Jeff Bridges, Anne Lamott and Others Join ALOUD this Winter

Do you find yourself quoting The Big Lebowski in casual conversation or humming Mahler in the shower? ALOUD’s winter season promises not to disappoint with an exciting and eclectic line-up of filmmakers, actors, authors, musicians, scientists, religious and political leaders, and more, taking part in the Library Foundation’s yearlong 20th anniversary celebration. Here’s a round-up of what’s to come, and you can visit for more info and tickets.

Kick-off the New Year with these special film events:

Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman. Image by Alan Kozlowski.

Thursday, January 10, ALOUD welcomes screen legend Jeff Bridges and world-renowned Zen teacher Bernie Glassman to the Aratani/Japan America Theatre for an enlightening and entertaining conversation between student and teacher on their new book, The Dude and the Zen Master, co-presented by the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.

Thursday, January 24, film critic and KCRW host Elvis Mitchell talks to writer, poet and playwright Nick Flynn on the surreal process of adapting his memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, into a film called Being Flynn, starring Robert De Niro as his father.

Tuesday, January 29, actor, director and activist Diego Luna visits on the occasion of his new feature about Cesar Chavez to discuss the power of storytelling as an agent for social change.

Span the globe with these groundbreaking international stories:

Artwork from Gallery Monin.

Tuesday, January 15, days after the third anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, veteran journalist Amy Wilentz reports on the uncanny resilience of the country that emerged like a powerful spirit from the dust of the 2010 disaster.

Monday, February 11, internationally-renowned radiation expert Dr. Robert Peter Gale and writer Eric Lax correct myths and establish facts about life on our radioactive planet in our post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.

Women who wow us:

Monday, December 10, best-selling author and activist Anne Lamott converses with Father Gregory Boyle about the three prayers that she believes can illuminate the way forward: Help, Thanks, Wow.

Thursday, February, 21, journalist and The End of Men author Hanna Rosin, Ms. Magazine Executive Editor Kathy Spillar, imMEDIAte Justice co-founder Tani Ikeda, and Feminist Women’s Health Center co-founder Carol Downer join primatologist and Darwinian feminist Dr. Amy Parish for a multi-generational look at feminism and women’s rights today in light of the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique.

Homegrown in California:

Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Wheaton residence, Brentwood, CA, 1958. Photo by Maynard Parker.

Thursday, December 13, the newly created LA Grand Ensemble makes its public premiere, blending theatrical and artistic elements for a contemporary and new classical music experience including a reduction of Mahler’s Symphony No.4.

Thursday, January 17, photography curator Jenny Watts of The Huntington, Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, and author and historian D.J. Waldie gather to discuss influential photographer Maynard L. Parker, who aimed his lens at the mid-century masterworks of L.A. architects in Cold War California.

Saturday, February 9, ALOUD partners with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to present its annual afternoon chamber music concert.

Tuesday, February 26, former mayor of San Francisco and current California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom joins acclaimed local journalist Patt Morrison onstage for Citizenville: Connecting People and Government in the Digital Age.

And last but not least, a new iteration of the “Writing and the Art of Not Knowing” musings:

Wednesday, February 6, writers George Saunders and Bernard Cooper discuss how they grapple with the difficult, but essential challenges of their creative work with moderator Sarah Shun-lien Bynum.

We hope you’ll join us this season! Free reservations are strongly recommended for ALOUD at Central Library programs, and tickets can be purchased for the LA Grand Ensemble and An Evening with Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman via


