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Category: Los Angeles

The Reading Life: J.G. Ballard's stormy weather

Jgballarddrownedworld
This is part of the occasional series "The Reading Life" by book critic David L. Ulin.

"Los Angeles weather," Joan Didion wrote in her 1967 essay "Los Angeles Notebook," "is the weather of ... apocalypse," but late last week, as rain descended on the normally arid summer landscape of Southern California, it was not Didion about whom I found myself thinking, but J.G. Ballard.

Ballard, who died in 2009, is perhaps best known for investigating the erotic possibilities of violence in a world anesthetized by consumerism and conformity. Early in his career, though, he wrote a series of novels ("The Drought," "The Drowned World," "The Wind From Nowhere," "The Crystal World") that address environmental themes.

From the perspective of the present, it's tempting to call Ballard prescient — these novels all appeared in the early-to-mid-1960s — yet as Martin Amis notes in an introduction to the new 50th anniversary edition of "The Drowned World," that's something of a fixed game. "[F]ictional divination," Amis writes, "will always be hopelessly haphazard. The unfolding of world historical events is itself haphazard (and therefore unaesthetic), and 'the future' is in a sense defined by its messy inscrutability."

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Remembering Bukowski with Harry Dean Stanton on Saturday

Harrydeanstantonbukowski
A parade of Hollywood stars who are fans of writer Charles Bukowski, led by Harry Dean Stanton, will pay tribute to the author at a celebration on Saturday. The free show, at the Grand Performances outdoor stage, begins at 8 p.m.

Bukowski, who died in 1994, was a celebrated writer of L.A.'s gritty side. A longtime post office employee, Bukowski was a hard drinker who lived on the edge. He wrote a column, "Notes of a Dirty Old Man," which was published by a handful of underground newspapers in the late 1960s. In 1969, at age 49, he quit his day job to write a book for Black Sparrow Press; that novel was "Post Office."

While not a bestseller, Bukowski was a favorite of the underground (and the French). He wrote six novels, including "Factotum" and "Ham on Rye," and dozens of poetry collections. Disinclined toward capitalization and with a fondness for raw language, he wrote poems like "i wanted to overthrow the government but all i brought down was somebody's wife" and "a 340 dollar horse and a hundred dollar whore."

Bukowski's work reached the mainstream after the 1987 release of the movie "Barfly," which starred Mickey Rourke as the Bukowski-like character Harry Chianski. It was set in dive bars and the seedy parts of Los Angeles.

Downtown L.A. has been cleaned up considerably since Bukowski's time, featuring cultural celebrations like Grand Performances. On Saturday, the reading series Tongue & Groove takes over the stage to present a tribute to Charles Bukowski.

Hollywood stars Harry Dean Stanton and Rebecca De Mornay headline the evening. Other readers include writer Dan Fante, whose father, John Fante, was an inspiration to, and rediscovered by, Charles Bukowski. Poets Jack Grapes, Kenneth Sonny Donato and Chiwan Choi, and writer Wendy Rainey will also read. Two writers who knew Bukowski, Joan Jobe Smith and Gerald Locklin, will also take the stage, so in addition to readings there may well be reminiscences.

Bukowski died at age 73 in 1994. His papers are now at the Huntington Library.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Left photo: Harry Dean Stanton in 2006. Credit: Robert Lachman / L.A. Times. Right photo: Charles Bukowski from the documentary film "Bukowski: Born Into This," released by Magnolia Pictures. Credit: Michael Montfort

Secret codes, the Trystero: A mysterious Thomas Pynchon hunt

Trysterosticker
Turns out when you show people the tattoo on your wrist and ask if they've seen any stickers nearby with it and a mysterious URL, they might not respond particularly warmly. They might just shake their heads in bafflement, ask halting questions, then look at you as if you're in some sort of a strange cult.

Maybe I am. I have a tattoo of the Trystero symbol from Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" on my wrist. In the book, the symbol -- a muted post horn -- is the sign for an underground mail system known as w.a.s.t.e. And the mysterious symbol might have greater, or lesser, meaning.

Now that symbol adorns 200 stickers planted around the country and can be found in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, Boston and Los Angeles. Each sticker has a url, but you have to find a sticker to see where it leads.

The Google map of the sticker locations took me to my local Trader Joe's -- convenient, because I had some grocery shopping to do -- but nary a sticker was to be found. I searched all the sticker places I know, around the parking lot and light poles, places inside where a sticker might be stuck. Finally, I asked my cashier, who showed no spark of recognition at the words "Pynchon," "geocaching" or even "game." As she was edging away, a fellow staffer who could double as a bouncer at any rock club looked over his massive shoulder at me suspiciously. OK, time to go.

A similar scene occurred at a local coffee shop that I frequent; today its staff seemed to think I was some kind of imposter dressed as a journalist (it happens). I explained what I was looking for -- Pynchon, sticker, wrist. The barrista huffed, "I don't know what you're talking about," and went back to his business. And ... no sticker.

Apparently, while a Pynchon fan in England has picked up on the idea by creating and posting his own versions of the Trystero symbol and the secret codes, Pynchon stickers in the U.S. are going missing. Could it be the result of simple sticker cleaning? Are Pynchon fans scooping them up? Or are they being torn down because of some conspiracy?

But eventually I found one, in the photo above. It's still in a good spot above the coffee lids at Demitasse, a high-end coffee shop in downtown L.A. I wasn't the first one to discover it -- that honor goes, appropriately, to Trystero Coffee, a micro-roaster that sells its beans to the shop.

So where does the url trystero.me/12pgg take you? To a passage that begins, "Everybody in 24fps had their own ideas about light, and about all they shared was the obsession." That's from Pynchon's novel "Vineland," set in Northern California, which I discovered using the exhaustive and essential fan-run Pynchon Wiki website.

At the bottom of each webpage is a button marked "w.a.s.t.e" Click it and a box pops up in which you can type a message. Where will w.a.s.t.e. deliver it? It’s a mystery -– which will lead some to concerns about privacy, while opening up the freedom of the anonymous Internet to others. There was no Internet in 1966, when “The Crying of Lot 49” was published; then Pynchon imagined real-life post-office boxes set up to move secret messages.

This Pynchon project -- the Google map, the sticker hunt, the URLs, websites and message system -- was cooked up by Pynchon's publisher, Penguin Press. The Press announced last week that Pynchon's entire catalog of books -- eight novels and a collection of short fiction -- will be released for the first time as e-books. In a likelihood, this project has something to do with that.

There must be more to learn about what the Pynchon project points to. For now, it's a very Pynchon mystery.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The Trystero sticker at Demitasse Coffee in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

 

Rodney King dead at 47: 'I was one of the lucky ones'

Rodney King found dead at 47
Rodney King, the victim of a police beating who wound up at the center of major political upheavals in Los Angeles, was found dead early Sunday. King was found by his girlfriend at the bottom of his pool at his home in Rialto. He was 47.

Our blog L.A. Now recounts how King entered the public spotlight:

King was drunk and unarmed when he was pulled over in 1991 for speeding by Los Angeles Police Department officers, who responded to his erratic behavior by kicking him and striking him dozens of times with their batons.

The incident was captured on video by a civilian bystander, and the recording became an instant international sensation.

Four of the officers were tried for excessive force. Their acquittal on April 29, 1992, touched off one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.

Although King received a substantial financial settlement, he was plagued by personal challenges. He recounted his experiences in the recent memoir "The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption." The book was published by HarperOne this April, on the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots.

King appeared at the L.A. Times Festival of Books to talk about his book.

King, for his part, arrived out of breath, and spoke of forgiveness for the officers involved in his videotaped beating after a high-speed chase. With his history of substance abuse, he said, he has been in need of some forgiveness. "I am a forgiving man," he said. "That's how I was raised, to be in a forgiving state of mind. I have been forgiven many times. I am only human. Who am I not to forgive someone?"

