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National Endowment for the Arts announces new Big Read grants

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On Tuesday, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its 2012-13 Big Read grants totaling $1 million. The Big Read supports community-based reading of a single book. It provides specially produced supplemental materials including CDs, robust historical context, teachers guides and discussion questions. And, of course, funding.

Nine of the Big Read's 78 grants will go to organizations and municipalities in California. Only New York state will receive as many grants from the Big Read in the coming year.

In San Diego, the organization Write Out Loud will be organizing people to read "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, who died in June at age 91. In Burbank and 400 miles away in Marysville, Calif., readers will dig in to the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The Rural California Broadcasting Corp., located between San Francisco and Santa Rosa, Calif., will be taking on poet Emily Dickinson. Patrons of the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library will be invited to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." The Santa Cruz Public Library will be reading "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, who finished the book nearby at his ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Those are all books by classic American writers, as might be expected. But the program also has books from different cultures, including the one that will be the focus of the Big Read as presented by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. That book is "The Thief and the Dogs" by Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, first published in 1961. The Big Read describes the book this way: Spanning the wealthy suburbs and crowded slums of Cairo, this thrilling crime story combines stream-of-consciousness technique with the hard-boiled style of detective fiction to create a harrowing account of crime and punishment.

Organizations may select from one of 31 individual book titles or authors when applying for a Big Read grant. About two-thirds of them will be part of the Big Read in 2012-13. Grants range from $3,500-$20,000.

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Happy birthday, Naguib Mahfouz

Ray Bradbury and the dime-at-a-time typewriter of "Fahrenheit 451"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Ray Bradbury in 2000. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times

826LA adds Pee-wee Herman to Judd Apatow benefit

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The Los Angeles branch of the literary nonprofit founded by Dave Eggers, 826LA, counts among its star supporters writer-director/producer Judd Apatow. He hosts the occasional live event to raise funds for the organization, called the Judd and Jon Comedy Music Hour(s). The Jon is musician Jon Brion, who leads the music part of the show.

On Tuesday, 826LA announced two guests who will be on the bill: Pee-wee Herman and Ray Romano. It's hard to imagine the comic minds of laconic Romano and antic Pee-wee meeting, but that may be the point. It had already promised to be entertaining, with Apatow, Brion and Peter Frampton (yes, that Peter Frampton) confirmed. Expect more surprise guests (one previous event included Lindsey Buckingham, Randy Newman, Garry Shandling, Ryan Adams, Aziz Ansari and Maria Bamford).

The event is scheduled for June 14 on the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. However, rubbing shoulders with Apatow and friends isn't cheap: Regular tickets are $250, and VIP tickets, which include a reception, are $500. But it is for charity -- a literary one.  

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Judd Apatow, left, in New York in April 2012. Right, Pee-wee Herman in 2009. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Stephen King wants to tax the rich -- including himself

Author Stephen King wants to pay his fair share and then some.

Stephen King, who with his wife donates about $4 million per year to worthy causes, has said he should give more — that he should be mandated to, by the tax code. He thinks the wealthy should pay more in  income tax.

At the Daily Beast, King shows why charitable intentions don't do the same thing as the federal government (using spicy language):

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility — America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny....

Most rich folks paying 28 percent taxes do not give out another 28 percent of their income to charity. Most rich folks like to keep their dough. They don’t strip their bank accounts and investment portfolios. They keep them and then pass them on to their children, their children’s children. And what they do give away is — like the monies my wife and I donate — totally at their own discretion. That’s the rich-guy philosophy in a nutshell: don’t tell us how to use our money; we’ll tell you.

The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but they’re giving right-wing creepazoids. Here’s an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it won’t do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where food fish are now showing up with black lesions. It won’t pay for stronger regulations to keep BP (or some other bunch of ... oil drillers) from doing it again. It won’t repair the levees surrounding New Orleans. It won’t improve education in Mississippi or Alabama.

King, a prolific writer whose imaginings have often attracted the attention of Hollywood, regularly lands on Forbes' highest-paid authors list; in 2010, he was at No. 3. His net worth is estimated to be as much as $400 million — that's huge for a writer but small change when it comes to big finance. Warren Buffett, another tax-the-rich advocate, is worth about $4.4 billion.

