Inter State: Essays from California

OUT NOW
on Soft Skull Press

A debut collection of poetic, linked essays investigating the past and present state of California, its conflicting histories and their impact on a writer’s family and life.

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California has been advertised as a destiny manifested for those ready to pull up their bootstraps and head west across to find wealth on the other side of the Sierra Nevada since the 19th century. Across the eight essays in the debut collection by José Vadi, we hear from the descendants of those not promised that prize. 

INTER STATE explores California through many lenses: an aging obsessed skateboarder; a self-appointed dive bar DJ; a laid-off San Francisco tech worker turned rehired contractor; a grandson of Mexican farmworkers pursuing the crops they tilled.

Amidst wildfires, high speed rail, housing crises, unprecedented wealth and its underlying decay, INTER STATE excavates and roots itself inside those necessary stories and places lost in the ever-changing definitions of a selectively golden state.

Read excerpts at The Paris Review & Stranger’s Guide
Go Behind the Scenes w/ Soft Skull Editor-in-Chief, Mensah Demary

Praise For Inter State: Essays From California

Most Anticipated 2021 Title – The Rumpus & Publishers Weekly & The Millions

“Part love letter, part indictment, this moving debut essay collection from Vadi captures the changing landscape of California. A native Californian, aging skateboarder, and poet, Vadi laments in deeply felt prose California’s transformation . . . The provocative observations will please essay fans.” —Publishers Weekly

“It’s a clear eyed collection, lyrical and well researched, anchored by Vadi’s charismatic and thoughtful voice. At turns fascinating and heartbreaking, Inter State explores California in an irresistible movement from a disappearing past to a fearful unknown.” —Joseph Houlihan, Chicago Review of Books

“Regardless of setting, every essay in this sharp collection addresses a different aspect of California’s gentrification, but the thread that holds the pieces together is Vadi’s own confusion, anger, and bitterness at watching the state that he knows and loves fade away before his eyes, providing a modern rejoinder to Richard Rodriguez’s kindred memoir Brown. At a line level, the book is outstanding, filled with long, breathless sentences, innovative syntax . . . Vadi’s talent shines in his descriptions of characters . . . A stunningly written . . . series of essays about California.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A must-read for all who wish to truly understand what it now means to be a Californian…the lasting triumph of Vadi’s collection is just how clearly it maps the endless concentric circles that together define what it means to love a place and loathe it all at once.” —Zack Ruskin, San Francisco Chronicle

“California is a palimpsest; there are cities and stories that were erased to make room for the ones that exist now. Vadi’s dispatches about gentrification sanitizing Oakland, the state’s many unheralded laborers (like the incarcerated men and women who work shoulder-to-shoulder but not dollar-for-dollar with our firefighters), and the tech and population booms reshaping the state, are an attempt to unearth those stories. . . . His writing transposes those voices from the margins to center stage by letting them assume their rightful place as co-authors of the story of California.” —Naomi Elias, KQED

“That Vadi is an avid skateboarder makes him not just advantageously mobile but also uniquely credible. I can think of few contemporary figures more identified with the state….It’s in these moments—when Vadi is colloquial and dripping in attitude—that his voice feels most vital and fresh.” —Sophia Stewart, Alta Journal

“What distinguishes this tentative newcomer on the West Coast essayist scene? For one, a fresh approach: Vadi’s deepest purpose is to understand and retrace the footsteps of his abuelo, who picked vegetables up and down the Central Valley. He layers this important quest with a tart mixture of originality and devotion, as well as his own lens as an avid urban skateboarder. And finally, Inter State deserves attention for the way it pits Southern California against the Bay—which is always fun . . . Some of the liveliest writing is fueled by the author’s roots as a skateboarder with a ‘unique, original, and destructively perceptive eye,’ proving that a journey on urethane wheels can be a profound way to consider a city’s architecture . . . [A] fast, slim, successful addition to the canon of books that get at something essential about a maddening, sprawling, epic state.” —Nathan Deuel, Los Angeles Times

““He presents a view of California as seen by someone who has spent a lot of time absorbing his physical surroundings. They’re reflective pieces based on getting out of the home and moving through the outside world.”” —Liz Ohanesian, Southern California News Group

