Mark Arax to Be Presented Free Speech Award

Mark Arax to Be Presented Free Speech Award

By Rych Withers

The Fresno Free College Foundation will be having its annual banquet on Nov. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at Wedgewood Banquet Hall (4584 W. Jacquelyn Ave.). The Foundation owns and operates KFCF-FM 88.1 MHz in Fresno and administers the Sleeping Bag Project, the Ananda Fund and the Central California Museum of Art. Tickets are $45 ($60 after Nov. 7) and are available at

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The evening will feature a meet-and-greet hour with music by singer/songwriter Ted Nunes of Visalia. Nunes is lead vocalist for the band Richfield and plays music that is influenced by country, folk, blues and Americana. The evening will feature a buffet dinner that has vegetarian options, a talk by KPFA’s Up Front host Brian Edwards-Tiekert, our Annual Free Speech award, a raffle and a silent auction. This year, the station will also honor a KFCF Programmer of the Year voted on by staff and volunteers at KFCF.

Keynote Speaker

Our keynote speaker is Edwards-Tiekert, an award-winning radio journalist, and the co-host of KPFA’s morning public affairs program, Up Front. Edwards-Tiekert started his work in media helping to set up the Independent Media Center in Chiapas, Mexico. He also worked as a human rights observer for Global Exchange, leading a delegation that documented the withdrawal of the Mexican military from the Zapatista territory of Guadalupe Tepeyac, and set up a permanent observation presence there. After returning to the United States, he ran the Campus Alternative Journalism Network—a nationwide support program for progressive publications on college campuses. While there, he trained in radio journalism at KPFA—then decided to move into radio full-time.

For six years, Edwards-Tiekert worked as KPFA’s environment reporter, making frequent trips to the Central Valley to cover water, air quality and pesticide issues, and training reporters at KFCF to contribute their own stories to KPFA’s statewide newscast. He’s worked on special assignments covering the 2005 hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, construction of a massive hydroelectric dam in Panama, and UN climate summits in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban. In 2006 and 2008, he produced the Pacifica Network’s nationwide coverage of elections and political conventions. He also established a long-form journalism training program at KPFA that has graduated more than 30 people and seeded the ranks of news operations from Mendocino County to Washington, D.C.

Edwards-Tiekert’s radio documentary work on climate and environmental issues for national programs such as Making Contact has won multiple journalism awards. His live coverage of street protests has won him multiple tear-gassings and one on-air arrest.

Edwards-Tiekert hails from New York, graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and lives in Berkeley.

Free Speech Award

Mark Arax
Mark Arax

The 2013 Free Speech Award goes to journalist and author Mark Arax for his hard-hitting reporting on the mistreatment of mentally ill inmates in the Fresno County Jail, which combined his award-winning investigative skills with his guidance of journalism students in his Fresno State University class and was featured in the Community Alliance earlier this year.

In the world of journalism, Arax stands out as a rarity. On one hand, he is a skilled investigative reporter who unearths secrets from the depths of shadow governments. On the other hand, he is a gifted writer whose feature stories and books are distinguished by the “poetry of his prose.”

His Los Angeles Times stories revealing state-sanctioned murder and cover-up in California prisons were praised by The Nation magazine as “one of the great journalistic achievements of the decade.” Fellow writers at PEN and Sigma Delta Chi have singled out the lyrical quality of his writing in award-winning stories on life and death in California’s heartland.

Like the legendary Carey McWilliams, Arax digs deep in the dirt of the Golden State, finding tragedies hidden from most Californians. With equal passion, he chronicles the plight of both farmworkers and farmers. His stories on the land are told from the close-up of a native whose own family narrative is found in the same soil.

Arax’s first book, In My Father’s Name, is a stirring memoir that weaves together the history of his Armenian family and hometown of Fresno with his decades-long search to find the men who murdered his father in 1972. A full-page review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review saw Arax’s journey to wrest the truth from his haunted past as a kind of “Moby Dick” struggle.

His second book, the bestselling The King of California, co-authored with Rick Wartzman, tells the epic story of the Boswell farming family and the building of a secret American empire in the middle of California. Named one of the top 10 books of the year by the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, The King of California won a 2004 California Book Award and the 2005 William Saroyan International Writing Prize.

His third book, a 2009 collection of stories called West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers in the Golden State, received critical acclaim that compared Arax’s “sure and supple essays” to the great social portraits of Joan Didion and William Saroyan.

A top graduate of Fresno State and Columbia University, Arax left the Los Angeles Times in 2007 after a public fight over censorship of his story on the Armenian genocide. He is currently working on two book projects.


Rych Withers has worked in radio for many years, working for CBS Radio as an engineer, and currently is executive director of the Fresno Free College Foundation and general manager of KFCF-FM. His cats tolerate the radio being on much of the time. Contact him at


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. is his website. Contact him at

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