Gray Brechin Excavates the New Deal in Southern California

The invitation to speak at the ALOUD series at the Los Angeles Public Library on June 21 gave me an opportunity not only to show the audience an indispensable but invisible matrix of New Deal public works that lifted Southern California out of the last depression, but to reveal an option seldom if ever offered as an antidote to an economic crisis. That option was both direct and indirect federal employment through emergency work relief agencies. The WPA, PWA, CCC, and others succeeded not only economically, but as the means to create a healthier society rather than one ever more desperate and pathological. Gray Brechin and David Kipen of Libros Schmibros in conversation at ALOUD. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Striking at 5:54 PM on March 10, 1933 just six days after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration, the Long Beach earthquake gave New Deal agencies an opportunity to show how dramatically taxpayer money could be used to spread opportunities previously available only to the few. The shock collapsed or severely damaged schools throughout the county. The Los Angeles Board of Education assigned a board of 48 architects, engineers, and construction experts to assess the safety of all its schools and plan new ones.  With the aid of grants and loans from the new Public Works Agency in Washington, Los Angeles and adjacent cities launched a three-year campaign that one PWA publication called “the largest school building and rehabilitation program ever undertaken.” After three years of construction, workers had built or reconstructed 536 buildings with the help of the PWA. Long Beach alone got over 30 schools.

The Roosevelt administration operated on the assumption that it is far cheaper and better for a society to uplift the nation’s people rather than punish them so that, in the depths of the Great Depression, the PWA and the later Works Progress Administration (WPA) built or refurbished tens of thousands of schools around the country. Many of them are architecturally distinguished and embellished with public art now seldom seen by the public. In addition, the two agencies constructed entire community college campuses as well as modern teaching, research, and athletic facilities at state universities. Roosevelt strongly believed that only an educated citizenry could sustain democratic governance, so both agencies also built and aided public libraries and museums, while millions of young men recruited into the Civilian Conservation Corps were provided with educational and vocational opportunities through in-camp schools and WPA-run extension courses.

On construction sites throughout Los Angeles County, project signs proclaimed “Workmen Wanted.” Demand for concrete and other materials kickstarted the moribund building industry. From the bottom of the Depression in 1933, the GDP rose sharply and unemployment fell. Though I was unaware of it at the time, the excellent free public education I received in the 1950s and 60s was largely a legacy of those New Deal initiatives. California then merited its boast to be The Golden State.

On the day after our presentation at the Central Library in Los Angeles, David Kipen and I set out to discover more of the unseen public landscape left to us by New Deal agencies and workers while we still have it. In the auditorium of South Pasadena Middle School, we found a WPA sculpture of CCC workers by San Diego-based Donal Hord.  The sculptor placed at least two African-American workers in the foreground of a densely-packed relief, a reminder that the C’s were initially integrated outside of the South. That was fifteen years before President Truman desegregated the U.S. military.

Relief of CCC Workers by Donal Hord, 1938, at South Pasadena Middle School.

David and I also visited the post offices in South Pasadena and Culver City, both of which contain murals created for one of several New Deal art agencies. The Treasury Department built over 1,100 post offices during the New Deal, many of them embellished with public art that reflected back to citizens their regional landscapes, history, and legends as well as their work.

David Kipen in lobby of Culver City Post Office.

I feel an urgency in documenting these often superb buildings and the art they contain before the U.S. Postal Service liquidates itself as it sells off the public’s property. Citizen opposition to the closure of post offices in Venice, La Jolla, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and elsewhere appears to be futile in the hasty fire sale now going on; shortly after returning home, I learned that Berkeley’s Renaissance-style post office — Pasadena’s cousin — will soon join them on the market.

Though David wrote the introduction to the republished WPA guide to Los Angeles, we both remain baffled by the book’s failure to mention the ubiquitous New Deal public works that pole vaulted Southern California (and the nation) into the mid-twentieth century. But, then, archaeology was among the many fields of knowledge advanced by CCC and WPA workers. As the Living New Deal team uncovers more of what my parents’ generation built 75 years ago in order to extricate itself from another financial crisis, I think of the workers who excavated lost civilizations then. In doing so, we are recovering a forgotten ethical language so often antithetical to that of our own. Listen to the podcast of the event here.

–Posted by Gray Brechin

Dr. Gray Brechin is the founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal project based at the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography: