June 14, 2007
The salonistas of L.A.—talking about writing
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"It was fantastic," she says.
Then there was the night when George Carlin "became emotional and quite distraught remembering certain aspects of his childhood and his comic heroes."
Grossman concludes: "To have such figures who have had such a significant impact on our culture - to see them so intimately is invaluable."
For more information on Writer's Bloc, visit http://www.writersblocpresents.com. Upcoming programs for June include: David Steinberg on June 22 and Tina Brown on June 26; July & August Grossman is taking off. She returns in September to work on some major events, including a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road."
Louise Steinman and the Hearth of Los Angeles
Louise Steinman's route to leading the Los Angeles Public Library's Central Library's cultural programs has been one of much "serendipity." She grew up in Los Angeles, attended Reed College in Portland, where she received her bachelor's in literature, and received a master's in interdisciplinary arts from San Francisco State University.
"Interdiscplinary" would be a good description for her artistic and writing career.
Steinman has created performances and dance theater works for her SO & SO & SO & SO company (co-founded with Susan Banyas); she has written works of criticism such as "The Knowing Body: The Artist as Contemporary Performance"; and she wrote an autobiographical memoir "The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War." On her Web site, Steinman states that her work "frequently addresses issues of memory, history and reconciliation."
In 1986, the Los Angeles Public Library's downtown central branch was victim to two incidents of arson, which closed the library. Shortly after its reopening in 1993, Steinman, who had been cultural director of Barnsdall Park, was asked to direct public programs for the library.
She was hired by Gary Ross, the Hollywood director of such films as "Dave" and "Seabiscuit," who was president of the Library Board of Commissioners. He had grand ideas for the library's programs (Steinman recalls Ross saying "Let's get Gorbachev!").
In the beginning, Steinman admits "the learning curve was very steep." They had few resources, limited support for ads, marketing, and outreach, and the audiences at times were limited to handful of people.
Yet things began to change. "Downtown started to happen," Steinman said. The library foundation hired an outreach manager, publicist Regina Mangum. Steinman brought her curiosity, her interdisciplinary interests, and her sense of performance not only to programming what is now "Aloud" but also to the library itself, and the space where the events are held, the Mark Taper Auditorium.
Steinman was particularly captivated by observing how people interacted with the space. "The library is a welcome space," Steinman said recently. "People think of this space as the hearth of the city."
Aloud hosts between 70 and 85 events a year, by Steinman's estimation. All are free (on occasion Aloud has charged a $5 fee for a performing arts program, but they have not done so in a while). Reservations are not required but are suggested, as events sometimes sell out.
Steinman was quick to point out that in fact she does not work for the city, or for the library, but for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, which is a nonprofit organization founded to help secure private support for the library.
Accordingly, the events are provided at no cost to the library or the city (and accordingly at no tax cost to us). (I will disclose here that I recently interviewed novelist Nathan Englander for the Aloud series and received an honorarium for doing so.) The Library Foundation, for its part, does raise funds, and the public is encouraged to become library foundation members and/or make donations to the foundation.
When asked to list some highlights, Steinman responded, "there have been so many deeply moving [programs]." While first recalling those memorable speakers who were no longer among us, such as W.G. Sebald, Susan Sontag, and August Wilson, Steinman also recalled stirring debates and discussions, such as Sam Harris and Reza Aslan on "Can Faith and Reason Co-exist?" (moderated by Jonathan Kirsch); an evening devoted to the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski; David Milch (of "Deadwood" fame) and William Deveareaux, a scholar of the West, in a free-wheeling conversation that Steinman describes as "brilliant"; Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman with director David O. Russell, who had been his student at Amherst.
An eclectic list to be sure, but Steinman's credo is that "all subjects are contained in the library and all subjects are fair game [for ALOUD]."
For more information, visit http://www.lfla.org/aloud/. Some of the upcoming highlights are: Michale Ondatje (June 12), Armisted Maupin (June 20) and Chip Kidd (July 25). The fall program is still being set, but Steinman is looking forward to appearances in September by Nobel Prize Winning scientist James Watson, Oliver Sachs, and literary critic Robert Alter.
Literary Affairs: The Salon in Your Living Room
"My whole concept is to take readers beyond the book," Julie Robinson, book group leader par excellence, told me recently. "To create an experience based on great literature."
Robinson is a great example of how doing what you love and following your passion can not only become a life, but a living as well.
Robinson grew up in New York and Massachusetts and came to Los Angeles after graduating college. As a stay-at-home mom, she was always reading. She would often arrive at her children's pre-school book-in-hand; the other moms would ask her for book recommendations.
She went back to UCLA to take English literature courses and formed a book group that met in her living room. With the help of Doug Dutton of Dutton's Bookstore in Brentwood and writer Diane Leslie, who often hosted writer events at Dutton's, Robinson began to host book clubs. What began as a hobby, according to Robinson, soon evolved into her business, "Literary Affairs."