Looking Back at 2014′s Voices of ALOUD

Every year ALOUD brings a diverse range of fascinating voices to the stage for Angelenos to engage with books, art, music, history, science, politics, and more—representing some of the most important stories of our time. We hope you were able to join us for many of the 60 exciting programs in 2014, but just in case, here’s a look back at a few favorite moments. Click on any of the links below for podcasts, videos, and photos.

Jam Sessions
Many electrifying musicians took the ALOUD stage, including legendary punk rocker Exene Cervenka, award-winning pianist Jeremy Denk, classical sensation Jessye Norman, and Grammy Award-winning Angélique Kidjo. And last but not least, ALOUD’s 2014 culminating event featured Carlos Santana discussing his new memoir at the historic Orpheum Theatre.

 

Up Close and Personal
From deeply moving memoirs to riveting biographies, a cast of captivating characters filled the Central Library this year—from theatre critic John Lahr’s thrilling journey into the mind of Tennessee Williams, to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Héctor Tobar’s miraculous account of the thirty-three men buried in a Chilean mine, to never-before-shared stories from the illuminating life of Cesar Chavez, to Geoff Dyer on his wildly eclectic writing. Also, The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore unearthed The Secret History of Wonder Woman and bestselling author Jesmyn Ward and New York Times columnist Charles Blow shared their personal stories of growing up in the rural South.

 

Art Talk
ALOUD’s 2014 lineup of artists and art talks further solidified Downtown L.A. as the heart of the city’s pulsing art scene. In a co-presentation with The Broad museum, John Waters spoke with Jeff Koons about his iconic works. Zsa Zsa Gershick directed a dramatic reading of  “Dear ONE,” a moving adaptation of materials from ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC. “Master of the impossible” Philippe Petit performed magic tricks, while sociologist Sarah Thornton performed the difficult task of answering the impossible question: “What is an artist?”  In a first-ever interactive art performance at ALOUD, Machine Project transformed the Central Library through sound, dance, video, and multimedia improvisations.

 

Good Reads
And finally, a slate of authors topping many of this year’s best lists discussed their critically-acclaimed works at ALOUD. Lorrie Moore read from her first book of short stories in over 15 years. Pulitzer Prize-winning Marilynne Robinson returned to ALOUD to discuss the last novel in her trilogy, meanwhile Edward St. Aubyn introduced readers to his first book since finishing a five-volume series. Colm Tóibín and Rachel Kushner partnered up for an intimate conversation about Tóibín’s latest book at the Writers Guild Theater, while back at Central Library, an impressive group of actors led by Jason Ritter took the stage for WORDTheatre’s interpretation of Denis Johnson’s epistolary “The Starlight on Idaho.” For fans of Los Angeles history, Walter Kirn spoke with James Ellroy on his latest book Perfidia.

 

Thank you for spending the year with us! We look forward to seeing you in 2015. Learn more about our 2015 program calendar here.

Legend Carlos Santana Rocks the ALOUD Stage

To conclude an illuminating year of programming at ALOUD, come spend a magical evening with one of the most influential and visionary musicians of our time, Carlos Santana. On Monday, December 1st at the Orpheum Theatre, Santana will take the stage with Cheech Marin to share the story of his remarkable life as he discusses his new memoir, The Universal Tone. Santana’s soulful new memoir, which is receiving starred reviews from critics, reflects on his humble childhood in Mexico to his celebrated career as a guitarist that bloomed during San Francisco’s Summer of Love. As The Universal Tone is quickly becoming required reading for fans of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist, here’s a look at a few of Santana’s own recommended reads to get you amped up for his special appearance at ALOUD. Learn more about getting tickets to An Evening with Carlos Santana.

Many of these authors from Carlos’ Bookshelf can be found at the Los Angeles Public Library:

The Fifth Agreement
by Don Miguel Ruiz

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle

A Mini Course for Life
by Gerald Jampolsky, M.D. and Diane Cirincione, PH.D

End your story begin your life
by Jim Dreaver

The Body of Light
by Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki

And rounding out his reading list, recently on Twitter Santana called legendary jazz musician and composer Herbie Hancock’s new memoir Possibilities “required reading.” The book is now available at the Los Angeles Public Library.

