Festival of Books!

what_are_you_reading(Click for larger view of 2010 Festival “What are you reading?” wall.)
So the Festival of Books is 18-19th April this year. If you’re in or near LA, I hope you’re going! It’s free, it’s huge (the largest book festival in the USA) and also huge fun! They’ve announced the schedule of events and the dates on which you can snag (free) tickets for various indoor panels and appearances since they are very popular, as usual. So check out the panels, appearances, and performances here. (Check out several of my past posts on the Festival here. Note also that the festival is on the USC campus which is easy to get to using great public transport links if you don’t want to deal with traffic and parking.)

Note also that the shortlist for the 2014 LA Times Book Prizes was announced (a while back – I forgot to post about it) and it is here. I always find it interesting… for a start, it is a great list of reading suggestions!

By the way, apparently I’m officially an author – not just a guy who writes from time to time – an author. Why? Well, I’m listed as one on the schedule site. I’ll be on one of the author panels! It is moderated by KC Cole, and I’ll be joining […] Click to continue reading this post

Meanwhile, Somewhere Down South…

hotel_down_south_1st_Sept_2014So while at a hotel somewhere down South for a few days (pen and watercolour pencil sketch on the right), I finally found time to sit and read Graham Farmelo’s book “The Strangest Man”, a biography of Dirac. (It has a longer subtitle as well, but the book is way over in the next room far from my cosy spot…) You may know from reading here (or maybe even have guessed) that if I were to list a few of my favourite 20th century physicists, in terms of the work they did and their approach and temperament, Dirac would be a strong contender for being at the top of the list. I am not a fan of the loudmouth and limelight-seeking school of doing physics that seems all so popular, and I much prefer the approach of quietly chipping away at interesting (not always fashionable) problems to see what might turn up, guided by a mixture of physical intuition, aesthetics, and a bit of pattern-spotting. It works, as Dirac showed time and again.

I’ve read a lot about Dirac over the years, and was, especially in view of the title of the book, a little wary of reading the book when I got it four years ago, as I am not a fan of going for the “weren’t they weird?” approach to biographies of scientists since they serve too […] Click to continue reading this post

Copenhagen Address

copenhagen_address_aLast night’s event was wonderful. The actors had such passion, and it was all done with great pacing and flow. This was a most marvellous play reading – the cast’s performances felt so fully inhabited by the text of the play that it hardly felt like a reading at all.

They (Nike Doukas as Margrethe Bohr, Arye Gross as Neils Bohr, and Leo Marks as Werner Heisenberg) and director Jack Rowe, should be very proud. They did very little rehearsal for this, which is makes it all the more impressive.

I gave an opening address* (and also introduced the evening**, as usual forgetting to introduce myself…) and the text of my address follows:

Good evening and welcome!

Yesterday, the Nobel Prize in Physics was announced. You might recall that it was for the discovery of the mechanism that gives all elementary particles their masses. A profound mystery about the universe was solved. While that’s a wonderful thing, and many people acknowledge that, many people don’t connect anything about that quest to understand the universe to themselves.

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One Today

I *loved* the Inauguration Poem by Richard Blanco, and I loved the way he read it at the ceremony. It was by far my favourite thing of the day, although there were several things I liked about the event (or collection of events). Of course, you’ll have guessed that the phrases about teaching geometry in class, or about windmills generating electricity, or about having equations to solve, were highlights for me, but it was not just those things that delighted. The overall ideas of sharing and community (One sky, our sky; one ground, our ground, etc.) just fit so well with my view of the world, as you know from this blog. I’ve included the text in full below, and at the very bottom, an ABC video of him reading it. I hope you read it too!


“One Today” – Richard Blanco

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies.
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.

My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors,
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day:
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights,
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper — bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us,
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives — to teach geometry, or ring up groceries as my mother did
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through,
the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: […] Click to continue reading this post

Science Fiction Special

Just as I left for my shooting trip last week, I had a moment of indecision. I wanted to take something to read during airport and airplane downtime, but wanted to travel light. The books I wanted to take felt a bit big in my bag, somehow, largely because I could not decide what I was in the mood for and so was in danger of bringing more than one. Then I remembered that I was behind on New Yorkers, and was taking my iPad anyway. So I made sure the New Yorker was updated on it, and what did I see waiting for me to delve into on the plane? The special issue on Science Fiction!