“[Vadi’s] rambling, frenetic odysseys along California’s byways reveal the scope of his profound connection to a state he feels sure he will never leave, despite the many unsettling paradoxes that define it.” —Devon Ashby, Shelf Awareness

“As . . . Vadi examines California with anger and love in his first essay collection, he centers the ever-changing Golden State and includes wildfires, dive bars, the tech industry, farmwork, decay, and wealth . . . Vadi’s writing style has received much advanced praise.” —The Millions Most Anticipated Books of 2021

“In this lyrical collection, ethnographer-on-a-skateboard José Vadi uses personal and family history to explore the vicissitudes of California life. Inter State is a soulful chronicle of precariousness in the Golden State—including farm work, tech work, homelessness, gentrification, and wildfires—that also pays homage to the familiar drives, dive bars, and skate spots that will keep its author loyal until death. A rich and moving meditation on the forces that can make us feel displaced even when we know we are at home.” —Nina Renata Aron, author of Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls

“Vadi takes readers on a journey up and down the length of an ever-changing California, painting beautiful, longing, and often fleeting scenes of what he sees.” — Alta Journal

“This is a must read book, it must be read to yourself, aloud to your friends, and to strangers on the bus. José Vadi’s brilliant collection Inter State maps internal and external geographies of California through lush description and deft analysis. From the Bay Area down through the Central Valley into SoCal this collection showcases a voice keenly aware of how history is alive both in the landscape as well as inside his own writing body.”—sam sax, author of Madness and Bury It

“This debut essay collection…serves as an ethnography and meditation on the Golden State.” — Sophia June, Nylon 

“I wonder if our country had more writers like José Vadi whether we’d be in quite so wretched a state as we are. With wit and rage and love in equal measures, Inter State is an antidote to the persistent mythology of power as character. Vadi claws elbow-deep into the soil to unearth that which has been buried, forced aside, and willfully forgotten. He speaks of family and injustice, of labor camps and tech booms, and after reading this book, it is clear that anyone who writes of California without anger is a liar. I look very forward to reading it again.” —Kyle Beachy, author of The Most Fun Thing & The Slide: A Novel

“What a pleasure it is to trace the many histories of California as mapped by the reverent and incisive José Vadi. Whether driving through a central state valley, trudging up a San Francisco hill, dodging cops, or just making his way through a decadent museum, each of the routes he winds for us is peppered deliciously with historical, political and familial stories all the while being driven by exquisite and generous prose. All these long and meandering sentences moving languidly like a coastline, like a famous highway, like a grape vine: rippling, bending, cascading like the landscape he is conjuring, making memorials where there are none but where there should be. The writing is candid, colorful, captivating and just like the feeling you get when you’re in California, you want to stay here, on this land and in this language forever. Vadi is the perfect Californian flâneur: well paced, inconspicuously observant, just a little bit legally high and reporting live from his skateboard.” —Lauren Whitehead, Writer. Performer. Assistant Arts Professor of Drama at NYU Tisch School of the Arts 

“Cerebral and rich with history and sharp observation, Inter State is a searing love letter to California, a physical and emotional map of the places and people we call home, cities that destroy as well as nourish. With smart prose and daring form, these are perfect essays for our complicated times.” —Melissa Valentine, author of The Names of All the Flowers

“Inter State is a cinematic, tender collection of essays that breathe memory into the layered histories of an ever changing California. Written with prose that sings with love, Vadi demands that we pay homage to the cracks, the streets, the buildings, and familial bodies that once occupied spaces now crowded with gentrifiers and dreamers. ‘How can I tell you how much an intersection means to me?’ Vadi writes, and so we learn a land by driving, walking, by skating through smoke and ruin, paying attention to what startling beauty persists.” — Mariama J. Lockington, author of The Lucky Daughter and For Black Girls Like Me 

“In the last 100 years, California’s history has encompassed labor unrest, natural disasters and a massive tech boom. What are some of the threads that bind those fractured histories together? In his new essay collection Inter State, José Vadi offers a distinctive perspective on the past, present and future of the Golden State.” — Tobias Carroll, Inside Hook


Soft Skull, 9781593766955, 224pp.
Publication Date: September 14, 2021