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— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Stephen King in 1998. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Feb. 6: Last day to volunteer for World Book Night

Worldbooknightbooks
Ever feel like handing out 20 free books to people who like to read? You're a perfect candidate for the World Book Night 2012. Over the last few years, it has distributed thousands of free books in the U.K.; this year, it comes to the United States for the first time, with its massive giveaway happening on April 23.

While its pickup locations haven't been announced, I've heard through the grapevine that bookstores around Los Angeles will be participating.

The deadline for signing up to give out free books, from a list that includes popular bestsellers, is Feb. 6, at midnight eastern time.

The way it works is this: you submit your volunteer form, selecting the books you'd most like to give out for free from a list of 30 available books. There are prize-winners, bestsellers, and books that have been both. Some books that are on the list: "Just Kids" by Patti Smith, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, and Stephen King's "The Stand."

Pick up the books from a local bookseller or library and then give them out to 30 willing acquaintances and complete strangers, telling them what you love about the book and why you think they might like it, too.

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First U.S. World Book Night giveaway announces book selections

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Concord Free Press' $250,000 experiment

Concordfreepresscovers
In less than four years, the Concord Free Press has given away thousands of books, free of charge. Its founder, Stona Fitch, admits that it's not exactly a business model, but there's more to it than just freebies. In exchange for receiving a free paperback, the Concord Free Press asks that a charitable donation be made to a worthy cause of the reader's choosing.

Last week, it crossed a major benchmark: Concord Free Press readers have given away more than $250,000.

"Getting something beautiful in the mail for free makes people’s heads spin. Once they get over trying to figure out what the catch is, it inspires them to be generous. They really get it," said Fitch in a phone interview from the publisher's modest office in West Concord, Mass., which boasts a view of a prison. The press is a registered nonprofit, staffed entirely by volunteers, with support from donors that include the novelist Russell Banks.

As for the catch, there is none. Really! The books are free. Readers are asked to make a donation, of whatever size they like, to whatever organization they like, and then log their gifts on the Concord Free Press website. It's all done on the honor system.

"We cannot be the charity police," Fitch admits. "If anything, I think that number’s low. A lot of people do something, donate to a charity, and forget to go online and tell us about it."

Concord Free Press does a limited run of each book -- about 3,000 copies -- and numbers them to aid the donation tracking. Since they encourage readers to pass the books along when they've finished, they can see when a book spawns five, six or seven separate donations. They travel all over the world, to readers as far away as Argentina and Russia. Fitch notes that the books are particularly popular in Britain.

For a project like this to work, the books have to be good, things that people actually want to read. And they are. Its authors include Hugo and Nebula award-winning novelist Lucius Shepard, Fitch himself and a collection of writing about money with pieces by Mona Simpson, Michelle Huneven, Jonathan Ames, Mark Doty, Robert Pinsky and more.

The press' highest profile writer is Gregory Maguire, the author of "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," which was turned into the successful Broadway musical. Maguire's book "The Next Queen of Heaven," set outside of the world of Oz, was turned down by his regular publisher, so he gave it to the Concord Free Press.

He did, in fact, give it to the press. All writers provide work to the Concord Free Press for free; its designers, who are excellent, donate their time. When he came up with the idea, Fitch's wife sighed, "I think you've come up with another way for writers not to get paid." And then she threw herself into the project. "It's a labor of love," Fitch says.

It's not exactly intuitive, connecting free books to a plethora of charitable donations. Fitch, who was once the kind of musician who could be found playing "at VFW clubs and traveling around in crappy vans," has an old-school DIY ethic. He also spent years managing the Gaining Ground organic farm, located at Henry David Thoreau's birthplace; it's a nonprofit that donates its harvests to food banks and homeless shelters.

"I learned the value of giving away something beautiful for free to someone who would be incredibly appreciative," Fitch says. "It's an ancient idea, the gift economy."

Earning a quarter-million dollars for charity was not what Fitch had expected. "When we first started it, we weren’t sure whether people would take the books and never writes us back, or maybe they wouldn’t even bother to take the books and I’d be sitting here in our office on a big stack of them," he says. "My agent told me not to do it, a lot of my friends told me not to do it. But a couple key people said 'Why not?' We took a big step to start it up, and three years later, we don’t want to stop. It’s just too much fun."

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Former Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown donates $30 million

First U.S. World Book Night giveaway announces book selections

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Former Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown donates $30 million

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Two years after the death of her husband, David, longtime Cosmopolitan Magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown announced a whopping $30 million donation to fund new media. The funds are being given to both the Columbia Journalism School and the Stanford School of Engineering to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

Does 32 years at the helm of a magazine really rake in that kind of money? Could it have been the success of her bestselling how-to book, "Sex and the Single Girl"?

Well, no. David Brown, who attended Stanford and Columbia, was a film producer who had an enormous hit with "Jaws," going on to make "Cocoon," "The Verdict," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Chocolat" and "A Few Good Men."

Commenting on the gift, Helen Gurley Brown said in a statement, "David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content. Great content needs useable technology. Sharing a language is where the magic happens. It’s time for two great American institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge."

The institute will have an East Coast director and a West Coast director, located at Columbia and Stanford, respectively. Each university will receive $12 million to endow the institute, with additional funds going to set up a hi-tech newsroom at Columbia and to provide fellowship grants for new media innovation.

It's interesting that the gift is blurring the line between content and technology, encouraging crossover and collaboration; media have been slower than some other industries to develop the two in tandem.

Helen Gurley Brown, who retired from her editorship at Cosmopolitan in 1997, will celebrate her 90th birthday on Feb. 18.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Helen Gurley Brown with husband David Brown in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

First U.S. World Book Night giveaway announces book selections

Worldbooknightus2012

World Book Night, a celebration of books and literature that has turned into a bonanza of free books in England, is coming to the U.S. for the first time in 2012. On Wednesday, the organization announced a list of 30 books that it will make available for volunteers to hand out for free on World Book Night next year.

This is how it works: Between now and Feb. 1, people can sign up to give away copies of one of the books on the list on (or around) World Book Night, April 23. The idea is to select a book you love as a reader, and to give copies to people who read infrequently. The volunteers become ambassadors of sorts for the books as they give them away for free.

There are five more books on the American list than appear on the 25-book British list to accommodate more books for young adults. Two notable young adult books are Sherman Alexie's "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," which won the 2007 National Book Award, and "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, about to be a major motion picture.

The books represent a wide range of tastes. There is the L.A.-based mystery "Blood Work" by Michael Connelly, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by poet Maya Angelou, the dystopia classic "The Stand" by Stephen King, popular fiction writer Jodi Picoult's "My Sister's Keeper," rocker Patti Smith's National Book Award-winning memoir "Just Kids," and" The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz, in both English and Spanish, published as "La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao."

Several of the books will be printed in special editions for World Book Night.

Those interested in signing up to give away books on World Book Night can do so on its website. The organization promises that books will be delivered to a local bookstore or library for pickup, and plans are to distribute them nationwide. The complete list of books to be given away for free is after the jump.

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Slake magazine is Kickstarter's project of the day

Slake_warpeaceSlake, the Los Angeles-based literary journal that emphasizes its print edition, has been selected as Wednesday's Project of the Day at Kickstarter, the crowd-sourced fund-raising site.

After launching the magazine, getting three issues to shelves and finding a place on the L.A. Times bestseller list, the editors are looking to broaden the magazine's base. To support the next issue of Slake, they are seeking $25,000 in Kickstarter donations.

"Slake is a new way of looking at covering Los Angeles," co-editor Laurie Ochoa says in one Slake video. "A new city magazine, literary magazine, combined into a beautiful, chaotic, wonderful thing that we want in print. We want it to be something that you hold."

"We need some help to get to the next level," co-editor Joe Donnelly explains in the Kickstarter video. "We believe deeply in the power of good storytelling, whether it's journalism, an essay, memoir, poetry, photography or art.... We think that storytelling is a key to breeding empathy, and empathy is a key to good citizenship and community."

Slake has been active in fostering the literary community of Los Angeles, holding numerous literary events and even organizing a one-day softball tournament among people accustomed to sitting in front of their computers, typing. Its next event will be Thursday at Atwater crossing, with a reading and discussion with National Magazine Award-winning writer Ben Ehrenreich and a musical performance by the band Triple Chicken Foot.