It is an excellent issue, with contributions from lots of authors, including several short reflective pieces from legendary authors like Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, Margaret Atwood, and William Gibson and newer authors like China Miéville and Karen Russell talking about things like how they found their way into fiction and science fiction, and its role as a gateway to the larger literary world. Of course, there are also the usual reflections about the snobbery and separation into high and low culture that existed in the early days (and that still persists today) for literature as well as film and TV when it comes to science fiction (see a related discussion here), many of which are humorously done, and will be familiar to many readers from their childhood…. I strongly recommend getting that issue if you do not already subscribe. It may well still be on magazine stands…

In related news, Ray Bradbury died on Monday, I heard on the radio yesterday. This is […] Click to continue reading this post

On Physics, Spiritualism, Fiction, and Non-Fiction

On Monday evening I chatted with Deborah Cloyed, author of the recently released novel “The Summer We Came to Life”, which I finished reading over the weekend. The conversation was recorded for Rare Bird Literature’s Rare Bird Radio site, and so you can listen. (Embed at the end of this post.) We talked about her use of various physics ideas (Copenhagen and Many Worlds quantum mechanics interpretations, parallel worlds) in her skillfully crafted novel about four friends, loss, the afterlife, and friendship.

At this point, some of you are yelling “Run, run for your life, Mr. Scientist!”. But No. No, no, no. I think that’s a mistake. Deborah is, first of all, writing a novel, not trying to push some self-help book that cherry picks a few ideas from science, conflates them with some stuff people want to hear, and trying to make a buck out of it. Second of all, she really loves the science, and seems to have read a lot about the subject, unusually widely. You don’t ignore someone who really cares about the subject and wants to know more, especially when they want to include it in the work they are producing. So when we were introduced a while back, she thought it would be fun and interesting to have a conversation about various things, and I agreed. I got the chance to comment (at her request) about what I thought she was doing with the science, and how the final result worked, I got to ask her what she thought of it, and from there we talked about lots of related topics, including the whole idea of mixing […] Click to continue reading this post

Festival Activities, 2

A week has passed since the festival and I’ve not posted any more information about it. This is partly a result of being preoccupied with several other things, including organizing yesterday’s workshop… which seemed to go very well, by the way. See previous post for an update.

I thought that the festival was simply great. I attended many more panel discussions than I had before, and that may have been a good thing since it meant that I mixed outside and inside a bit better than I have in the past, meaning that I was less likely to get tired from the heat or from simply being on my feet all day. I ran into several friends out enjoying it, some themselves on their way to or from panels or presenting at stages. It works really well at USC, and it seems that people were really enjoying the new layout, and the better access to the festival overall afforded by the numerous public transport links I saw people enjoying (had to miss a 200 bus on the way from MacArthur Park to the campus because it was full of people heading to the festival before 10:00am on Saturday. Nice to see.)
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Festival Activities, 1

Well, it was wonderful yesterday. Maybe my best time at the festival over the several years I’ve been going, possibly because I visited more of the ticketed panels, mixing those in with the wandering outdoors looking at the stalls and stages. Might do some more today…

In the meantime, here’s my favourite picture from yesterday. I like it for several reasons, not the least because it symbolizes a major aspect of the whole thing that I consider important – family and the joy of reading – but, well, have a look and see what you can see… (click for a larger view).


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Festive Weekend!

It has been another rather busy week this week (including a marathon seven-hour video interview!) and so posting was a bit light. I apologize for this, including for not getting to blogging about an event (or cluster of events) that I’ve been gleefully waiting for since the news broke last Fall that (as I’d mentioned back then) the LA Times Festival of Books is now being hosted by USC. This is something I fantasized about many years ago, in fact – I simply think it is a better fit for the city of Los Angeles for many reasons.

Anyway, the first festival of the new era is tomorrow and Sunday, with a wonderful program that can be looked at on the LA Times website. It will continue to be the largest literary festival in the USA (and perhaps beyond?), and it is hoped that it will get even larger… Next year, we’ll have the new branch of the subway system running, giving three stops at the campus (hurrah!), but in the meantime there’s a dedicated shuttle bus connecting USC to Union Station downtown and the Convention Center (not to mention all the many regular public transport links), and so you don’t have to bring your car to the area to deal with parking issues.

