Salvaging Humanity Through Storytelling: Jesmyn Ward at ALOUD

The immensely talented writer Jesmyn Ward can elevate the most dire circumstances into beautiful elegies. She won a National Book Award in 2011 for her second novel, Salvage the Bones, which follows a pregnant teenager’s courage to survive in a post-Katrina Mississippi. Last September, Ward published her first nonfiction book—Men We Reaped, (a finalist for the Indies Choice Book of the Year Award and for the National Book Critics Circle Award)—a memoir about the despair and racism surrounding growing up in rural poverty in Mississippi. Her work casts a penetrating look at race in contemporary America, and on Thursday, September 25, Ward visits ALOUD for a conversation with New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, who will share from his recent memoir, a recollection of a painful childhood in an out-of-time African-American Louisiana town. We caught up with Ward about the state of Southern American literature, and how although her own writing is deeply rooted in a region, it transcends boundaries.

Maya Angelou, who recently passed away, gave voice to the often-overlooked characters of our times—African Americans, women, Southerners. How do you think the boundaries she pushed in writing about such subjects altered the course of American letters?

Ward:
One of the most striking aspects of Ms. Angelou’s work is her demand that the reader acknowledges her characters as human beings, that her readers acknowledge her characters’ humanity and dignity. It is remarkable that African Americans, women, Southerners, populate her work, but it’s even more remarkable that members of even more underrepresented groups in literature teem in her pages: sex workers, the poor, survivors of sexual and physical abuse, etc. The forthright honesty and the meticulous attention to detail that Ms. Angelou infuses her writing with makes the reader see these disparate people as real, as common and human as the reader. She showed readers and writers alike that it could be done.

Although your writing is deeply rooted in the themes and landscapes of a region, it speaks to many universal hardships of poverty, racism, and crime. How do you balance writing from such a specific place and breaking out of that constraint to represent a broader humanity?

Ward: One of the most common misconceptions I encounter about the South is that the problems one encounters here are endemic to this region only, and are worse here. That somehow, these problems are different, alien to the rest of the country and the nation. I hoped that writing about my people, imbuing people that are very particular to this place and these circumstances, with careful attention to their humanity would make their problems familiar to the reader, would lessen that propensity to make aliens out of us Southerners.

After writing two deeply personal novels based on real events like surviving Hurricane Katrina, you decided to write a memoir. What was this transition like? 

Ward: It was a scary transition for me. I’d never written creative nonfiction longer than a twenty-page essay before, so the prospect of writing a book was daunting. But I believed in the story I was writing—I believed that it was important and that it needed to be told. So I was foolhardy and brave all at once, and that helped me to stumble my way through the first draft of the memoir.

In both your fiction and nonfiction, you take on social and political issues. What were the different challenges in each of these genres in grappling with these issues?

Ward: It’s easier to take on social and political issues in fiction. There’s a distance there because the characters come alive and act organically, and the commentary about the issues comes through the characters as they live their lives. But in nonfiction, the narrator speaks. There is no distance. The narrator has to own his or her opinions on social and political issues. The narrator has to be self-aware and offer commentary. That’s hard.

Men We Reaped follows tragedies surrounding the young men in your community who represent a “lost” faction of our society. Do you see any solutions for saving others from similar fates?

Ward: Others have asked me this question, and I don’t have a good answer for it. I think that talking about these tragedies, acknowledging them, recognizing the breadth and the horror of children, of young Black adults, dying because their lives are worth less is important. That sharing our stories that allow Black people to transcend statistics is important. I hope we can have a conversation that leads to solutions.

What role might places like the public library play to offer support to our youth in need of safe havens?

Ward: Reading saved my life. It saved me when I was a child, it saved me in my teen years, and it continually saves me as an adult. The library has always been a place of refuge for me because it is my gateway to different people and places and realities. I found my humanity, my dignity, in books. I imagine books can help other young people do the same. I know that most public libraries allow young people access to computers and the Internet as well, and I’ve seen that the Internet can foster new communities and knowledge. I also think public libraries are important places for reading groups to form and meet, reading groups where conversations about race and poverty and what it means to be young in America can definitely take place.