So far, Slake has raised more than $10,000 via Kickstarter, but the funds will only be allocated if it reaches its goal of $25,000 in donations.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: From the poster for the release party for Slake's third issue, "War and Peace." Credit: Slake

New online journal hopes to make literature real to kids

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As the warm Sunday afternoon turned into a cool December evening, writers, artists and their supporters gathered in Altadena for a red-beans-and-rice showdown. The cookoff was between Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold and New Orleans-born author Jervey Tervalon. The judges -- who weren't particularly interested in casting judgment, after all -- were there for a fundraiser to support the upcoming launch of Literature for Life, an ambitious and multifaceted literary journal.

Spearheaded by Tervalon and run with the support of USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative, Literature for Life will be, on the surface, an online literary journal like many others that includes fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. Authors whose work will be found there include mystery writers Gary Phillips and Naomi Hirahara, novelist Janet Fitch (all of whom were in attendance) and USC alumna Susan Straight. The e-journal will have a clean, visually engaging, magazine-style look.

Multitalented Kenneth Kouot, who studied critical theory in USC's English department and is quick to say that learning programming languages is easy (it's not, for most people), showed attendees a preview of the website, which is expected to debut in January at LiteratureForLife.net.

Literature for Life has a layer beyond the magazine: It will connect the stories in its issues to schoolteachers, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas of Los Angeles, to help expand and deepen their efforts of teaching literature. Often the materials available to teachers have little connection to the world their students know -- Literature for Life will focus on stories of Los Angeles and of people with diverse cultural backgrounds to help make students understand literature's relevance.

USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative is a rigorous six-year pre-college enrichment program that helps low-income students in Los Angeles prepare for college; those who meet the program's requirements receive scholarships to attend USC upon completion. With its support and a USC Neighborhood Outreach grant, Literature for Life is parsing curriculum requirements and preparing materials for teachers.

Earlier this year, Literature for Life sponsored the first USC Young Writers conference, connecting high school students with professional writers. "We want to encourage the young people of South L.A. and beyond to recognize themselves in authentic literature," Tervalon explained in April, "and thus begin to better see themselves as empowered readers and writers." Those voices may find a place in the Literature for Life magazine, next to established writers.

Its creators hope that as an online publication, Literature for Life will be a free, frequently updated resource that can step in to supplement the textbooks that strapped classrooms use. The fledgling nonprofit is accepting donations.

As for the red beans and rice? Tervalon's spicy version with cheap Bar S hot links was New Orleans authentic, but Jonathan Gold's dish, famed for using duck, goose and pork fat, was just as tasty.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jervey Tervalon, left, and Kim Thomas-Barrios look on as Kenneth Kouot pulls up a preview of the Literature for Life website. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

Dave Eggers and Robert Pinsky feted by PEN Center USA

PEN Center USA gala
The gala dinner for PEN Center USA at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Tuesday night saluted so many honorees in a ceremony that went by so quickly that it was almost like it didn't happen. One minute people were milling around the silent auction with pre-event drinks, the next author Robert Pinsky was getting a laurel wreath on his head with his lifetime achievement award and reading a Czesław Miłosz poem to send us on our way. In past years, the event has gone long; not so in 2011.

Dave Eggers was presented with the Award of Honor by John Krasinski, the actor best known for his role in "The Office"; Krasinski co-starred in "Away We Go," the film written by Eggers and his wife Vendela Vida, and has been a supporter of 826, the literary nonprofit founded by Eggers. That nonprofit was just one of the reasons Eggers was given the award, which also recognized his books ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"; "What Is the What"; "Zeitoun") and his work as a publisher at McSweeney's. Krasinski's introduction, which posited that Eggers was an evil genius, was the funniest part of the evening (and without any help from "The Office" writers, he said), and his suit (John Varvatos) was easily the most stylish.

The winners, who had been announced in advance, included four writers receiving special awards like Pinsky and Eggers, as well as those who had been selected by judges from a set of finalists.

Pinsky, who was U.S. poet laureate for three years, was introduced by poet Carol Muske-Dukes. In addition to crowning him with the laurel wreath, she lauded him for his poetry, his nonfiction and his leadership in the creative writing community.

Charles Bowden, a journalist who's spent decades chronicling the troubles of towns along the border of Mexico and the southwestern U.S., was the First Amendment Award honoree. His most recent book is "Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields." E

llie Herman, a television writer turned teacher, was given the Freedom to Write award for her work empowering student writers at the Animo Pat Brown Charter High School.

PEN Center USA has posted galleries of photographs from the event on Facebook. The list of literary award winners, which included local hero Father Gregory Boyle, is after the jump.

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