As you know from my blogging about all this in previous years (see list of links at the end), in a sense the whole thing kicks off the Friday night before (tonight!) with the […] Click to continue reading this post

Weekend Poetry and Cycling

cicLAvia picture from 10-10-10For those of you located in the area, I should mention two events close to my heart that are taking place this weekend. One is the Dead Poets’ Slam, this Saturday at 7:00pm at the excellent Skylight books. This is one of the always great Smart Gals events, organized by Christine Louise Berry. She’s got together an excellent collection of readers to throw down against each other under this year’s theme, “Monarchs vs. Minions”.

You should know that these annual slams are slammin’. They are not simply people sitting around reading poetry, but animated passionate people really breathing living flame into the poetry and throwing it at each other for points and glory! There’ll be judges* giving out these points, famous victories, and fragments of the defeated left […] Click to continue reading this post

Major Moon-Milk Opportunity!

Tomorrow’s full moon is going to be the closest to us in 18 years, apparently. It’s called a supermoon by some, and no doubt some will try to link it to many major events here on earth, both natural and man-made (if you’ll forgive the distinction). I won’t do a long post about this issue, but instead refer you to Phil, who is excellent on the science of this and related subjects.

What I will say instead is that all commentators seem to have missed that this is the best opportunity in years to gather moon-milk! Get out your ladders and buckets and go for it!

What am I talking about? At my last birthday I was given* a lovely collection of stories by Italo Calvino, and the first one is entitled “The Distance of the Moon”. It begins with a description of the fact that a long time ago the moon orbited much closer to the earth, as you may know, and then weaves a delightful story from there. The story involves reminiscences, by the narrator Qfwfq, about those good old days when the moon came so close that once a month (yes, I know) the earth’s inhabitants would take boats out onto the sea to the where the moon came close and climb up a ladder to its surface to gather the much-desired substance known as moon-milk. A lovely extract follows: […] Click to continue reading this post

The Project – 1

It is midnight and I really should get to sleep in order to wake up and work some more on editing the final exam for my class so that it can go to the printer by noon. But I’ve got several pokes from people clamouring to find out what The Project actually is, and I promised yesterday I’d start to spill the beans. Thanks for the interest! I think I’d better get at least some of it out there or I’ll have an angry mob by morning! So here goes. I will drag out the draft I sketched yesterday and beat it into shape:

So, as you may have guessed, The Project, which I’ve been mentioning here since a post way back in February, is a writing project, but it is somewhat different from what you might expect. The bottom line is that I hope that at some point into future you will be able to purchase a copy of your own, and that you will find it instructive, exciting, and enjoyable. At least.

Yes, it is a book about science. However… Well, here’s the thing. Over many years, people (friends, colleagues, potential agents and publishers, blog readers, etc) have been asking me when I am going to write my book. You know, the popular-level book that every academic who is interested in the public understanding of their field (as you know I am from reading this blog) is expected will write at some point. To be honest, I have given it some thought over the years, and it has been something I figured I might do at some point. In fact, several different ideas have occurred to me over the years, and I may well implement some of them at some point.

But a major thought began to enter my mind well over ten years ago. In my field, there is a rather narrow range of models for the shape of such books, usually involving about 80% of it being a series of chapters covering all the standard introductory material (some relativity, some quantum mechanics, and so forth) for the lay reader, before culminating in a chapter or two of what the researcher really wants to tell them about: some aspect of their research. This is a fine model, and it is great that people continue to write such books, and I will no doubt use that model one day, but to be honest, I don’t think there is any urgency for me to add to the canon yet another one of those books. Moreover, if you line examples of that type of book up against each other, you see that the […] Click to continue reading this post

Nobel Prize for Literature 2010

This morning’s announcement reminds me of an author I’ve yet to read any works from:

nobel_picture_literature_2010The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 was awarded to Mario Vargas Llosa “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat”.

The press release is here. I hope to hear more about this man and his work next week. I’m organizing the Nobel Lunches again this year (and event I told you about last year that I started with the support of the College Commons) and so I will be spending the next several days trying to find […] Click to continue reading this post

West Hollywood Book Fair

west_hollywood_book_fair_1The West Hollywood Book Fair was fun to visit yesterday, even through the huge heat wave we’ve been having. I struggled through the heat to a bus stop and was rewarded with one almost immediately I arrived, to my relief. Even the bus seemed tired as it trundled along through the sweltering city to West Hollywood, where I jumped off and wandered into the grounds of the event. I poked around the stands with books, authors, and other people on display, chatting here and there with interesting people.