Book Jacket for: Possibilities
Learn more about getting tickets to An Evening with Carlos Santana.
Mon, Dec 01, 7:30 PM [ALOUD]
The Orpheum Theatre
The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light
In conversation with Cheech Marin
Main image: Carlos Santana (credit: RUBÉN MARTÍN)

On the Horizon at ALOUD

Winter in Los Angeles is all about crisp, clear skies, and there’s definitely something in the stars coming up at ALOUD. From an influential astronomer and a CalTech cosmologist, to a legendary rock star and a comedic movie star, here’s what’s on the horizon at ALOUD this winter:

Kicking off the season, one of the most influential and celebrated musicians of our time – Carlos Santana – sits down with L.A.’s own Cheech Marin for a conversation about his remarkable life story and new memoir, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light. This special offsite program will take place at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, Dec. 1. Tickets to this program include a signed copy of Santana’s book, and are available at lfla.org/aloud.

On Tuesday, Jan. 13, on the occasion of his book, Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, writer Scott Timberg assembles a panel of creative thinkers and doers to examine the roots of a creative crisis that has put booksellers, indie musicians, architects, and designers out of work and struggling to make a living.

Novelist Chang-rae Lee stops by ALOUD on Thursday, Jan. 15, for a conversation on alternate realities, the power of a riveting story to change the way we see the world, and his new work, On Such a Full Sea: A Novel. On Wednesday, Jan. 21, author Jeff Chang (Who We Be: The Colorization of America) and filmmaker Justin Simien (Dear White People) discuss how artists and young people are shaping the discussion about race in the waning days of the Obama era.

On Friday, Jan. 23, ALOUD heads offsite again for an evening with Patton Oswalt – comedian, actor, social media genius – at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. During the evening, Oswalt will illuminate the story of his early days in the Los Angeles comedy scene and his unshakeable addiction to the New Beverly Cinema through his new book, Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film. Tickets on sale Nov. 7 at lfla.org/aloud.

In a very special program on Wednesday, Jan. 28, ALOUD hosts a conversation about the first-ever diary published by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo Bay detainee, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has never been charged with a crime. To discuss the book and case, legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky interviews human rights activist and Slahi’s editor Larry Siems and Nancy Hollander, Slahi’s lawyer, whose practice is devoted to criminal cases (including that of Chelsea E. Manning) involving national security issues.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, award-winning Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy sits down with KCRW’s Warren Olney to tell the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential American murder – one young black man slaying another – contained in her master work of literary journalism, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America.

Leading comics theorist Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work (Understanding Comics). Now he vaults into fiction with The Sculptor, a spellbinding adult urban fable, which he shares at ALOUD with KCRW’s Elvis Mitchell on Tuesday, Feb. 10. Later that week, on Thursday, Feb. 12, influential astronomer Wendy L. Freedman and CalTech cosmologist Sean Carroll stop by ALOUD to discuss what literally could be on the horizon in this phenomenal period of scientific discovery.

On Tuesday, Feb. 17, in a special partnership with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills’ Arts & Ideas series, ALOUD presents a conversation with David Axelrod. During the evening, Axelrod, the great strategist who masterminded Obama’s historic election campaigns, will open up about his years as a young journalist, political consultant, and ultimately Senior Advisor to the President – chronicled in his new book, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics – with NPR’s Emmy Award-winning reporter Michel Martin.  Tickets on sale Nov. 7 at lfla.org/aloud.

On Thursday, Feb. 19, in partnership with the Intercollegiate Department of Africana Studies of The Claremont Colleges, ALOUD welcomes artist, composer, and writer Paul D. Miller – also known as DJ Spooky – for a performance and conversation about Afrofuturism. And closing out the season on Tuesday, Feb. 24, two writers who studied fine art – Bernard Cooper (My Avant-Garde Education) and Benjamin Weissman (Headless) – discuss their personal transitions as visual artists to writers now returning to visual art.

