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Artful Influence: Conference Examines the Lasting Impression of Philip K. Dick

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For Professor David Sandner, the year of science fiction at Cal State Fullerton continues with this month’s two-day conference: “Philip K. Dick, Here and Now.”  

The April 29-30 conference follows Pollak Library’s fall celebration of the 50th anniversary of Frank Herbert’s “Dune.” It coincides with an exhibit in the library’s Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery featuring key works from the library’s University Archives and Special Collections and new art inspired by Dick.

Both the conference and the exhibit are luring local fans as well as academics from Italy and China.

But the professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics isn’t simply focused on spotlighting the genre writer’s influence on science fiction literature and film. Sandner hopes to inspire writers just beginning to discover Dick’s cult works including the manuscripts and novels in the Pollak Library’s University Archives and Special Collections.

He’s on a mission to inspire future writers.

“They’re going out to write in business, in print, and on the web,” Sandner said. “Storytelling there needs to be good. I’m trying to get them to do that. I want them to feel, to ask ‘Who am I because I choose to read these stories?’ Certainly Philip K. Dick asked. Knowing that makes us more aware and makes us better writers.”  

Philip K. Dick spent the last decade of his life in Orange County, questioning capitalism, exploring cultural values and exposing the human nature surrounding him. He wrote fantasy that simulated surveillance and included uncanny predictions that give his work a sense of immediacy even today. And he did all this while mingling with CSUF students of the ‘70s.

“In his writing he had a way of saying ‘you’re there now, who are you now? Are you still human?’ ” Sandner said. “He lived nearby and you get the feeling that he could still be here for this.”

The student-produced conference is born from Sandner’s promise to his graduate students who showed an interest in Philip K. Dick. If the students built a web site — Philip K. Dick in the OC — and maintained it, he would promote it, Sandner promised. The two-year-old site morphed to SF at CSUF, and gained enough support from “PKD” followers to merit the conference and enough momentum to grab the interest of award-winning Steampunk authors and alumni James Blaylock and Tim Powers, who were friends of Philip K. Dick.

“I wanted our graduate students to learn there’s a science fiction community out there who will respond, and that if they work hard, people will respond to them,” Sandner said. “We’ve invited them to do something extraordinary here.”

The conference is given in conjunction with the yearly Acacia conference of the English Department graduate student group, and includes lectures on Dick’s record collection, student symposiums, and discussions with authors and faculty about race, religion and robots in Dick’s works.

Blaylock and Powers will lead an invitation-only creative writing workshops for CSUF students preceding the conference, on Thursday, April 28.

Conference keynote speaker Ursula Heise is a UCLA professor in English and at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and her research and teaching are an intersection of contemporary literature and environmental culture. Her forthcoming book examines the cultural meanings of endangered species. She’ll deliver her keynote 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the Titan Student Union.

The Friday, April 22 ‑ June 16 exhibit in the library’s Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery, and co-sponsored by the Art Department, features key holdings from the library’s University Archives and Special Collections, and new art based on four of Dick’s works: “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Minority Report,” and “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.”

A full schedule for “Philip K. Dick, Here and Now” is posted here.  

Media Contacts:

Cerise Valenzuela Metzger, 657-278-3708, 
Chi-Chung Keung, 657-278-8487,