser degree, so is teaching,” he wrote of its launch.”However, writing itself — the primary way that faculty convey the results of their research — is rarely discussed.”

A compendium of writing by and about Tollefson is available online.

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