The entire ALOUD Winter 2014-2015 calendar will be made available to the public at lfla.org/aloud on Nov. 7, 2014, where you can make reservations to attend.

Main image: Carlos Santana (credit: RUBÉN MARTÍN)

 

An Evening with Colm Tóibín and Rachel Kushner

It’s a rare treat to find two authors from seemingly opposite ends of the literary spectrum come together over a deep respect and fascination of each other’s work. In a special pairing on Thursday, November 6, critically acclaimed Irish novelist Colm Tóibín will be interviewed by New York Times bestselling L.A. local Rachel Kushner.  They will take the stage at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills for a conversation about Tóibín’s new novel, Nora Webster,  and to discuss their shared passion for some of literature’s most memorable characters.

Tóibín’s latest novel, Nora Webster, is a masterful portrait of a young Irish widow and mother of four’s transformation through grief. In Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, a gutsy young artist arrives in New York in 1977 driven to take risks at any cost. Hear these two luminous storytellers discuss and interpret each other’s fierce female protagonists following in the footsteps of the great Madame Bovary and Hedda Gabler. Learn more about getting tickets here, and to get ready for this special event we’ve gathered a few interesting reads below on Tóibín and Kushner’s latest novels.

Critics are around the globe are praising Tóibín’s Nora Webster:

–Jennifer Egan is stunned by its “high-wire act” as she writes in The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review.

–Although you can check out Nora Webster from the Los Angeles Public Library, Kirkus Reviews says don’t borrow, buy this starred “pitch-perfect sonata of a novel.”

The Guardian calls it an “an Irish love story and a love letter to Irish readers from one of Ireland’s contemporary masters.”

–And if you loved Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, The Washington Post says Nora Webster is even more “believable and, ultimately, more miraculous.”

Critics also unanimously agreed in their adimiration for Kushner’s The Flamethrowers:

–In The New Yorker, James Wood describes it as “scintillatingly alive, and also alive to artifice.”

New York Magazine applauded Kushner in their 2013 “Culture Awards” because she “willfully stands apart” from the literary institution.

–And check out this special curation of art and photography by Kushner in The Paris Review.

Colm Tóibín is the author of seven novels, including The Blackwater Lightship; The Master (winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize); and Brooklyn (winner of the Costa Book Award); as well as two story collections and several books of essays, including Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar. The stage production of his novel, The Testament of Mary, starring Fiona Shaw, ran on Broadway in 2013, earning three Tony nominations. Tóibín lives in Dublin and New York, where he is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of the Humanities at Columbia. His newest book is Nora Webster: A Novel.

Rachel Kushner is the author of two novels, Telex from Cuba and The Flamethrowers. Both received rave reviews, were shortlisted for the National Book Award, and were New York Times bestsellers.

Learn more about the upcoming ALOUD event.

 

Angelenos Unite to Read Homer

The epic journey of the Library Foundation’s month-long, city-wide celebration, The L.A. Odyssey Project, docks at the Central Library this Saturday, October 25, for a marathon reading of Homer’s epic poem. The words of Homer were originally spoken aloud to rapt audiences, and to relive this oral tradition “Our Odyssey: A Reading of Homer’s Epic By the People and For the People” will feature over 200 Angelenos, including students, celebrities, scholars, librarians, veterans, Library Foundation Members, and more.

Actors Cloris Leachman, Rhea Perlman, Bradley Whitford, Susan Sullivan, and Roger Guenveur Smith; musicians Lisa Loeb, Lol Tolhurst (The Cure), and Ceci Bastida; sleight of hand artist Ricky Jay; KCRW traffic queen Kajon Cermak; and others will read through the poem over the course of the day and the voice of Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) will provide running commentary, abridging the epic poem for the audience.

Simpsons_OdysseyPoster_R7

Everyone is invited to attend this free event. Bring the entire family and enjoy an Odyssey puppet show in the KLOS Story Theater or craft your own puppet inspired by the epic in the breathtaking Rotunda!

