Scribes & Cartographers: The Nonstop Metropolis Team at NACIS 2016

This past weekend saw cartographers from the world over gather in Colorado Springs, CO for the North American Cartographic Information Society’s annual meeting. On Saturday eve, the Corlis Benefideo Award for Imaginative Cartography was presented to Rebecca Solnit. Attending in her stead, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, co-author of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, accepted the award on Solnit’s behalf.

In addition, Jelly-Schapiro delivered the keynote address, where he discussed in detail the maps from the city atlas series. His comparison of a scribe being awarded a cartography prize—by the top mappists in the land—being a bit like Bob Dylan winning his Nobel Prize in Literature was met with appreciation (and laughter) from the crowd.

Below is the speech penned by Rebecca and delivered by Josh. And, thanks to the world we live in, we could follow along via live reports from the scene:

Including a shout-out for the work of contributing cartographer, Chris Henrick:

Many years ago, I heard my dear friend and mentor Barry Lopez read his story “The Mappist,” in which the character Corlis Benefideo appears. I loved it, and of everything Barry’s ever written that I know, it seems most like Jorge Luis Borges’s work: a proposition about the possibilities of the world and the objects in it—in this case, maps and atlases, and their capacity to tell stories, transmit wonder, elicit passion, deepen our sense of place, and become compelling works of art. The story proposes other kinds of beauty than the ones we commonly hear about: the beauty of meaning, of devotion manifested through longterm projects, of intimate sense of place, and of maps as aesthetic objects.

To receive an award for maps of real places named after a fictional character is magical realism enough, but I want to exult in the fact that Barry Lopez wrote a small gem of an essay for the final atlas in our trilogy: Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, co-directed and co-edited by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, who’s come to accept the award on behalf of this eight-year three-volume project of mapping the three cultural capitals, the three island republics, that adorn the three coasts of the Lower 48. To receive an award named after a fictional character by a writer who also appears in the work for which the award is given is convoluted in a wonderful way, a moebius strip of friendship and impact, a tribute to how we make the world we inhabit.

I am sorry I can’t be here tonight, not least to try to recruit a few dozen cartographers for any future projects that may arise, but I’m truly grateful and deeply honored. Who better to decide the merits of our adventures in mapping than the people who make maps? I want to thank the cartographers I’ve worked with on these three books, Ben Pease, the main cartographer for the first atlas, Shizue Seigel for the second, and Molly Roy for the third, with extraordinary contributions by Richard Campanella, Chris Henrick, Darin Jensen, Jakob Rosenzweig and Ruth Askevold of the Estuary Institute, all designed into harmonious glory by Lia Tjandra of UC Press.

There are two kinds of books, and the kind that have maps in them have always struck me as slightly better, whether they’re maps of fictional places, as with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its beautiful maps hand-drawn by Tolkien’s son, or of places on this earth, as with the endpapers for Bernard DeVoto’s 1846: Year of Decision or so many of the western and urban books that fed my ideas about place and about the possibilities of maps. Maps are invitations to dream, to travel in our heads, to contemplate places and movements and relationships. Like no other kind of art, they invite us to imagine our own movements across the space depicted.

I began making atlases for several reasons, and I learned so much about maps as I went along. I wanted to make a series of propositions about cities that maps could make in ways my lifelong main medium, writing, doesn’t. If the narrative we call a storyline is like a road, a path, a river, then a map allows multiple storylines and times to overlap, collide, converge, and intersect. My first proposition in the maps we made was that cities are places of myriad coexistences between complementary and competing phenomena. The second was that cities are intellectually infinite: you can just map the roads and the parking and maybe the shopping or restaurants and leave it at that, and most utilitarian maps do, but there’s no reason why you can’t map the butterfly species or queer public spaces, the musical history or crime scenes or carbon footprints or spiritual life and sea level rise. Maps are versions of places, and every place exists in innumerable versions. The old Borges story about the map on a 1:1 scale with the territory was a joke, because even that wouldn’t represent anything near the innumerable meanings, histories, presences, contexts a place has, though many maps could at least hint at that complexity. Maybe a third was that though the history of maps is often imperial and colonial, mapping can serve justice, diversity, forgotten histories, erased groups, marginalized communities.

