Author Bill Bryson with A&L Leadership Circle members Jane & Paul Orfalea | Credit: Emily Hart-Roberts

On March 2 before his lecture at the Granada Theatre, author Bill Bryson joined UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L) Leadership Circle members and their guests for a reception and dinner in the Founders Room. Bryson is the author of A Walk in the Woods; A Short History of Nearly Everything; his latest book about which he was speaking, The Body, A Guide for Occupants; and numerous other popular books. 

Bryson mingled with the 45 guests during an extended cocktail hour, before everyone was seated for the program and enjoyed a buffet dinner from the always stellar Kay Bowman Catering. Bryson lauded A&L for its impressive assortment of events, noting how rare it is for a community to have offerings such as those Arts & Lectures presents. He extended his gratitude to the donors for enabling A&L to host these artists and lecturers.  

The program consisted largely of the sweet opportunity for guests to ask Bryson anything on their minds. In response to a question about his next project, Bryson replied “retirement,” where he looks forward to spending time with his kids and 12 grandkids and doing some traveling.  

In light of his latest book, The Body, A guide for Occupants, the subject of the coronavirus was raised. Bryson commented that it’s striking how much we don’t know about the virus, which is what makes it so scary. He made the same observation about medical science generally, despite the great progress that has been made in some areas. Bryson pointed to the unreliability of breast and prostate cancer screenings and to dementia. He remarked how medical advances allow us to live a lot longer now, with the result that we are now more susceptible to diseases of old age like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, where, according to Bryson, there has been zero progress.

When asked what prompted his latest book after having written many travel books, Bryson explained that the string of travel books was by accident. Once an author succeeds in a particular genre, as he did with A Walk in the Woods in this country, Bryson related that publishers put a lot of pressure and provide financial incentives to continue with that genre. He noted that he has managed to write a bit in other genres, including the nonfiction piece, One Summer: America 1927 and a biography of William Shakespeare.  

Earlier in the day, Bryson addressed a group of students in UCSB’s College of Creative Studies, which included a Q&AHaving a lecturer meet with students is quite common – more than half of Arts & Lectures artists and lecturers do some type of education or community engagement programming while here. Students in K-12, college students, and the community at large benefit from a wide range of enlightening, inspiring, and enjoyable experiences.  

Some educational highlights in the past year include cello virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma coaching UCSB students in a master class, National Geographic photographer and Photo Ark founder Joel Sartore speaking to 1,200 plus elementary school students at the Granada Theatre, and U.S. Women’s National Team co-captains Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe conducting a clinic for 200-plus young soccer players. Later this month, through its Arts Adventures Program, about 2,000 grade 5-7 studentswill come to the Arlington Theatre, with transportation provided by A&L, to hear the legendary Jane Goodall discuss her work.

On another front, A&L’s Viva el Arte de Santa Bárbara! brings top Spanish-language programming to community venues, schools, and low-income housing sites operated by Peoples’ Self- Help Housing, with all performances free of charge. Next up is Las Cafeteras, who will perform later this month at Isla Vista School, Guadalupe City Hall, and the Marjorie Luke Theatre, as well as do a demonstration and reception at Peoples’ Self-Helping Housing’s Chapel Court.

Another program — A&L’s Thematic Learning Initiative — brings free lectures and films to the community.  Next up is the film Anthropocene – The Human Epoch on March 10 at UCSB Pollock Theater with a Q&A with filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal.  Five events are offered in April, including a moderated conversation and film clips with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard at the Granada Theatre. For more info about A&L, go to

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Tim Eaton and Leadership Circle member Betsy Atwater
Tipper Gore, A&L Leadership Circle member Leslie Bhutani and Beryl Kreisel
A&L Ambassador Luci Janssen, author Bill Bryson, and A&L Council Co-Chair Rich Janssen
UCSB students and faculty with author Bill Bryson
Author Bill Bryson with A&L Leadership Circle members Jane & Paul Orfalea


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