Visit lfla.org/aloud for more information about this event.
Through Trying Times: Stories of Loss and Redemption in the American South
Thursday, September 25, 7:15 PM
Charles M. Blow and Jesmyn Ward

In conversation with Robin Coste Lewis

–Posted by Bridgette Bates
–Photos: Jesmyn Ward (credit: Tony Cook) and Charles M. Blow (credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

 


Looking Forward to Fall at ALOUD

September is right around the corner, and ALOUD will be back for its fall season to offer Angelenos the chance to engage with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, MacArthur geniuses, international peace activists, groundbreaking filmmakers, and more. Here’s what you can look forward to this fall at the downtown historic Central Library with these 17 free public programs.

ALOUD kicks off with a bang on Tuesday, Sept. 9, as James Ellroy, one of America’s greatest living crime writers, sits down to discuss his newest novel, Perfidia. In conversation with Walter Kirn – author of his own recent riveting take on a Los Angeles cold case – Ellroy uncovers a corrupt Los Angeles of the 1940s.

On Monday, Sept. 15, naturalist Diane Ackerman discusses her optimistic new manifesto on the earth-shaking changes now affecting every part of our lives, and those of our fellow creatures, The Human Age: The World Shaped By Us. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, Kim Bancroft recounts the story of Heyday Books, a plucky small press with bid ideas, with founder Malcolm Margolin.

Pictured above, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow and award-winning author Jesmyn Ward take the stage to discuss their memoirs of a South still clouded by a troubled past on Thursday, Sept. 25.

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, in partnership with Ambulante California, ALOUD welcomes filmmakers Lourdes Grobet and Julianna Brannum with excerpts of their new documentaries illuminating indigenous stories on film.  And on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in collaboration with the Consulate General of Poland, ALOUD presents Polish Solidarity activist Adam Michnik and Cairo-based journalist Yasmine El Rashidi for a conversation about revolutions both velvet and violent.

On Thursday, Oct. 16, Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times journalist Héctor Tobar provides an astounding account of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped beneath thousands of feet of rock for a second-breaking 69 days.

In October, as part of The L.A. Odyssey Project, the Library Foundation’s month-long exploration of Homer’s epic poem, ALOUD presents: writers Zachary Mason (The Lost Books of the Odyssey) and Madeline Miller (The Song of Achilles) on Thursday, Oct. 2; and MacArthur Award-winning author David Finkel (Thank You for Your Service) and Professor Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Director for Medical Virtual Reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies – who has pioneered the use of virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat veterans suffering from PTSD – on Tuesday, Oct. 28.

On Thursday, Oct. 23, poets Robin Coste Lewis and Claudia Rankine read from their work and discuss how poetry can become an active tool for rethinking race in America. And on Thursday, Oct. 30, bestselling author Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) ponders the role of fiction in 21st century America with her new book, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books.

KCRW Bookworm Michael Silverblatt interviews the great Marilynne Robinson about Lila: A Novel on Wednesday, Nov. 5. And the next night, ALOUD heads west to the Writers Guild Theater for “An Evening with Colm Toibin and Rachel Kushner.” During the special offsite program, Toibin (Nora Webster) and Kushner (The Flamethrowers) will read and discuss how they create characters that erupt off the page in novels where the political and the personal are locked in a deep and fascinating embrace.  This event is ticketed.

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore reveals “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” with the riveting true story about the making of the most popular female superhero of all time, illustrating a crucial history of twentieth century feminism.

On Thursday, Nov. 13, bestselling author Sarah Thornton (Seven Days in the Art World) discusses her research – how she rummaged through artists’ bank accounts, bedrooms, and studios and witnessed their crises and triumphs – for her new book, 33 Artists in 3 Acts.

And closing out the season on Thursday, Nov. 20, Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Miles, writer Reza Aslan (Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth), and Rabbi Sharon Brous consider the comprehensive new Norton Anthology of World Religions and whether or not religion can really be defined.

The entire ALOUD Fall 2014 calendar is now available at www.lfla.org/aloud where you can make free reservations to attend September events. All October programs will open for public reservations on Friday, September 5th and November programs will open for public reservations on Friday, October 3rd. Members may reserve now for all fall season programs by using their Member-only link.

Top image: Jesmyn Ward (credit: Tony Cook) and Charles M. Blow (credit: Beowulf Sheehan)

 

Machinations at the Library

Everyone loves the Los Angeles Public Library because it’s “free and open” to all, but what happens when artists are invited to creatively respond to the Library’s space and collection? Last Saturday night, ALOUD invited the Machine Project, one of L.A.’s most experimental and dynamic programming teams, to reimagine the Central Library. Doors opened at 8 PM after Library hours, and art enthusiasts spanned the block as if the historical library was holding its own downtown art walk. Crowds poured in to a bustling second floor—with music, dancing, drinks, and art installations flashing from every arm of the rotunda.

“Machine has presented public art at beaches, parking lots, museums, and sidewalks, but the architecture of the Library afforded us a whole new opportunity,” explains Mark Allen, the executive director of Machine Project. “I was greatly influenced by the crazy intersection of style forming and surrounding the rotunda space. From colonialist murals, 1990s meets Disneyworld, to abundant model train sets, the diversity of styles inspired a medley of performances working with the Library’s varying aesthetics. Everyone got to experience a night of wandering around the assorted architecture wondering what was going on, creating a sense of intrigue embodying the diverse aesthetic of the library itself.”

Here’s a look at some of the revampings that “freed” up our typical associations with card catalogs, stacks of books, and the hushed beauty of the marbled rotunda.

“Hallelujah Already”

Dancer Jmy James Kidd (pictured above) along with multi-instrumentalist and composer Tara Jane ONeil took center stage in the rotunda with a sound and dance improvisation inspired by a photograph of legendary choreographer Bella Lewitzky in the LAPL’s photo collection.

“Capsule Seance Projection”

Inspired by used books unearthed in a library book sale and featuring an omniscient head atop a stack of books, director Joel Fox created a site-specific video installation called “Capsule Seance Projection” in Children’s Literature.

“Shades of the Jeepneys Planet: Exploring the Known Unknown”

Jeepneys, named after colorful, iconic public transportation vehicles populating the Philippine islands, originating from discarded U.S. WWII army jeeps, capture the spirit of reinvention in their work to create other-worldly sounds, movements, and visuals, manifesting “electro Pinayism waves” that travel through space and time to heal and inspire love–here they landed in Teen ‘Scape where they pulsed over tables, bean bags, and computer stations.

“Untitled”

Artist and writer Jibade-Khalil Huffman crossed the concept of a card catalog with social media to make an interactive installation that invited guests to tweet questions throughout the night.

“No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station”

Last but not least, as part of this summer’s special exhibit “No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station,” train clubs set up spectacular model trains throughout the Getty Gallery that took audiences beyond your average train depot and into elaborate worlds of haunted houses and crop circles, weddings and funerals, and even a secret nightclub for the wild-at-heart. Learn more about upcoming model trains on display at Central Library.

All photos by Javier Guillen.

Illuminating the Parallels Between Us and Animals

We love animals—they can be furry, fun, expressive…and moody, just like us!

If you’ve ever wondered what your pet was thinking, you’ve probably compared your pet’s feelings to human emotions. The authors of the upcoming ALOUD program “Not Uniquely Human: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health” show us just how  much we can in fact learn from such comparisons.


On July 10th, ALOUD convenes author Laurel Braitman (Animal Madness), Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers (Zoobiquity) for a conversation on the vast commonalities between human and animal mental and physical health. From an anxiety ridden dog who jumped out of a window to performance anxiety among thoroughbred horses, the authors will share poignant and entertaining examples from their personal experiences and outside research that illuminates the parallels between us and the animal world.

Laurel Braitman, author and science historian, delves into the uncanny similarities between the species in her new book Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. Braitman’s anthropological background prompted her to closely observe the compulsive behavior of her new Bernese Mountain Dog, and to then realize that something was indeed very wrong. This discovery took Braitman down a path of realization that nonhuman animals can suffer from the same mental illnesses that humans do:

“Every animal with a mind has the capacity to lose hold of it from time to time. Sometimes the trigger is abuse or mistreatment, but not always. I’ve come across depressed and anxious gorillas, compulsive horses, rats, donkeys, and seals, obsessive parrots, self-harming dolphins, and dogs with dementia, many of whom share their exhibits, homes, or habitats with other creatures who don’t suffer from the same problems. …There is plenty of abnormal behavior in the animal world, captive, domestic, and wild, and plenty of evidence of recovery; you simply need to know where and how to find it.”

Using evidence from veterinary sciences, medical and mental health professionals, Darwin’s historical accounts, zoo keepers, animal handlers, pet owners and more, Animal Madness proves that animals of all species may suffer from similar mental disorders, and that if we use our understanding of mental and emotional issues in humans, we might be able to better help animals suffering from similar conditions.

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, authors of Zoobiquity, also champion the similarities between humans and animals by focusing on some surprising physical health problems that can arise across species. Cardiologist Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz began looking within the animal kingdom for examples of health issues she saw in her human patients, and was shocked to find many parallels that could be used as beneficial comparisons in diagnosing humans: bears struggling with obesity, monkeys developing heart failure, and chimpanzees fainting when stressed or dehydrated. Each case the authors encountered reinforced their belief that human and animal doctors should be working together in order to find, share and improve upon solutions to pan-species health problems.

These books argue that instead of treating humans and animals separately, we can better help ourselves and our animal friends by fostering a greater understanding of the animal kingdom and incorporating this knowledge into our daily lives and health care system.

Join in the discussion on July 10th to hear the unique and quirky stories of the characters that make up these two fascinating reads.

“Every creature in the world is like a book and a picture, to us, and a mirror.” –Alain de Lille, c. 1200 (from Animal Madness)

All photos above from the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Dear ONE: Love & Longing in Mid-Century Queer America

From 1953 to 1967, ONE Magazine, America’s first openly gay and lesbian periodical, reached thousands of readers each month—many who were isolated and in search of community.  Those readers wrote back to ONE seeking counsel and advice, or friendship and understanding. Subjects ranged from family life to coming out stories to tales of harassment. In 2000, historian Craig Loftin was working on his dissertation at USC when he came across a collection of these letters, stored at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives – the oldest LGBTQ organization in the Unites States, and the publisher of ONE Magazine. Many of the collections were unprocessed and uncatalogued. I became a volunteer and helped sift through boxes of mysterious documents,” Loftin explains. “Finding the letters was completely unexpected; I wasn’t looking for them. In fact, no one at the Archive knew they were there.”

The data he compiled on issues facing gay people in the 1950s and 1960s became the basis for his dissertation and his book Masked Voices, published by SUNY Press. The press suggested he also compile the ONE letters in a separate volume, which became Letters to ONE: Gay and Lesbian Voices from the 1950s and 1960s, published in 2012. ONE Archives then reached out to director Zsa Zsa Gershick about adapting the material for a dramatization to celebrate ONEs 60th anniversary that same year. Gershick, who had created other oral histories like, “Gay Old Girls” and “Secret Service,” about lesbians in the military, was familiar with transforming long letters into tight, poignant soliloquies. For the adaptation, Gershick faced similar challenges, “The task was to find each letter’s central theme, its heart, and seamlessly pare from that heart or essence everything that obscured it. I consider this a sacred endeavor, requiring a great deal of respect, focus and prayer to get it right,” she says.

On Saturday, June 28th Gershick will direct a dramatic reading of these letters for the ALOUD stage, in a production she titled “Dear ONE: Love and Longing in Mid-Century Queer America.” As Gershick worked her way through Loftin’s collection, she fell in love with each letter. “Each one gives us a window into an era of terrible prejudice. Many people today don’t know that American queerfolk of that era, if discovered, could be jailed, disemployed, imprisoned in mental hospitals, or lobotomized. The letters reflect this reality. Some letter writers boldly signed their names; others remained anonymous. But each correspondent, in the simple act of writing, asserts his/her right to be,” she says.

Despite all of the hardships facing gay people at the time, Loftin says he was surprised by the resilience and optimism of the letter writers, “So many letters had an upbeat tone even when they described tragic events. Some of them were hysterically funny. Instead of thinking about gay people in the 1950s as victims, I began seeing them as dynamic and creative historical agents carving out a niche for themselves in a hostile society. In these letters, one finds early stirrings of a gay rights consciousness at a mass level.”

From gay marriage to employment discrimination, the letters shed light on many issues still being confronted today. “No two letters are quite the same. Reading the letters, we try to imagine who these people were, what they looked like, where they lived, the details of their lives. We try to imagine how their voice might have sounded. We bring our own experiences to these letters and make sense of them in our own ways,” says Loftin. Gershick hopes her adaptation will capture these deeply moving voices, “Upon hearing these letters performed aloud, I hope that the audience laughs, cries, learns a little history and embraces our humanity.”

Learn more about the upcoming ALOUD program here.

Main image: ONE Magazine covers from the 1950′s and 1960′s, courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

Vote for Us!

Spread the word! The Library Foundation has been nominated in three different categories for the Los Angeles Downtown News Best of Downtown Readers Choice Awards: The Library Store for “Best Gift and Stationery Shop” and “Best Bookstore,” and Aloud for “Best Free Event Series!” Our beloved Central Library is also up for “Best Family Attraction.” So head on over to votebestof.com to cast your vote. Voting ends May 30, so don’t delay!

 

Three Writers (De)construct Form at ALOUD

On next Tuesday, May 20th, three innovative and genre-crossing writers will take the ALOUD stage for “Sentence After Sentence After Sentence,” to discuss their own unique relationships to form—or lack their of. Moderated by the novelist Jim Krusoe, Anne Germanacos, Dinah Lenney, and Matias Viegener will consider the power of “structure” to challenge, propel, de-rail, shape, cloud, elevate, illuminate, or simply extend the impulses of their writing. To get a sense of the myriad ways this conversation may itself take shape, we caught up with the three writers to share a sample of their writing.

Anne Germanacos:

 “The following page gives a sense of the way the text moves—something like a mind —requiring the reader to relinquish certain expectations of narration and surrender to the flow, which has its own logic and rewards.” –The excerpt below is from Tribute, her new experimentation with narrative.

rejoicing, in my own quiet but occasionally sole-slapping way

*

maintaining tension, modulating it

*

full moon—mooning around

*

Holding onto a secret has its price: you pay until you can’t.

*

Like a good analyst, like a good mother, a story holds.

*

(a sliver of perfection)

*

Some organizing part of me goes dumb.

*

no ledge, no circle of earth, no leg

*

Shaping, you kill.

*

some half-assed Michelangelo, chipping away

*

bliss?

*

one line for me, and another line for me

*

(within her sight)

Dinah Lenney:

“This new collection of interconnected essays marches to a provocative premise: what if one way to understand your life were to examine the objects within it? Which Objects would you choose? What memories do they hold? And lined up in a row, what stories do they have to tell?” –The following excerpt is from “Ferris Wheel,” an essay in The Object Parade from Counterpoint Press.

[...]

When the kids were small, when I would have done about anything to break up a Sunday afternoon, I once took them down to some sort of festival in Echo Park, where there wasn’t a Ferris wheel the day before, and there wouldn’t be one the next; but presto, there it was, and they wanted a ride. I bought three yellow tickets, then seated myself between them holding tight to their hands. Back we swung back with a jolt, and then forward and up: no belts, no latches, no straps of any kind—just a metal bar in front of us—lucky for me, they were (they are) good children, sensible and fundamentally kind; not about to let go, not about to lean too far over the side, even then as concerned for me as I was for them—and even so, I rued the decision. Anyway, I thought. This will be over soon and we will be fine.

Up, up we went, till we saw the tops of the oaks, the palms, the old magnolias—below us, the lotuses blooming velvety against the black of the lake—though, I admit, I only saw all that from the corner of my eye, afraid as I was to be distracted from my task, which was to focus straight ahead as if we weren’t climbing higher and higher (too high), swinging precariously this way and that; as if my stomach hadn’t dropped, as if I weren’t breathing hard, a sour taste on the back of my tongue. My job, howbeit, to will us around and down again, onto our feet, on which we’d walk, like sensible bi-peds, to the boathouse to rent something small with paddles or oars, which I’d navigate all by myself, thanks, between and among the swans.

But then—then in the middle of this act of will something went wrong—the Ferris wheel stopped at the highest point, and we dangled there, for minutes—for many minutes—and I considered this contraption, which would be in pieces and packed into the back of a truck by nightfall; wondered how sturdy it might not be—looked up at the carriage swaying, creaking in its joint as if it might snap, and, I thought, Well, if we must die, we will die together. “Ssshhhhh,” I said to the children, who hadn’t uttered a word, both of them beaming, thrilled to be above the trees.

[...]

Matias Viegener:

“My book 2500 Random Things About Me Too was generated almost by accident, starting with a single list of 25 random things about myself that I felt less than enthusiastic about. The list was a meme going around on Facebook, what I saw as a kind of forced intimacy in a medium that was already about the highly staged presentation of self for the hopeless goal of getting attention.  So in my contrary way, I composed another list, and then another, a hundred in total.  As often happens, repetition is instructive, even meditative. The form opened up, gave me a way to think through lists, randomness, the construct of “things,” the concept of “aboutness” and finally, belatedness.  We’re never the first at any scene, whether it be a love story, a sonnet or an experimental form.  As I tried to capture what was “about me,” the concept of the unified self was ever more elusive, but something else took its place: a cloud of words, stories and details.    

I never had the impulse to write a memoir, but if I did it would have to be an assemblage in many parts, and would need to capture my confusion about where I let off and the world begins.  It couldn’t have any particular order, and it would have to emerge in a spontaneous, unpremeditated way.  The only way I can talk about me is to occupy myself with a task, make it a game, and let it lead me along until I find a stopping point.  That’s the main thing perhaps, it would have to have neither a beginning nor an end.  It would have to start, find something to say, and then stop.”

Read an excerpt of Matias’ book at the Les Figues website. And here’s an article for The Huffington Post about how he wrote a book on Facebook.

To learn more about these authors and make a free reservation to the upcoming ALOUD program, click here.

 

Spend the Summer with ALOUD!

Next month, ALOUD launches into its summer season with 11 wide-ranging programs exploring performance, identity, animals, writing, and more. Join us!

On Tuesday, June 3, the season kicks off with a special visit to the U.S. by acclaimed English author Edward St. Aubyn in conversation with KCRW “Bookworm” Michael Silverblatt about Lost for Words, his first work since completing The Patrick Melrose Novels.

ONE Magazine covers from the 1950s and 1960s, courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries

Performance takes center stage as veterans of the dance world Wendy Perron, Simone Forti, and Victoria Marks convene on Tuesday, June 10 to discuss new ways of bringing words and movement together. Later, on Monday, June 23, ALOUD joins with WordTheatre to present the newest epistolary from celebrated author and playwright Denis Johnson, “The Starlight on Idaho.” In this unique adaptation – not quite a story and not quite a play – actors Chris Bauer (True Blood), Jeff Perry (Scandal), and others bring voice to Johnson’s adventurous words, with Johnson joining the crew for a post-performance Q&A.