“Our Odyssey: A Reading of Homer’s Epic By the People and For the People”
Presented in collaboration with The Readers of Homer
Saturday, October 25

2nd Floor Getty Gallery, Central Library
10:30am – 5:30pm

To learn more about The L.A. Odyssey Project, visit lfla.org/odyssey.

 

 

 

Coming Soon to ALOUD: From Poland’s Solidarity to Egypt’s Tahrir Square

None of us were here to live through America’s Revolutionary War that secured our own democracy; but revolutions have succeeded and failed in our lifetimes. Come to ALOUD on Tuesday, October 21, to hear from two courageous writer-activists—one from Poland, the other from Egypt—who have lived through the triumph and heartbreak of their countries’ struggles for freedom.

Adam Michnik, one of Poland’s most influential public intellectuals, perhaps one of the most influential journalists in the world—and a key player in Poland’s transition from Communism to democracy—will be joined by Yasmine El Rashidi, visiting Los Angeles from Cairo, where she writes about the aftermath of the electrifying events in Tahrir Square that brought down a president and raised so many hopes for a democratic Egypt.

Michnik and El Rashidi both speak truth to power. They’ve both written extensively about their on-the-ground participation in the revolutions that swept their respective countries—Poland and Egypt—decades apart.  Michnik, imprisoned during martial law in Poland, wrote in his Letters from Prison, “…you score a victory not when you win power but when you remain faithful to yourself.” El Rashidi, in her poignant essay, “The Revolution Is Not Yet Over,” wrote, “It seems that the battle for Egypt will be one not just for power and against despotic leaders and corruption, but about values, principles, and even a more basic vision of what kind of day-to-day life the people want.”

What does a veteran of one revolution that succeeded have to say to someone who’s lived through one that failed, or has yet to be resolved? (or—a revolution, as pointed out by one resident of Cairo, “in the circular sense of the word. You go back to where you started.”) NPR’s former diplomatic correspondent, Mike Shuster, who’s reported from Tehran to Islamabad, Berlin to Moscow, will moderate what should be a lively discussion between our two guests.

This program is co-presented with the Consulate General of Poland. Learn more about Fomenting Democracy: From Poland’s Solidarity to Egypt’s Tahrir Square and make your free reservation.

“… my relationship with this city, with a culture, with my home, has forever been changed, and my memory of the 18 days, the revolution, are mere fragments of a larger journey and a search that I now wait to complete.” -Yasmine El Rashidi, “Cairo City in Waiting”

“In Poland, not a single window was broken, and the dictatorship was overthrown by the ballot. Poland was the first communist state to gain the capacity to decide about its own fate. That freedom brought anxiety and insecurity.” -Adam Michnik, The Trouble with History: Morality, Revolution, and Counterrevolution

–Posted by Louise Steinman
–Main image: Tahrir Square, November 2011. Credit: Hossam el Hamalawy

 

Lost & Found at the Movies: An Odyssey Sneak Peek

This Friday, October 10, all roads lead to Ithaca at our next installment of Lost & Found at the Movies. As part of the Library Foundation’s month-long L.A. Odyssey Project, Lost & Found series curator John Nein will take us on an epic examination of The Odyssey on film. From George Melies and the earliest days of cinema, to the “sword and sandals” era, to the Coen brothers and Mad Men, what is it about The Odyssey, antiquity, and man’s quest for home that so entices the imagination? Watch this sneak peek below of what’s to come when we look at Homer in Hollywood.


Make your free reservation for Lost & Found at the Movies:

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Ithaca
Friday, October 10, 7:30 PM
Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library
Featuring professor Alex Purves (UCLA Department of Classics)
with series curator John Nein, Senior Programmer, Sundance Film Festival

The Epic Embarks Across Los Angeles

It’s October, which means The L.A. Odyssey Project will begin its journey into the neighborhoods of Los Angeles to explore the connections between literature, history, science, and the humanities to shine a distinctly Southern California light on Homer’s epic poem. From a Cyclops puppet show, to bike riding with Lotus Eaters, to a marathon public reading, here’s a sample of the many ways you can chart your own voyage into Homer’s The Odyssey across Los Angeles this October. For a full calendar of upcoming events, visit www.lfla.org/odyssey.