King said he was uncomfortable with his role as a political symbol, while noting that those who fought racism in the early 20th century faced even more difficult challenges. "I'm so glad I wasn't born in the 1930s or the 1940s," he said. "My heart goes out to those who have died for what's right....I was one of the lucky ones," which drew a large laugh from the audience. He added, "The camera was a blessing."

Authorities said there were no immediate signs of foul play.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Rodney King addresses the media May 1, 1992, asking for an end to the violence of the L.A. riots. Credit: Larry Davis / Los Angeles Times

Celebrating Bloomsday and James Joyce

Bloomsday_thehammer2011

On Saturday, Angelenos can celebrate one of the greatest novels of the 20th century -– by gathering together and raising a glass of Guinness.

June 16 is Bloomsday, so called for Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce's "Ulysses." The notoriously challenging novel blasted through formal conventions and become an iconic work of modernist fiction; its 600-plus pages take place in Dublin over the course of a single day, June 16, 1904.

Although it has now become the focus of public celebrations, “Ulysses” was, at first, the stuff of hushed words and darting glances. Serialized by an American literary journal in the late teens, part of Joyce's novel -- involving masturbation -- was ruled obscene in 1921. Expatriate Sylvia Beach, owner of the famed Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company, published the complete "Ulysses" abroad in 1922, yet it was officially banned in America. In 1933, Random House’s attempt to import copies of the controversial novel were at the center of a major court case; “Ulysses” won, helping to prise open laws regarding “obscene” content.

Of course, just because American readers had access to “Ulysses” didn’t mean it was accessible. The novel is the stuff of semester-long seminars and Ph.D. theses – making it an odd candidate for marathon public readings, city tours and evening dancing.

“The really big breakthrough was in 1982, celebrating the centenary of Joyce's birth with a large Joyce symposium in Dublin,” Dr. Vincent Cheng, co-editor of 2009’s “Joyce in Context,” writes from this year’s conference in Ireland. “Bloomsday 2004 in Dublin was the first time that it felt like a fully public celebration, with lots of locals and tourists joining the Joycean academics in celebrating the day.” People lucky enough to be in Dublin this year can download the JoyceWays iPhone app, three years in the making, a literary tour through the city circa 1904.

Joyce enthusiasm has spread across America, where Symphony Space in New York has presented “Bloomsday on Broadway” for 31 years; this year’s performance will be streamed live online. Also online will be a classic reading by Alec Baldwin, Wallace Shawn and others at Pacifica Radio; at seven hours, it’s still only a portion of the 600-plus-page text.

At the Hammer, which hosts LA’s premiere performance-and-participation Bloomsday event, actors will be reading the book’s “Aeolus” section, or, more plainly, the part of the novel set in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper. It also includes a visit to a pub.

The Hammer will be offering happy hour Guinness from 6 to 7:30 p.m., accompanied by Irish music. Joyce enthusiasts can arrive up to two hours earlier to participate in an open “Ulysses” reading. When the performance is done, there will be more music, and more Guinness.

Is all this drinking and dancing an appropriate way to celebrate a brilliant work of literature? “I think Bloomsday events absolutely do a service to Joyce's work,” Cheng says. “Not only are they a lot of fun for Joyce aficionados, but they get people who have never read Joyce (and who might otherwise never dare try such challenging reading) interested in looking at these wonderful (but very difficult) books, especially ‘Ulysses.’"

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Celebrating Irish heritage and Bloomsday, named for James Joyce's "Ulysses," at the Hammer in 2011. Credit: Hammer Museum

Remembering Ray Bradbury: What's your favorite book?

Raybradbury-1997
For those of us in Southern California, Ray Bradbury wasn't just an author, he was a fixture in our literary culture. Even in recent years, as he moved from his 80s to his 90s, he set up regular events at  bookstores: he could be found at Vroman's on Halloween, and at the Mystery & Imagination Bookshop on his birthday. These were occasions to buy books and get them signed, but they were also something more, a way to check in with Bradbury, to express appreciation for his work. Vroman's event planner Jen Ramos  says she saw the same people come back year after year, sometimes buying additional copies of the same book again and again.