On Saturday, June 28, in collaboration with ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, ALOUD presents “DearONE,” a dramatic reading of letters from ordinary queer Americans written to L.A.’s ONE Magazine, the first openly gay and lesbian periodical in the United States.

Machine Project, one of L.A.’s most experimental and dynamic programming teams, turns their curatorial eye to the Central Library on Saturday, July 26. Through sound, dance, and site-specific video installations, artists from the gallery will transform various areas of the Library into an interactive multimedia playground, inviting the audience to explore the space in new and unique ways.

On Wednesday, June 18, renowned writers Michelle Huneven and Mona Simpson delve into a discussion about love’s tangled and complex morality on the occasion of their new books with eminent psychoanalyst and theorist Dr. Christopher Bollas. Genre-defying British writer Geoff Dyer shares from his new book, Another Great Day at Sea, on Thursday, June 26.

Science historian Laurel Braitman, science writer Kathryn Bowers, and cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz discuss the astonishing connection between human and animal health on Thursday, July 10. danah boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, skewers misunderstandings and anxieties about the online lives of teens with media scholar Henry Jenkins on Tuesday, July 29.

Novelist and journalist Francisco Goldman reflects on the challenges of embracing Mexico City as home in his new poetic and philosophical work, The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle on Thursday, July 17. And closing out the season on July 30, writer and former Clinton speechwriter and policy advisor Eric Liu examines the rise of the Chinese American dream in his new collection of personal essays, A Chinaman’s Chance: One Family’s Journey and the Chinese American Dream.

The ALOUD summer calendar is now online, so make your reservations for these free programs before it’s too late!

No Further West: The Story of Los Angeles Union Station

Over a century ago, the city fathers of Los Angeles imagined that one day their gritty frontier town would become California’s major metropolitan hub. In order to position its status as a progressive, prosperous community, Los Angeles would first need a Union Station. For decades the fathers fought the railroads to build the station, and when they finally agreed, the railroad planners examined issues of economic growth, urban expansion, and transportation logistics that continue to shape the Los Angeles we know today.


LAPL Photo collection. Union Station, 1940.

On May 2, a new exhibit marking the 75th anniversary of Union Station opens at the Central Library. No Further West is the first exhibition to examine the significance of this architectural and civic landmark. Featuring stunning historic drawings from the Getty Research Institute that have never been shared with the public, the exhibit will showcase original renderings by John and Donald B. Parkinson, the father-son architectural team who designed this gateway to the West. Photographs of trains, depots, the original Chinatown that was razed to make way for Union Station and the grand three-day opening ceremony will be on display along with maps and ephemera—much of which is from The Huntington Library. Rare books from the Los Angeles Public Library’s collection will be on hand to tell the story of Union Station’s past—highlighting the immense Spanish Fantasy influences.


Alameda Street Elevation, Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, July 16, 1936. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute © J. Paul Getty Trust

“Union Station has this interesting tension of looking back and looking forward,” says Marlyn Musicant, the senior exhibitions coordinator at the Getty Research Institute who is curating No Further West. She explains how at the time the aesthetic of the station’s Mission Revival appearance juxtaposed with the modern trains that were very much about the promise of the machine age. Continuing to look ahead to the future, author and critic Greg Goldin will curate a section of the exhibit featuring vision plans that architects have recently proposed for Union Station in 2050.

Main Concourse Section XII, March 6, 1938. Edward Warren Hoak. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute © J. Paul Getty Trust

The Los Angeles Public Library, which was built during the same era and less than two miles away from Union Station, presented the perfect venue for this very L.A. story. “At a time when there is a resurgence of activity in downtown L.A.—especially the historic core—and an increasing interest in expanding our rail system, it’s fitting to celebrate this beautiful landmark within the walls of another of the city’s treasured buildings,” says Musicant.