Artist engagement: Los Angeles artist Peter Shire is re-imagining a modern day Greek vase with a distinctly Southern California perspective. He has been inspired by the collection at The Getty Villa and by the individual Odyssey of an iconic Los Angeleno.

Ongoing throughout October, Los Angeles Public Library Branch programs in each region: These will be envisioned by some of our greatest resources, the creative and innovative public librarians. There will be more than 90 events in total, spread over 15 branches in the Los Angeles Public Library system.

October 2: ‘Homer… the Rewrite’ ALOUD at Central Library

Madeline Miller and Zachary Mason, in conversation with Molly Pulda
Zachary Mason’s brilliant debut novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, reimagines Homer’s epic story of the warrior Odysseus’ long journey home with alternative episodes, fragments, and revisions. Madeline Miller’s retelling of The IliadThe Song of Achilles – offers a fresh take of the Trojan War that was both an homage to Homer and a startlingly original work of art. Together at ALOUD for the first time, these two brilliant young novelists discuss the art of rewriting a classic.

October 4: Commit a Poem to Memory Day. In ancient Greece, oral poets known as rhapsodes, committed epics to memory and recited them for the entertainment of the public.  Because of this tradition, The Odyssey survived for centuries before it was finally written down. On October 4, we will celebrate the oral tradition with “Commit a Poem to Memory Day.”  If The Odyssey seems too daunting, we can recommend Constantine Cavafy’s poem “Ithaka” which is about the odyssey we all undertake to find our own home.

October 5: The L.A. Odyssey Project at CicLAvia

Bicyclists will be invited to decorate their bikes and join along in an Odyssian journey that will include encounters with The Odyssey’s Lotus Eaters, Cyclops and the Sirens in downtown Los Angeles.

October 9: ‘An Odyssey of The Odyssey’ at The HAMMER Museum. In this unique one-night only event, writer/director and media artist Lars Jan brings together the worlds of theater, network science and data visualization to create a trans-disciplinary narrative for the digital age. Collaborating with actor Roger Guenveur Smith, the MAPPR team: ecologist Eric Berlow, data artist/designer David Gurman and computer scientist Kaustuv DeBiswas, and classics researcher Daniel Powazek, Jan will take us on a journey to experience the ripple effect of creative influence which Homer’s Odyssey has inspired across time, space and culture.

October 10: ‘A Strange Thing Happened on the Way to Ithaca’

Lost & Found at the Movies at Central Library. The Odyssey has inspired filmmakers around the world from George Melies in the earliest days of cinema to the Coen brothers in recent years. What is it about the epic poem that entices the cinematic imagination? What did we learn from the ancient Greeks about storytelling? What did we learn about Homer from Hollywood (and is any of it right)? And just how does all that swordplay happen? Celebrate the Library Foundation’s month-long exploration of The Odyssey with this look at the larger-than-life tale on film.

October 15: Alice Oswald at HAMMER Museum. Acclaimed British poet and Classicist Alice Oswald recites – from memory – her epic poem, “Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad.” Described as “a concentrated, intense, multi-tasking elegy” Memorial is poetry on a grand scale that brings the account of the Trojan War into contemporary focus. Recipient of the inaugural Ted Hughes Award, Alice Oswald has also won the T.S. Elliot Award and the Warwick Prize for Writing.

October 16: Alice Oswald at the Getty Villa. Renowned British poet and Classicist Alice Oswald, whose elegiac “Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad” won the 2013 Warwick Prize for Writing, shares her thoughts about Light as a character in The Odyssey and reads a poem on the subject.

October 18: Peter Shire in conversation with Mary Hart at the Getty Villa

L.A. artist Peter Shire joins Getty Villa curator Mary Hart for a conversation about ancient and contemporary storytelling through art. The tour features a presentation of Shire’s recent interpretation of a Greek vase, which sets the tale of Odysseus in contemporary Los Angeles. In the galleries, explore the ancient Greek vases that inspired his new work.

