Story

Gertrude Stein's Old Address

Gertrude Stein, one of the most famous writers of the 20th century, once lived in East Oakland. In her 1937 autobiography, she described a trip back to her old neighborhood, long after she'd become a celebrity and development had transformed it.

From Everybody's Autobiography (1937):

"It was funny when we went back one day when I was in America to see how East Oakland, that is Thirteenth Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street as it was then looked. The little houses on Thirteenth Avenue looked very much the same, a good many of them quite as neglected as I remembered them and the hill quite the same but the old Stratton house as they called it where we had lived was of course gone and had been built over with little houses, they looked as if they were the only new houses in all that region. When they used to ask me in America whether I had not found America changed I said no of course it had not changed what could it change to…

It is a funny thing about addresses where you live. When you live there you know it so well that it is like identity a thing that is so much a thing that it could not ever be any other thing and then you live somewhere else and years later, the address that was so much an address that it was a name like your name and you said it as if it was not an address but something that was living and then years after you do not know what the address was and when you say it it is not a name any more but something you cannot remember. That is what makes your identity not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember."