Past Polis Courses

If you are interested in Polis offering one of these classes again in the future please let us know!

The464260-1 Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin’s early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two “letters,” written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhort Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism. Described by The New York Times Book Review as “sermon, ultimatum, confession, deposition, testament, and chronicle…all presented in searing, brilliant prose,” The Fire Next Time stands as a classic work of American literature.

Students should read the entire novella, The Fire Next Time. The class discussion will focus primarily on the section of the book titled, “Letter to My Nephew”.   

Sample Craft Beer at a Drinkers and Great Thinkers Class

Sample Craft Beer at a Drinkers and Great Thinkers Class

This class will be paired with craft beers from the NYC area to honor the author’s life-long connection to the city.

InstructorMary Finn

When:  Thursday, Jan. 21, 2015

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


Go Down, Moses- Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner

This class we read and discuss the story,”The Bear” .

We will read the short story “The Bear” from this classic collection by William Faulkner. Through our discussion of Faulkner’s story we will discuss race relations in the US, the impact of history on our identity and personal decision making, and what it means to be a human in the modern world.

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal,not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” —William Faulkner, on receiving the Nobel Prize

Go Down, Moses is composed of seven interrelated stories, all of them set in Faulkner’s mythic Yoknapatawpha County. From a variety of perspectives, Faulkner examines the complex, changing relationships between blacks and whites, between man and nature, weaving a cohesive novel rich in implication and insight.- Goodreads Review

During class participants will be able to taste a variety of local craft beers and Southern micro-brews inspired by the author’s attachment to the American South.

Instructor: Mary Finn

When:  Tuesday,Dec. 1, 2015

Time: 7:00-8:30 PMthe-precint-beer-taster

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


 Short Stories of Jorge Luis Borges: October Drinkers and Great Thinkers

Jorge Luis Borges has been called the greatest Spanish-language writer of our century. Now for the first time in English, all of Borges’ dazzling fictions are gathered into a single volume, brilliantly translated by Andrew Hurley. From his 1935 debut with The Universal History of Iniquity, through his immensely influential collections Ficciones and The Aleph, these enigmatic, elaborate, imaginative inventions display Borges’ talent for turning fiction on its head by playing with form and genre and toying with language. Together these incomparable works comprise the perfect one-volume compendium for all those who have long loved Borges, and a superb introduction to the master’s work for those who have yet to discover this singular genius.

In this class we will be reading two short stories from the collection: “The Library of Babel” and “The Garden of Forking Paths”.

Instructor: Mary Finn

When:  Thursday, October 15, 2015

Time: 7:00-8:30 PMthe-precint-beer-taster

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF



Hannah Arendt: Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship

An Evening With Author Kathleen Jones + a Seminar Discussion Class on Hannah Arendt’s “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship”


Dr. Kathleen JonesBook Talk

Join us for an inspiring evening with writer, Kathleen B. Jones, as she takes us on a thinking journey with the political theorist Hannah Arendt, whose life and work inspired Kathleen to write a philosophical memoir about her own. She will read an excerpt from her new book, Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt. Books will be available for sale at the event.



Hannah AredntPersonal Responsibility Under Dictatorship

Fifty years ago, Hannah Arendt published her controversial report on the trial of Nazi deportation commander, Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil put Arendt at the center of a storm of criticism that continues to this day. Her most virulent critics called her a self-hating Jew who seemed to be blaming the victims more than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Arendt didn’t engage these charges immediately. But several years after the book’s publication she replied indirectly in an essay entitled “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship.”


An important argument about moral and political responsibility, the essay makes a compelling and provocative read. Come join author Kathleen B. Jones, who also directs seminars on Arendt for educators, as we explore together Arendt’s thinking about judgment and responsibility in a discussion of this essay.

Copies of the essay will be made available so registered participants can read the essay in advance of the class.

Instructor: Dr. Kathleen Jones

When: Tuesday  August 26, 2014

Book talk with Dr. Kathleen Jones on her work “Diving for Pearls”: 6:30-7:15

Seminar class on Hannah Arendt’s “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship” lead by Dr. Kathleen Jones: 7:30-8:45


November SF Bound Course Offering

booksSF-Bound Course Series: The Poetics of Place: John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row

How does the past of a place interact with the present?

The Nobel prize winning author John Steinbeck describes the sardine-packing area of Monterey as a “poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream” in his 1945 novella “Cannery Row“. Although the last sardine canning factory on Ocean View Avenue shuttered its windows in 1973, the waterfront street in Monterey has been officially renamed Cannery Row in honor of Steinbeck’s oeuvre. Former factories have been transformed into hotels and restaurants, and the street now bustles with commercial activity.

In this SF-Bound Polis course, we will explore together the essential questions of location and collective memory with the help of Steinbeck’s impeccable work. How is it possible to understand the transformation of Cannery Row from an industrial eyesore to a popular tourist attraction? How is this transformation echoed in today’s San Francisco and the larger Bay Area? How do we discuss today the class tensions Steinbeck so artfully captured fifty years ago? Does the past remain imbedded in the historical memory of a place?

Join us as we discuss one of Steinbeck’s most famous works and sip on California craft ales and sodas.

This course will contain an optional field trip to Monterey to see Cannery Row with our own eyes. Details will provide in class.

Instructor: Mary Finn

When: Date To Be Announced Soon!

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF




Human Anatomy for the Grown-Up

Beer and Brains!!

This is a two session class.

Join us for this course as we explore the relationships between the extraordinary 3 pound organ, the human brain, the mind and memory.

We will examine and dissect the organ while also discussing the concept of how we develop a sense of self and time by forming memories.  What is a memory?  Where is it physically, if anywhere, in the organ?  Is a human ‘self’ just a compilation of memories, no more than jumble of neuron firings in distinct locations?   We will read excerpts from Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” to inform our discussion.

Appropriate beer pairings will be available but, after we’ve dissected!

Instructor:Carrie Maslow

When: Wednesday’s  January 15th & 22nd

Time: 7:00-8:30 PMthe-precint-beer-taster

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


Thoreau“Simplify, simplify”: Thoreau in the 21st Century

On July 4th, 1845, Henry David Thoreau left his home in Concord, Massachusetts, and built himself a little cabin in the woods near Walden Pond. This “experiment,” as he called it, was a reaction against the changes the Industrial Revolution had brought to New England in the 1840s.

The railroad had brought far away places much closer together; the telegraph made communication easier than it had ever been. Daily life was suddenly moving more quickly than it ever had before—something which we can all relate to today, in this world of ubiquitous smartphones and hyper-connected global commerce.

Thoreau thought it would be a good idea to step away from things for a while, and see what that was like. He describes himself as a “rooster,” crowing in the early morning, “to wake my neighbors up.” What sort of remedies does Thoreau prescribe? Just what does he want us to wake up to? In this one-week class, we’ll look how Walden speaks to us today.

Instructor: Daniel Herman

When:Tuesday July 1, 2014

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


Brueghel's "Fall of Icarus" WHAT IS SUCCESS?

The myth of Icarus in painting and poetry

Are you more successful if you take chances and risk failure, soaring beyond safe limits, or is accepting limits part of success?

In the myth of Icarus, Icarus falls to his death in the sea after flying too close to the sun. The warning is clear.

But do we still accept the myth of Icarus as a cautionary tale?

Before we try to answer this unanswerable question, we will look at Brueghel’s “Fall of Icarus” and some of the many poems that painting has inspired.

As we discuss, we may  try our hands at some writing or drawing ourselves as we examine the dilemma posed by Icarus’ choice.

Pinot (Grigio or Noir!) will insure the success of our painting and poetry discussion and will be made available during the class session.

Instructor: Ellen Greenblatt

When: Tuesday July 8, 2014

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF



Uniquely American: The Invention of American Literature

The 1840s were a remarkably tumultuous decade in American history: industry was flourishing; borders were expanding; immigration was booming. And just as the nation was immersing itself in physical exploration and technological experimentation, writers like Dickinson, Whitman, and Melville were involved in unprecedented mental, psychological and spiritual exploration and experimentation.

Today we call this the “American Renaissance”—but that term is a bit of a misnomer, since it isn’t really a “rebirth” at all: American Literature simply didn’t exist before these people invented it. These works form the backbone of what we consider the American canon. In this four-week course, we’ll examine what they discovered.

Instructor: Daniel Herman

When: August 12th, 19th, 26th, September 2nd

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

Cost: $25/per session

Where: This class will be held in the East Bay. Contact us if you are interested in registering for this course and we will keep you updated on the East Bay location and registration information.


SFBound Series March 2014

SFBound Series March 2014

March 2014 SFBound Course:

Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

(This course was offered in January 2014; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

We will read a selection of essays from  Joan Didion’sSlouching Towards Bethlehem“.Didion’s essays (many of them autobiographical) were written in 1960’s California. We will focus our attention on the selected essays that take place in and around San Francisco. Together we will unpack Didion’s experience and understanding of San Francisco during this tumultuous and, to many, exhilarating, decade. After reading and discussing the essays in the  “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” students will gain insight into the complexities of 1960’s San Francisco and how the decade shaped the modern city.

Universally acclaimed when it was first published in 1968, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has become a modern classic. More than any other book of its time, this collection captures the mood of 1960s America, especially the center of its counterculture, California. These essays, keynoted by an extraordinary report on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, all reflect that, in one way or another, things are falling apart, “the center cannot hold.” An incisive look at contemporary American life, Slouching Towards Bethlehem has been admired for several decades as a stylistic masterpiece.- Review

Instructor: Mary Finn

When: Wednesday March 19, 2014 , 7:00-8:30 PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


By Popular Demand SeriesCormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing” (2nd work in the “Border Trilogy”)

(This course was offered in January 2014; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

In December 2013, a group of Polis students requested  a course on Cormac McCarthy’sAll the Pretty Horses“. We are always open to suggestions for courses that spark Polis student interest. We held the “All the Pretty Horses” course in February 2014 and the discussion was filled with enriching conversation about themes of home, displacement, and shifting morality. The group suggested that we read the next work in McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy” which is “The Crossing“. We will end the trilogy with McCarthy’s “Cities of the Plain” in early May 2014.

In The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy fulfills the promise of All the Pretty Horses and at the same time give us a work that is darker and more visionary, a novel with the unstoppable momentum of a classic western and the elegaic power of a lost American myth.
In the late 1930s, sixteen-year-old Billy Parham captures a she-wolf that has been marauding his family’s ranch.  But instead of killing it, he decides to take it back to the mountains of Mexico.  With that crossing, he begins an arduous and often dreamlike journey into a country where men meet ghosts and violence strikes as suddenly as heat-lightning–a world where there is no order “save that which death has put there.”- NYT Review 1994

Please note: It is not necessary to have come to the previous classes to take part in the course on “The Crossing” and it is not necessary (though it is recommended) that students have read “All the Pretty Horses“.

This class will be accompanied by a selection of  Mexican and Southwestern beers curated by our friends at Healthy Spirits.

Instructor: Mary Finn

When: Wednesday March 26, 7:00-8:30 PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


February Drinkers and Great Thinkers Course:

What Does It Really Mean To Love? Poems of William Carlos Williams

(This course was offered in January 2014; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

Join us in February for the our Drinkers and Great Thinkers course (a monthly series) as we investigate  and unpack the question, “What does it really mean to love?”. Our class discussion will focus on two poems by the author William Carlos Williams. Together we will grapple with questions of love, loneliness, and living in (and finding) love in the modern world. Students will read the poems: Asphodel, That Greeny Flower  and The Ivory Crown.

 If you have ever wanted to read William Carlos Williams but feel like you need the structure of a facilitated discussion to help unpack the author’s poems, this class is an excellent opportunity. Maybe you have never really been a fan of poetry but want to challenge yourself as a reader to try something new? This class is appropriate for all levels of experience with reading poetry from the novice to the well-versed.

As always, we will pair our Drinkers and Great Thinkers series discussion with a finely curated selection of beers from Healthy Spirits. This month, as an homage to Valentines Day (loved by some, despised by many!) we will have a sampling of chocolate and dessert inspired beers. Singles and couples of all ages are welcome for this conversation on love, poetry, and amazing craft brews!

Instructors: Inga Davis and Anton Krukowski

When: Thursday Feb. 13, 2014, 7:00-8:30 PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

Course: Cormac McCarthy’s, “All The Pretty Horses”

(This course was offered in January 2014; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

At Polis, we are open to and welcome student requests for courses. A group of Polis students recently requested that we run a one-session course on Cormac McCarthy’s award-winning work, “All The Pretty Horses.” This book, both a thrilling adventure a tender romance, tells the story of John Grady Cole, a young rancher in the late 1940s. Feeling displaced from the life he’s always known, and increasingly surrounded by one he doesn’t recognize (or care for), he and a friend set off on horseback to Mexico. In their travels, they encounter the richness of the human and natural worlds: beauty and abundance, brutality and depravity.

You may have seen the film based on this novel, but no film can adequately express the lyrical beauty of McCarthy’s inimitable prose, nor the weighty philosophical ideas he considers in the novel.

In our class, the group will explore the themes of coming of age, the importance of place in our lives, and the concept of heroism in the modern world.

As a nod to McCarthy’s vivid portrayal of the Southwest we will have a selection of Southwestern inspired food and drink from Chile Pies and Healthy Spirits.