Another concern of mine was the role and value of maps in our lives in an era where many are leaving paper behind not for digital maps, but for digital directions. I’ve been struck by how many younger people are not map-users, but are phone-users, and how those of us who use maps internalize the knowledge so that, in a sense, we become atlases, become oriented, capable of traversing a place knowledgeably (or of getting lost without being helpless because we’ve learned to negotiate the unknown with skill). Thus it is that a paper map can be truly interactive, while a navigational device is something users depend on every time to issue instructions (or asking a local for directions). We learn to command the information on a map but submit to the orders of a device. I wanted to celebrate what maps have been and what they can be, portals to places and spaces through which we travel imaginatively in places we know and places we will never go. One of the things that I discovered along the way is that a great many people passionately love maps and respond to them with a joy that is unlike that elicited by any other art form.

At this point, I feel as if maps are themselves a territory, one I have begun to wander in and get to know a little. This wonderful award feels like an invitation to keep exploring what maps have been, are, and can be. So thank you again, citizens of the territory of maps.

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, Rebecca Snedeker, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

This post is part of a series on the atlas trilogy.

Behind-the-Scenes at UC Press: The Making of Rebecca Solnit’s Atlas Series

By Lia Tjandra, Art Director with Dore Brown, Principal Editor

A winning team: Lia Tjandra and Dore Brown

Each title in the atlas series had more moving pieces than any other book we’ve published. Multiple authors and contributors produced different parts that were worked on at different times. In our roles of project editor and art director, Dore Brown and I were the hub of the wheel, receiving and disbursing material from artists, cartographers, photographers, writers, copyeditors, proofreaders, museum partners, in-house staff, and, of course, the volume editors. It was a far cry from our usual linear workflow.

One of the first design decisions we made for the atlas trilogy was the trim size. I proposed that each map be shown on a spread and that the spread dimensions be square-ish, the way San Francisco is square-ish. In 2011, after the initial success of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, I briefly entertained the idea that the atlases for New Orleans and New York should have customized trim sizes that fit their respective map footprints. This was totally impractical, of course, and detrimental to the harmonious series look. But it was fun to imagine for a brief time!

Rebecca Solnit, who’s incredibly well connected to people in the artistic and intellectual community, brought in San Francisco artist Alison Pebworth to conceptualize and put on paper the logos for all three atlases. Each atlas has a unique visual identity, brainchild of Alison and Rebecca’s creative partnership. For the final logos, check out the finished books, but you may find these in-process sketches fascinating.

1 AP_infinite
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Infinite City
2 AP_infinite
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Infinite City
3 AP_Unfathomable
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Unfathomable City
4 AP_Unfathomable_
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Unfathomable City
5 AP_Nonstop
Sketch by Alice Pebworth, for Nonstop Metropolis

For each map, I started work with a base map from the cartographer. The very first map, Monarchs and Queens, had a skeletal, almost wire-frame appearance. We hadn’t developed a look or any map specifications yet, hence what you see here, from Ben Pease, is raw.

Raw map for Monarchs and Queens from Infinite City

Many months later, we had established the general look and feel of the maps, including the color palettes and type specs. Here’s the resulting Monarchs and Queens vector file.

Vector file for Monarchs and Queens map from Infinite City

After the map had been edited, I sent it to Mona Caron, a local mural artist. She tailored her illustration to the parameters of the map to create a vibrant piece of art that raised the map to a whole new level.

Final version of Monarchs and Queens map with illustration from Infinite City

The palette is one of the most important elements of each book. For Infinite City, the palette is muted and chalky. For Unfathomable City, we represented New Orleans with a watery and translucent look. For Nonstop Metropolis, we choose deeper and more intense colors to reflect New York’s energy and complexity.

It takes multiple rounds to get it right, and at least once during the production of each atlas we took all of the in-progress maps and spread them out on tables to see how they were gelling. The final decisions were always made by Rebecca and her coeditors.

Wildlife is one example of the creative process. Take a look at this early sketch and see how wildly the background colors and illustrations by Tino Rodríguez differ from the final version.