October 25: ‘Our Odyssey: A Reading of Homer’s Epic Poem By the People and For the People’ at Central Library. The words of the poet Homer were originally spoken aloud to rapt audiences who sat spellbound by tales of kings and heroes, battles and sorrow. Relive the experience of this oral tradition by taking part in an exciting daylong marathon reading of The Odyssey at the historic Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. Readers of all ages and backgrounds are invited to participate in this unique opportunity to bring this thrilling tale of the voyage of Odysseus to life and to enjoy the experience of reading poetry aloud. This program will be presented in association with The Readers of Homer, an organization that stages public readings of Homer’s epics around the world. During the day-long reading, Central Library will come alive with Odyssey-themed shadow puppet shows, food trucks, Cyclops sightings, arts and crafts, and more.

October 26: Libros Schmibros Book Club at HAMMER Museum. James Joyce scholar Colleen Jaurretche will lead the group in considering the relationship between Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce’s Ulysses.

October 27: ‘The Warrior’s Return: From Surge to Suburbia’ ALOUD at Central Library

David Finkel and Skip Rizzo, in conversation with Tom Curwen
When we ask young men and women to go to war, what are we asking of them? When their deployments end and they return – many of them are changed forever.  How do they recover some facsimile of normalcy? MacArthur award-winning author David Finkel discusses the struggling veterans he chronicled in his deeply affecting book, Thank You for Your Service, with Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Director for Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technologies, who has pioneered the use of virtual reality-based exposure therapy to treat veterans suffering from PTSD.

For more information on these events, and to learn more about The L.A. Odyssey Project, related reading, and more visit the website here.

 

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)

 


The Library Foundation Celebrates 22 Years

“This is a great Library and it has a wonderful history because it is a Phoenix of a Library. It was reborn from ashes,” said Susan Sontag of the Los Angeles Public Library. On September 20, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles will celebrate its 22nd anniversary with a gala to benefit the great Los Angeles Public Library. Held biannually, the anniversary festivities raise funds for three major program areas supported by the Foundation: Investing in New Readers, Helping Students Succeed, and Creating the Innovative Library of the Future. Over the last two decades, the Foundation has brought together a community of supporters to celebrate the legacy of the Los Angeles Public Library by honoring authors including Susan Sontag, philanthropists, individuals, foundations, and corporations who all share a commitment to the mission of the Los Angeles Public Library and a passion for great literature.


Larry McMurty and Diane Keaton, 2008.

This year, the Library Foundation pays tribute to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz with the Los Angeles Public Library Literary Award. Presented to an author for his or her outstanding contribution to literature, the Literary Award has also been given to Salman Rushdie, Walter Mosley, Tom Brokaw, August Wilson, Carlos Fuentes, John Updike, and E.L.Doctorow, among some of the other notable writers below.

Louise Erdrich in 1997.


Tony Kushner (far left) pictured with ALOUD’s Louise Steinman in 2007.
Stephen King (right) in 2010.


Norman Mailer, 2006.


David McCollough (left) in 2002.

During this year’s celebration, bestselling author Judith Krantz will also receive the Foundation’s Light of Learning Award for her devoted advocacy for the Los Angeles Public Library. Former Light of Learning recipients include Sharon and Nelson Rising, The Ahmanson Foundation, the Mark Taper Foundation, Wallis Annenberg, Gary Ross, and other longtime supporters.


Doris Kearns Goodwin (Literary Award Winner in 2000) with Gregory Peck (Light of Learning Recipient in 1996).



Seamus Heaney (on the left, Literary Award Winner in 1998) with Flora Thornton (Light of Learning Recipient in 1998).


Harper Lee (on the right, Literary Award Winner in 2005) with Veronique Peck (Light of Learning Recipient in 2009).

Thanks to all the supporters of the Library Foundation over the years who have contributed to providing free access to ideas and information and the civic, cultural, and educational core of our community.