I was not on a panel this year (see last year’s report here and here – I don’t think there was anything on science or science-writing this year), so decided to listen to a […] Click to continue reading this post

A Dream Come True!

Wow! There’s a major piece of news that was announced today that basically exactly fits with a dream I have every year. Furthermore, I have been taking part in some meetings with all the University’s Deans, the President, and other key officials, about major aspects of USC’s future endeavours, and when the issue of strengthening the role of USC in the life of Los Angeles came up, I intended to mention my dream, but we ran out of time yesterday so I decided I’d mention it at today’s lunch meeting instead. So today at lunch I was about to be called on to make the point about local roles, and I’d decided to give the specific examples I had in mind. I was going to suggest that we seek for things analogous to UCLA Live, and to the LA Times Festival of Books, as things we can do to open our doors to the city (even more than we do) and become well known to more people near and far as a regular contributor to the intellectual life of the city (I mean beyond the huge number of people who come to us for an education, and the many public events that we already host and/or sponsor). But I was not called on because the President, Max Nikias, looked at his watch and said he had an announcement to make since it was just past the embargo time that was put on the story.

What was his announcement? The LA Times Festival of Books is going to move to USC starting next year! (See also here.) We’ll be enlarging it, and bringing back the awards ceremony to the way it was, etc.

You’ve maybe read my many posts here about the LA Times Festival of Books, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Summer Reading: Of Bookstores and Lemon Cake

There’s something enduringly lovely about local independent bookstores. I love stopping by to visit them, try to give my local ones the first shot at supplying me with a book I’m looking for, but most of all I value them as community centres at the heart of the villages (real and virtual) that exist in our neighbourhoods, even in a vast city like Los Angeles. People gather and linger at them, bonding over the written word for the most part, but sometimes just for the sake of gathering and lingering. In that role they are a lot like public libraries, another favourite of mine. Much of what I said can apply to the large chain bookstores too, but somehow I find them less likely to have that community feel that independent stores have. I’m not sure why (location? focus? less of a personal touch in the organization of the material?), but this is the way it seems to me. (I’m speaking about the USA; the feel of bookstores is different to me in different countries.)

aimee_bender_reading_3Last night, after a quiet evening meal after a long day of working on the Project, I went for a nice long walk, heading to Skylight books in Los Feliz. (That’s the neighbourhood at the base of the hills of Griffith Park, in case you don’t know.) My friend and colleague Aimee Bender was launching her new (long awaited) novel “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”, and I thought I’d go along to support the launch, hear about the book, and absorb a bit of the buzz. And buzz there was, since in addition to […] Click to continue reading this post

The Festivities Begin!

LA Times Festival of BooksSo this weekend the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books takes place. This is a two day celebration of books that takes place on the UCLA campus that is a joy to attend each year. I’ve blogged about it many times in the past and you can look at previous posts from the list below. The website for the festival is here.

As you may recall, the night before the festival – that would be tonight – there is a ceremony to announce the winners of the LA Times Book Prizes, with a great reception at the end with lots of interesting people and (often) great conversation. The list of nominated books can be found here, and it is interesting again this year. Here, for example is the science and technology list: […] Click to continue reading this post


Over at Wongablog, Andrew points to a post he did over at Humanist Life in which he reviews “Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science”, by Richard Holmes. This is one of my favourite topics, and it is certainly a book I’m planning to read, although I have not done so yet.

Andrew writes thoughtfully on the book and the matter in general, and so I’ll leave you to wander over there and have a read of it. To tempt you, an extended (I hope Andrew does not mind) extract: […] Click to continue reading this post

The Write Stuff

A little while ago, this season’s edition of the USC College magazine came out, and it is available online. Notably, it is featuring writers and writing, and there are several pieces in there about both faculty and students and their writing, in various forms. There are articles about superstars such as TC Boyle and Aimee Bender, as well as pieces by excellent writers such as California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes, and M. G. Lord. I recommend having a read of it.

It is with a mixture of mild amusement and embarrassment that I mention that among all that excellent writerly material is, perhaps oddly, an article on yours truly. It is about this blog, what it is about and for, and why I do it. (The blog is, of course, not to be mistaken for great writing, and so I will apologize personally to Aimee […] Click to continue reading this post

Murakami’s Birthday!

Haruki MurakamiI’ve spoken about Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite writers, here before (Image right by Elena Seibert). See my earlier post, which highlighted an essay of his. Well, I learned from The Writer’s Almanac that it is his birthday today. Since I’ve been thinking a lot about great writing recently, I thought I’d celebrate by noting it here to you on the blog. Do go over there and read a bit about what Garrison Keillor and his writers say about him. Extract:
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A Gripping Read

There’s a physics angle to the Tiger Woods business of last week (that I’d not really been following since I was, thankfully, out of the country during the media blitz).

A physics angle? Really? Surely in my attempts to show the science angle in everyday things I’ve gone too far?

tiger-woodss-car-with-get-002Well, actually there is. So there was some business with a car crashing and so forth, and there are photos of the interior of the car. There’s a book visible. It’s a physics book! It is John Gribbins’ Get a Grip on Physics, from 1999. tiger-woodss-car-with-get-close It is out of print now, but apparently its Amazon (USA) sales rank shot from 396,224 to 2,268 over a short period. (For the record, before you ask about the other items in the photos (from Getty images), I’ve heard no news on whether umbrella sales also spiked. Or bottled water sales, for that matter.)

I like this story for lots of reasons, but the main one is that this shows to the […] Click to continue reading this post

A. S. Byatt

Following hot on the heels of Margaret Atwood coming to town last week (over at UCLA), we have A. S. Byatt over at USC today! Very exciting. It is actually partly one of our College Commons events as well, and last week as a College Commons event (with a Darwin tinge) we had a viewing of the film of her book Angels and Insects, which I thought was really excellent!

Her lecture is entitled: “The Novel as Natural History”, (and will resonate with some of the themes I talked about in my report on the CC event about Collections) and I expect it is going to be quite wonderful. Details here, and the blurb goes:
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Dawkins, Atwood and More – On Darwin!

As you may know I’m a Margaret Atwood fan (read my immoderately breathless account here), and I also think that Richard Dawkins is an excellent scientist and science communicator. On the other hand, as you also know from earlier discussions, I don’t think that his take-no-prisoners approach to the science and religion discussion is the best way forward. Anyway, I found this marvelous Newsnight special from last month. A celebration of Darwin and his work. It has lots of discussion about Darwin then and now, cultural and scientific impact, the ongoing debates, a new staging of a play, a recent film, and participating is Atwood, Dawkins, and the Rev. Richard Coles and the poet Ruth Padel (who is also a descendant of Darwin.) It is in four parts and […] Click to continue reading this post

Margaret Atwood

I’m not normally a giddy fan of anyone, but I’m super-excited! Margaret Atwood is talking at UCLA on Friday about her new book (The Year of the Flood, sequel – kind of – to the excellent Oryx and Crake) and I managed to snag a ticket online to see her. (There’ll be readings from the book and also some illustrative performances/enactments by actors and musicians.) I was scalped 25% on the ticket price in “service charges” by ticketmaster, which left a bad taste in my mouth, but then I remembered her voice and wit and humour and it somehow made it all ok.

If you’ve not read any of her work, perhaps begin with The Handmaid’s Tale and go from there. I love her brilliant writing style, wit, cleverness, humour and searing […] Click to continue reading this post

The Nobel Prize Week is here!

As you already know, I am sure, it is Nobel Prize week. (See posts below for earlier such discussions.) Physiology/medicine has already been announced (see here: Yes, I definitely approve any effort to encourage research work on how aging and related mechanisms work)…. what was I saying again?… Oh, right …and Physics, Chemistry, literature, Peace and Economics will trot along into the spotlight day by day, into next week. All very exciting.

Now I have to say I don’t have any good ideas or strong feelings for what the Physics prize might be this year. Do you? I’ve a vague feeling that it might be some sort of important experimental effect (you know, like GMR a few years back – perhaps whatever it is that makes my ipod know which way is up all the time) instead of something flashier (but no less important) like inflation (the cosmic kind), which I am sure will have its day one day soon.


By the way, my “Nobel Prize: Who/What/Why” colloquium idea of a few years back has now been converted into a pair of lunches for the College Commons series. […] Click to continue reading this post

All Went Well…

When all is said and done (and since it is midnight and there’s nobody else here, I’ll take it that it has been and is) it was a good day at the West Hollywood Book Fair. I made it there in time to wander a bit and take in a number of the things on offer, just flitting from booth to booth and stopping to listen at various panels on various of the stages. chair_at_pdcI arrived early enough to check to see where my panel would be, double check that there were no schedule changes, and then set about to look around. Just before the panel I found a place doing a nice tasty hot sausage on a bun for lunch (plenty of fried onions and a sliver of mustard to top it all) and nibbled on that while listening to some poetry readings. (Or at least I think that is what they were.) (The picture shows the late afternoon sky with the giant chair sculpture at the Pacific Design Center across the street from the park the fair was in.)

Then I went to find my fellow panel members and we, uh, panelled away for an hour. Crucially, I found out what my panel was really about, which is good. The title “Eyeballing the Universe: Big and Small” was intended to invoke not just the act of […] Click to continue reading this post

Guillermo del Toro on Mayo

Well, inexplicably I’m up at 6:00am again after getting to sleep at 1:00am. Might as well have a cup of tea and blog a bit. I’ve a treat for you!

deltoro_panAs you know, I love some of the interviews that show up on Daily Mayo. So many interesting guests, and Simon Mayo is such an excellent interviewer as well, gently steering the conversation along. Well, he had the excellent director Guillermo del Toro on, a couple of days ago. (Who? Oh, he’s the director of the stunning Pan’s Labyrinth, or as I love to say out loud in a corny accent: El Laberinto del Fauno.) He seems to have been busy, what with co-writing a new book (for those of you into vampire-lit, here’s a new series for you, perhaps a nice contrast to the Twilight series), developing a lot of screenplays, moving to New Zealand, and… yes… you know… working on the Hobbit!

After a while, he does indeed get around to talking about the Hobbit films, and although I much prefer to know nothing at all about these banner projects before I walk into the theatre (as I did with Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings), I listened to the whole thing. (Even though I thought that the latter half of Hellboy II was a mess, I still trust him to do a good job on the Hobbit movies. Or, as he joked, the Hobbitses. (He said “Hobbitses” to pluralize… he gets it!))

There are several reassuring things. Several. One is that they seem to have […] Click to continue reading this post

Poetry Slam!

On Sunday evening (perhaps after a lovely day at the Festival of Books), come along to the Mt. Hollywood Underground for a fun evening of poetry, organized by Smart Gals in the Speakeasy series! There’ll be food, fun, and even celebrity (!) poetry judges, (plus me), on the panel. There’ll also be live music form the Red Maids. Here’s some of the description from their website:

L.A.’s intentionally lowbrow, literally underground literary salon returns! Now running as a seasonal series, Smart Gals’ Speakeasy celebrates National Poetry Month with its fourth annual Dead Poets Slam. Year one, the Suicide Poets stood down the Natural Death Poets by but a few points. Year two, the Men took on the Women. Year three pitted East Coast against West Coast. And now, Smart Gals’ Spring Speakeasy presents a fresh challenge, ripe for a country with new leadership: Citizens vs. Expatriates. Many and mythic are the artists, writers, and otherwise sensitive types who have fled these United States to seek creative support and more responsive international audiences. Recall Langston Hughes’ Parisian sojourns, Hemingway’s romance with Spain. Smart Gals will pit die-hard American denizens against those who chose to disembark. Our criteria? The poet in question must live abroad for no less than four years, the length of one presidential term. Can poet-of-the-plains Carl Sandburg defeat Eurocentric Gertrude Stein? When dead poets enter the slam ring, there is no sure victor.

Hosted by Noël Alumit (Letters to Montgomery Clift, Talking to the Moon), the Dead Poets Slam levels the creative playing field by forcing seasoned performers to throw down anonymously. […]

To find out who’s performing and judging (besides you in the crowd), go to the […] Click to continue reading this post

Literary Festivities

ice sculpture with typewritersDon’t forget this weekend’s LA Times Festival of Books! It is always a pleasure to wander the huge festival and see what’s on offer, and simply be part of an enormous gathering of people in LA on the usually lovely weekend days. – Gathering in the name of books! How excellent that is!

Some bad news this year. You’ll recall that I’ve reported (here and here) on the Oscar-like awards ceremony for the book prizes, complete with fancy after-party. (With chocolate fountains, and ice sculptures with embedded typewriters, no less!) Well, they’re not doing it this year. I imagine its the hard financial times. You see… now it’s hitting home to me that there’s a crisis out there – no awards gala, and no chocolate fountains. However will I survive?

Well, the good news is that the awards continue (actually there is a private ceremony at the LA Times building… yes, for all I know if it is the usual affair, and perhaps they just don’t want the riff-raff any more) and the short lists are interesting once again. You can […] Click to continue reading this post