1 Wildlife_rough
Rough version of Wildlife map from Nonstop Metropolis, illustrations by Tino Rodríguez
2 Wildlife_Final
Final version of Wildlife map from Nonstop Metropolis, illustrations by Tino Rodríguez

From Nonstop metropolis: viewing a city’s crazy, diverse, complex history as an atlas in The Guardian:

“Tennessee Williams said: ‘America has only three cities, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. All the rest are just Cleveland,’” Solnit explains, before admitting there were other reasons she expanded this undertaking, which began as a commission from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to include the Big Apple and the Big Easy.

“They’re cultural capitals, three port cities on the three coasts of the US,” she says. “New York has been hovering in the wings for a long time. When this book comes out in October, I will be done making atlases for the foreseeable future.”

Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca SnedekerJoshua Jelly-Schapiro, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey.

To get a copy of Nonstop Metropolis, visit your local bookstore, or purchase online at IndieBoundAmazonBarnes & Noble, or UC Press (to save 30% on, enter discount code16M4197 at checkout).

This post is part of a series on the atlas trilogy.

A Look Back at Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

We are getting increasingly excited about the forthcoming publication of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, and a host of notable contributors.

This week we bring you a look back at Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, the first in the atlas series. Check in next week for a tribute to Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas.

Nearly six years ago, University of California Press published Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. We knew the book would be a hit, based on its intriguing content and format. It’s gorgeously designed, and written by one of the most prominent voices today, Rebecca Solnit. It would also play an important role as the beginning point for the series of atlas books from Rebecca.

Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas

Media-wise, the book was well-received across the board from journalists far and wide. The New York Times Book Review called it “inventive and affectionate.” The San Francisco Chronicle said it is a book in which “one can get happily carried away.” The UTNE Reader said it is “a fresh and intriguing spin on mapmaking.”

Since she published Infinite City, Rebecca has continued to write about her home city. She has written often about the effect of the tech industry on the Bay Area, twice in the London Review of Books. In 2013 she wrote about how tech industry salaries and commuting patterns have effectively turned San Francisco into a bedroom community for Silicon Valley companies further down the Peninsula.

In 2014 she covered the spate of protests against the Google and Facebook commuter buses, the private coaches run by these mega-Silicon Valley based companies that allow their employees to live in a wide spread (mainly the city of San Francisco) across the Bay Area, driving real estate prices astronomically high.

Another of her most prominent pieces of writing on her home since publishing Infinite City is the “Death by Gentrification” article published by The Guardian. It builds off her previous writing on income disparity and neighborhood gentrification, attributing the death of San Franciscan Mario Woods to an influx of white newcomers to predominately non-white neighborhoods:

Gentrification can be fatal. It also brings newcomers to neighbourhoods with nonwhite populations, sometimes with atrocious consequences. Local newspaper The East Bay Express recently reported that in Oakland, recently arrived white people sometimes regard “people of color who are walking, driving, hanging out, or living in the neighborhood” as “criminal suspects.” Some use the website to post comments “labeling Black people as suspects simply for walking down the street, driving a car, or knocking on a door.” The same thing happens in the Mission, where people post things on Nextdoor such as “I called the police a few times when is more then three kids standing like soldiers in the corner.” What’s clear in the case of Nieto’s death is that a series of white men perceived him as more dangerous than he was and that he died of it.

Next week we’ll be revisiting Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, as we get closer to the publication date of Nonstop Metropolis.

preview-full-Rebecca Solnit reading_photo credit Adrian MendozaNonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas is the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City and parts of New Jersey. Preorder your copy today.

The Oysters in the Spire

We are excited about the forthcoming publication of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, the final volume in our trilogy of atlases by Rebecca Solnit, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, and a host of notable contributors. Following the publication of the critically lauded Infinite City (San Francisco) and Unfathomable City (New Orleans), we bring you this homage—and challenge—to the way we know New York City, an exquisitely designed and gorgeously illustrated atlas that excavates the many buried layers of all five boroughs of New York City (and parts of New Jersey!). With this inaugural post, we launch a weekly series to bring you inside the books, share the process of creating them, and announce news, reviews, and events. Enjoy! We think you will appreciate it as much as we do!