Ticket Concourse, Union Station, 2013.  Photo by John Kiffe. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute. ©  J. Paul Getty Trust
Ticket Concourse, Union Station, 2013. Photo by John Kiffe. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute. © J. Paul Getty Trust

The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular library hours at the Central Library’s Getty Gallery through August 10. A series of related events will be held in conjunction with the exhibit, including changing displays of model trains by various train clubs on selected dates:

May 17 & 18 Southern California Traction Club  www.trolleyville.com
May 24-June 1 Group 160   www.group160.org
June 7 & 8 San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Assoc.   www.slomra.org
June 14 & 15 Orange County Module Railroaders   www.trainweb.org/ocmra
June 21 & 22 NTrak Express   www.ntrakexpress.com
June 28 & 29 Antelope Valley Nscalers   www.avns.av.org
July 12 & 13 NTrak Express
July 19 & 20 Orange County “N”Gineers   www.ocngineers.com
July 26 & 27 ZoCal    https://vimeo.com/groups/31397
Aug 2 & 3 Pacific Coast Modular Club   www.pctrainclub.org
Aug 9 & 10 Group 160

On May 29, ALOUD will be hosting a special panel on No Further West—members of the Union Station Master Plan team, an architectural historian (and exhibition curator), and the vice-president of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California—will discuss the history of this architectural icon and share visions for its future. Make your free reservation to the ALOUD program here.

Learn more about the exhibit and other special events at the Library.

Celebrating the Voices of Women in Poetry at ALOUD

April is National Poetry Month, and what better way to celebrate than at ALOUD next Thursday, April 24, when the Poetry Society of America brings their national series The Voice of Women in American Poetry to Los Angeles. The series, which pays tribute to the literary heritage of women poets, was first born out of a conversation about Emily Dickinson, arguably the greatest female poet of all time.

Alice Quinn, the executive director of the Poetry Society of America and moderator of the ALOUD event, and the poet Kimiko Hahn were discussing the importance of Dickinson to their literary lives and to the lives of all women poets. Quinn had long wanted to have a program celebrating the great heritage of poetry in America by women when Hahn summoned up the line “the landscape listens,” from the Dickinson poem “There’s a certain slant of light,” as a possible name for the program. They continued to play with names as the vision of the program soon broadened to include distinguished poets—both male and female—honoring the immense achievement of a wide range of women poets in the U.S., and all agreed that the format required a more simple, yet overreaching name—thus, The Voice of Women in American Poetry.

The initial segment launched in Boston last month with a two-day festival in partnership with the Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, involving some twelve poets, like the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner Vijay Seshadri, Lucie Brock-Broido, Robert Pinsky, and Marie Howe, among others. The series went on to D.C. for an intimate program with poets Shara McCallum and Hailey Leithauser. Next up, the series comes to Los Angeles before culminating in New York in the fall of 2014. “To have spectacular poets, both male and female alike, come together to hold aloft the tradition of great women poets in this country strikes me as important and exciting work,” says Charif Shanahan, the programs director for the Poetry Society of America.

On the ALOUD stage, Marilyn Chin will explore the work of Ai, a National Book Award, American Book Award, and Lamont Poetry Award winner who passed away in 2010. She was known for her fierce dramatic monologues that gave voice to marginalized speakers. Also, Toi Derricotte will explore Anne Sexton, and Percival Everett will explore Gertrude Stein. To learn more about all of these poets—both the ALOUD guests and honorees—check out their work at the Los Angeles Public Library:

Book Jacket for: Rhapsody in plain yellowBook Jacket for: The collected poems of AiBook Jacket for: Tender
Book Jacket for: Selected poems of Anne SextonBook Jacket for: Abstraktion und EinfühlungBook Jacket for: Tender buttons : objects

To learn more about the upcoming ALOUD program, click here.