Photography by Jeff Hunt
Rachele Kanigel comes from a long line of readers.
In this podcast, Rachele shares her life story with us. Today, she's the chair of the Journalism Department at SF State. She's published The Diversity Style Guide, among other books. She also was one of Jeff's teachers back in 2005 when he went to SF State, so there's that.
Rachele was born in Brooklyn and raised in a suburb of New York City on the New Jersey side of the Hudson. Her mom did some substitute teaching, and at home, loved to read books and poetry. She also liked to play Scrabble. She passed that on in one way or another to Rachele and her two older brothers.
Her oldest brother was 15 when Rachele was born, so she didn't grow up with him around much. Fair Lawn, NJ, a middle-class suburb, never resonated much with young Rachele. Nearby NYC provided the contrast and escape she needed. She'd visit museums, Broadway shows, off-Broadway shows, cafes, jazz clubs ... but what she loved most was simply walking the streets of the big city.
She was so anxious to get out of suburbia that she found a college that would accept high school juniors, and she bailed. After a year at school on Long Island, she got into McGill University in Montreal. Rachele loved it there—the cafes, the Québecois. But there was something pulling her west toward California.
One of her brothers was in San Francisco and somewhat estranged from the family. But Rachele wanted to reconnect by visiting him here. It was May 1980 and she was 19. The plan was to visit for two weeks. But that turned into three months.
It was a summer of meeting people, finding a boyfriend, going to the Gorilla Grotto ... John Law's (Part 1/Part 2) name comes up as someone in that scene whom Rachele met back in the day. That fall, she took a journalism class at SF State and was hooked. She worked on the student newspaper and graduated a few years later with a bachelor's in journalism. Now, it was time to work. She found a copy-editing job at a shopping paper called The San Francisco Progress. The paper eventually gave Rachele a reporting beat. She took it and ran and never looked back.
Her heart broke when she moved from San Francisco to Oakland, but it made sense given her new job as a reporter at The Valley Times.
Oakland has changed a lot in Rachele's nearly 40 years there, but she came to love it nonetheless. The paper became the Contra Costa Times and her editors assigned Rachele to the medicine beat. She went to work for a paper in North Carolina for a few years, where she covered Duke and the University of North Carolina's medical schools. After that, it was back to California to work for the Oakland Tribune.
She had met and married her husband here, and he had traveled east and back with her. In 1995, with a one-year-old at home, she had the chance to teach a class in SF State's Journalism department, and she took it. Instantly, she loved it. It turned into a regular job (as a lecturer), while she was also working as a reporter and raising an infant.
She had another kid a few years later and decided to get her master's degree. That meant moving her family to New York City, because she got into Columbia's graduate journalism program. The family had just arrived when the 2001 attacks happened in lower Manhattan. Rachele shares what it was like to be in New York in the aftermath of 9/11.
After a brief detour at CSU Monterey Bay, Rachele landed back at SF State, in 2004. This time, she was on tenure track. This is where Rachele and Jeff's paths intersect, as he was in the journalism program at state from 2003–05. She was back right where she wanted to be, doing what she wanted to be doing. The legacy of activism at SF State played no small part in why Rachele felt at home there.
The Diversity Style Guide essentially came out of the Journalism Department's work (the Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism). The Center was losing funding for a variety of reasons. As interim chair of the Center, Rachele took an existing style guide that had been compiled from various sources and revitalized it from a PDF to a searchable website, as it exists today.
Most of Rachele's time as chair of the Journalism Department has been during COVID. She uses those experiences as a basis of talking about what it means to still be here—our show's theme this season.
Visit Rachele's website: Rachele Kanigel.
We recorded this podcast at Rachele's home in Oakland in January 2022.