The “Wildlife” map and its accompanying essay celebrate places and people who resisted and rebelled against the status quo in New York, including Angie Xtravaganza, founding member of the House of Xtravaganza, and the Chelsea piers, a free space for celebration and erotic encounters from the 1970s to the 1990s. The map juxtaposes these against the city’s elusive but omnipresent nonhuman population—the turtle species that live in Central Park, the muskrats in Lower Manhattan, and the coyotes that attended Columbia. While some wild species are on or over the brink of extinction—the endangered piping plovers at Rockaway Beach, the minks that used to be found in the Bronx—others, such as rats, cockroaches, pigeons, and bedbugs, are hardy survivors. And some—including the bulls and bears of Wall Street—exist only in our imagination. Together the map and essay explore how New York remains “a place of wildlife but also of wild life and wild lives.”

Click to enlarge

Our inspiration for this map was the art of Tino Rodriguez, a perpetual metamorphosis in which humans grow wings and breath takes the form of a bird and men’s bodies as well as women’s can be tender, flower-bedecked, mortal, carnal, spiritual—a world in which nothing is separated by category or species. His paintings are reminders that the natural world comes right into the city and asserts itself in a lover’s bouquet, a funeral wreath, in the ways animals furnish our imagination and the animals we catch sight of lift our spirits or break us out of our routine. This is a map about the forces that break the routines of the city, about the dissident forces that are in some ways life itself—life that existed before the orderly city of authority, outside it, despite it, and will live after it—forces that include saints and lovers, humans and animals, birdwatchers and nightclubbers.

—Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Nonstop Metropolis conveys innumerable, unbound experiences of New York City through 26 imaginative maps and informative essays. Preorder your copy today.

Join Us at the 2016 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA!


Nonstop Metropolis by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro






University of California Press is exhibiting at the 2016 AAG Annual Meeting! The meeting convenes March 29 – April 2, 2016 in San Francisco, CA.

Please visit us at booth #314 in the exhibit hall at the Hilton San Francisco in Union Square for the following offers:

  • 40% conference discount on all orders
  • Request exam copies to consider for course adoption
  • Enter for a chance to win $100 worth of books by subscribing to UC Press eNews

Please see our flyer at our booth for our latest releases. Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow AAG’s Facebook, @theAAG, and hashtag #aag2016 for current meeting news. Catch up on our recent blog posts on the Natural Sciences here.

Be sure to catch our authors at the following Author Meets Critics sessions:


Rebecca Solnit with Joshua Jelly-Shapiro
“Mapping the Infinite City” — A Talk on the “infinite trilogy” of Atlases
Wednesday, March 30th, 5:20PM – 7:00PM
Hilton Hotel, Imperial B, Ballroom Level


Garrett Broad
Land, Justice and Agrifood Movements I: Trajectories and Tensions
Tuesday, March 29th, 2:40 PM – 2:20 PM
Hilton Hotel, Union Square 4, 4th Floor


Erica Kohl-Arenas with Ananya Roy
Author Meets Critics: Erica Kohl-Arenas’ The Self-Help Myth
Tuesday, March 29th, 4:40PM – 6:20PM
Hilton Hotel, Plaza A, Lobby Level


Seth Holmes
Annual CAPE “James M. Blaut” Plenary Lecture
Wednesday, March 30th, 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM
Imperial A, Ballroom Level
Hilton Hotel


Julie Guthman
Papers in Honor of Michael Watts IV
Thursday, March 31st, 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM
JW Marriott Hotel, Metropolitan A, 2nd Floor

Chemical Geographies: Science, Politics, and Materiality
Friday, April 1st, 8:00AM – 9:40AM
Continental 6, Ballroom Level — Hilton Hotel


Ananya Roy
Sabotage, Ostentation, and Attitude: Transformations in Modes of Collective Life in São Paulo’s Peripheries
Thursday, March 31st, 5:20PM – 7:00PM
Hotel Nikko, Nikko Ballroom 2, 3rd Floor


Christine Shepardson
Spatiotemporal Symposium: Space-Time Concepts in the GeoHumanities
Thursday, March 31st, 5:20 PM–7:00 PM
Hilton Hotel, Union Square 1, 4th Floor

Islamic Identities
Friday, April 1st, 10:00 AM–11:45 AM
Hotel Nikko, Nikko Ballroom III, 3rd Floor

Rebecca Solnit and Richard O. Moore Honored by Northern California Booksellers and Reviewers

Infinite City coverUC Press congratulates Rebecca Solnit on winning two major awards for Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas: the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) Award for Regional Title of the Year, and the Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction.