Instructor: Mary Finn and Daniel Herman

When: Wednesday, Feb 5th, 2014, 7:00 PM-8:30 PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

January Drinkers and Great Thinkers Course:

Franz Kafka’s,”The Metamorphosis” Paired with Czech Beers.*

(This course was offered in January 2014; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

The new year can be a time of thinking about change and transformation in our lives. Join us for our first Drinkers and Great Thinkers of the new year as we read and discuss Kafka’s classic work on individual transformation:”The Metamorphosis”.

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.”

With this startling, bizarre, yet surprisingly funny first opening, Kafka begins his masterpiece, The Metamorphosis.
It is the story of a young man who, transformed overnight into a giant beetle-like insect, becomes an object of disgrace to his family, an outsider in his own home, a quintessentially alienated man. A harrowing — though absurdly comic — meditation on human feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and isolation, The Metamorphosis has taken its place as one of the most widely read and influential works of twentieth-century fiction. As W.H. Auden wrote, “Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”-review from Goodreads

Instructor: Mary Finn

When: Tuesday, January 21st, 2014, 7:00PM-8:30PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

* The Polis Drinkers and Great Thinkers Series partners with  Healthy Spirits beer store to select the most interesting and unique beer choices for each session.

December Drinkers and Great Thinkers Course:

What Impact Can The Dead Have On The Living? James Joyce’s The Dead & Carefully Curated Winter Ales*

(This course was offered in December 2013; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

Often cited as the best work of short fiction ever written, Joyce’s elegant story details a New Year’s Eve gathering in Dublin that is so evocative and beautiful that it prompts the protagonist’s wife to make a shocking revelation to her husband—closing the story with an emotionally powerful epiphany that is unsurpassed in modern literature (review from Goodreads).

Instructor: Mary Finn

When:  December 16th  (Monday),  7:00-8:30 PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

* The Polis Drinkers and Great Thinkers Series partners with  Healthy Spirits beer store to select the most interesting and unique beer choices for each session.

November Drinkers and Great Thinkers Course:

Is There Meaning in Everything? What Can We Learn From the Mundane and Routine Parts of Life? The Essays of Michel de Montaigne + Saison Farmhouse Ale

(This course was offered in November 2013; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

In this one session Polis course, students will discuss a set of short essays (some are just one paragraph!) written by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne. Those who have never read Montaigne are in for a real treat. Montaigne is curious about nearly everything in his world: from the usefulness of thumbs to the purpose of love. Montaigne is a funny, pithy, and accessible writer. Our class conversation will focus on the essential question: Is there meaning in everything? We will engage in discussion about whether or not the mundane and routine parts of our lives can be instructive to us and if so, how? All classes in the Polis Drinkers and Great Thinkers series will pair the great thinker with an appropriate great beer selection that we will sample during class. In this case, we plan to pair Montaigne with a variety of Saison Farmhouse Style Ales (rooted in French and Belgian history and culture). The beer sampling is included in the course price.

Instructor: Mary Finn

When: November 13, 2013 (Wednesday) 7:00-8:30 PM

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF


What Does It Mean to Live A Good Life?

(This course was offered in October 2013; please click here if you would like to request that we offer this course again).

The novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is a deeply philosophical masterpiece of nineteenth-century Russian literature. In it Tolstoy explores one of the fundamental questions of human existence–what does it mean to live a good life? During this two-week Polis session, we will examine together the promises and pitfalls of living what on the surface seems to be a “perfect” life.

Recommended Translation/Edition: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics)

InstructorJulie Draskoczy

When: Wednesdays Oct. 16th and October 23rd from 7:00-8:30 PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St  San Francisco, CA 94110

open book

Course: What Is a “True” Story and Does “Truth” Matter? Reading Essays and Stories In The 21st Century

(This course was offered in October 2013; please click here if you would like request that we offer this course again).

Essays today seem to be the new stories: many start with an anecdote whose narrative power startles as much as any work of fiction. So what’s the difference between stories and essays in 2013, and do we care? Some people say, “It’s an essay if it’s true, it’s a story if it’s imagined.” But don’t many fiction writers base stories on experience? And don’t essayists present their “truth” selectively, choosing what to include and what to omit? In each of our three weeks together, we will read stories and essays that speak to each other, that invite our conversation, and we will talk about writing magic—and about whether the magic of a great story is different from the magic of a great essay.

Students will read from the following list of essays and short stories:

InstructorEllen Greenblatt

When: Mondays October 14, 21, 28 from 7:00-8:30PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St  San Francisco, CA 94110

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