Inter State: Essays from California, By José Vadi, 224 pgs.

Sep 16, 2021

“The only thing constant in life is change,” famously said Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Change, or transition, and documenting pieces from the past before they are completely gone, are at the center of Inter State, the debut collection of essays by José Vadi.

Across seven essays, Vadi—a California native who grew up in Los Angeles, went to college in Berkeley, and settled in Oakland—tells stories of transitions within his family, within cities he’s called home, and within his personal life, all in vivid and generous detail.

Born to a Puerto Rican father raised in East Harlem and a Mexican American mother from Los Angeles, Vadi is seen in the first essay (“Inter State”) conducting a videotaped oral history interview of his abuelo—his mother’s father—in the final years of his life. In subsequent essays, he notes the Bay Area cityscapes of San Francisco and Oakland altered by gentrification, marking what was before (long gone music and movie venues, skate spots that are no more) and what exists now (nondescript condos, all-consuming tech culture, and neighborhoods rebranded to appeal to newcomers). He also observes changes in his own life, from teenage punk skater to UC Berkeley undergrad to Oakland resident working on contract at local nonprofits, to having a girlfriend to being married.

Vadi, a sharp and sensitive chronicler who is highly attuned to transitions in physical and emotional landscapes, marks change not only in words but also through photography, as he does in the essay “Standing in the Shadows of Brands: San Francisco at Dawn,” in which he snaps fleeting moments in black and white: a friend standing in the shadows of a dive bar, a mix of morning commuters already slumped and weary on BART; and words (“I Don’t Wanna Be Afraid Anymore”) perfectly traced by finger in a layer of dirt on a car hood are a few examples.

Inter State: Essays from California is a captivating journey through memory and a witty, often humorous capture of transitions. An exciting debut by José Vadi. –Gina Murrell (Soft Skull Press, 1140 Broadway, Suite 704, New York, NY 10001,