The NCIBA Awards are decided by local booksellers who choose their favorite books in seven different categories; all books are written by authors living in the region. The Northern California Book Awards are decided by the Northern California Book Reviewers (NCBR) and honor the work of Northern California authors and translators.

Also honored was Richard O. Moore’s Writing the Silences. Moore was a Finalist in the Poetry category for both the NCIBA and NCBR Awards.

For more on Writing the Silences, read Susan Kelly-DeWitt’s wonderful book review in the Coal Hill Review. An excerpt:

As I rocked side to side in my seat, as the marshlands flashed past with their mirror-shards, and we rattled and swayed westward toward the bay, I felt “the hot and onrushing blood” [“The Winter Garden”] of Moore’s words rushing along inside me.

Infinite City: New Podcast with Rebecca Solnit and Lia Tjandra

Infinite City cover imageIn the latest UC Press podcast, host Chris Gondek talks to author Rebecca Solnit and UC Press Art Director Lia Tjandra about the creation of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas and UC Press’s act of faith in taking on the project.

In working on the book, Solnit says, she was alarmed to learn that she had only visited about half of San Francisco, despite having lived there since she was 18. But this experience confirmed her thesis that the potential for exploration in any city is infinite.

Tjandra talks about her design process, and the challenge of finding the sweet spot where information and art compliment each other. Reading Infinite City, she says, is like falling through Rebecca Solnit’s looking glass—she’ll never see San Francisco the same way again.

Listen to the podcast:


Read the New York Times’ review of Infinite City, which features the map “400 Years and 500 Evictions”.

Books and Baseball: Scenes from the Infinite City Release Party

Infinite City cover
Contributors, friends, and fans gathered to celebrate the release of Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas at the McCroskey Mattress Co. earlier this month. Not even a World Series game could keep them away, although the San Francisco Chronicle’s Leah Garchik did show up with with an earpiece in tuned to the game.

Over the course of the evening, contributors signed autographs, lounged on mattresses, and celebrated the Giants’ win—what artist-photographer Marion Gray called “the perfect image of San Francisco . . . We didn’t have to be sitting in a sports bar. We could be here at the mattress factory.”

The blog Mission Loc@l was also on the scene. Watch their video below, featuring brief interviews with Rebecca Solnit, Ben Pease, and Heather Smith. Then scroll down for more pictures of the party.

Infinite City party 1
Outside the McRoskey Mattress Company. © Michael Rauner
Infinite City part 2
Contributors sign copies of Infinite City. © Michael Rauner
Infinite City party 3
Maps from Infinite City. © Michael Rauner
Infinite City party 4
Solnit and friends lounge on a mattress. © Michael Rauner

A San Francisco Visionary

Rebecca Solnit photoUtne Reader has named Rebecca Solnit one of its 25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World, praising Solnit for telling a different story than the one told by mainstream media in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—”a story of strength and resilience” that revealed “the courage and humanity displayed by the millions of volunteers who helped save New Orleans from extinction.”Infinite City cover

Solnit will celebrate the release of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas at venues around the Bay Area this winter. Infinite City is Solnit’s reinvention of the traditional atlas, examining the layers of San Francisco’s cultural geography with the aid of cartographers, a designer, and 27 artists and writers, along with local experts on everything from labor history to butterfly territories.

Join Solnit at the San Francisco Public Library November 9, Moe’s Books November 10, SFMOMA November 11, the San Francisco Zen Center November 21, and City Lights Booksellers December 2.

Read 7×7 magazine’s feature on Infinite City, complete with three maps from the collection.