But which book would that be? We asked people who follow @LATimesBooks on Twitter to tell us their favorite book by Bradbury, and got a wide variety of responses. Some people even told us what it was like to meet the man himself.

Ray Bradbury remembered

Readers on Twitter will remember Ray Bradbury for his many appearances around Los Angeles, and his many books and stories. We asked which are your favorites.

Storified by Carolyn Kellogg · Wed, Jun 06 2012 16:20:50

@latimesbooks met him at the thousand oaks library. Seemed a man with incredible curiosity and huge ideasJames Freymuth
@latimesbooks So many favorites, but my favorite of favorites from childhood on is #TheIllustratedMan.Raul Pumpkin
@latimesbooks Fahrenheit 451because of it's beauty in the midst of chaos. I saw him at the 2008 Festival of Books, he was magic.Becky Hope
@latimesbooks Favs were Fahrenheit 451 & Martian Chronicles. Met him several times at writer's events in LA area. A charming & gracious man.Jeanne Lyet Gassman
“@latimesbooks: Sci-fi pioneer Ray Bradbury dies at 91 http://lat.ms/L3qLvb” honored I was able to meet this man....opened my eyes to sci-fiKrysten Klein
@latimesbooks Saw him speak @ UCLA med school, in his 80s & still writing 3 books a year. Amazing.lirivera
@latimesbooks Book: Something Wicked This Way Comes. I did meet him, as a painfully young writer. He was generous and encouraging.Peggy Riley
@latimesbooks As a fellow Poe fanatic, I have a special love for The Exiles. Never met RB, but a friend did once. Said he was a lovely man.Undine
@latimesbooks My favorite Ray Bradbury book is my favorite book of all time: Dandelion Wine. It just makes me happy.M. E. Pickett
@latimesbooks Something Wicked This Way Comes inspired a lifelong love of wicked carnivals that eventually spawned my own writing career.Katy Towell
@latimesbooks "Fahrenheit 451" - Best critique of media-besotted society until "White Noise" was written. Never met but saw him speak.Bruce Watson
@latimesbooks can I be an honorary angelino? SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES changed the landscape if my family.Jennifer Wilson
@latimesbooks Read Farenheit 451 when Champaign-Urbana picked it as a their book for the whole community.Joanna Sholem
@latimesbooks #Ray Bradbury met him when he spoke at Bakersfield Business Conf circa 2000. Had him sign my copy of Fahrenheit 451. RIP.Charlie Powell
@latimesbooks Met him briefly at a book signing. My favorite is Martian Chronicles. The pictures he painted of another world still haunt me.Stephanie Thompson
Sand news. I always wanted to meet him. Science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury, 91, has died http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2012/06/science-fiction-pioneer-ray-bradbury-91-has-died.html via @latimesbooksM. E. Pickett
We will miss you: Science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury, 91, has died http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2012/06/science-fiction-pioneer-ray-bradbury-91-has-died.html via @latimesbooksPaolo Fior

What's your favorite book by Ray Bradbury?

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Photo: Ray Bradbury in 1997. Credit: Steve Castillo / Associated Press Photos

 

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

Raybradbury-2003Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" was an instant hit, and has remained in print since its publication in 1953. In its futuristic dystopia, learning is forbidden and books are banned. As the book explains in its opening pages, Fahrenheit 451 is "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns." While the book may be the most lasting way that Bradbury has been remembered, the circumstances of its creation are less well known.

In Los Angeles in the early 1950s, Ray Bradbury went in search of a peaceful place to work. "I had a large family at home," he said five decades later. They must have been a particularly lively bunch, because at the time it was just Ray, his wife Marguerite and two young children.

The writing refuge Bradbury found was in the basement of the Lawrence Clark Powell Library at UCLA -- and in fact, it wasn't all that quiet. "I heard this typing," he explained. "I went down in the basement of the UCLA library and by God there was a room with 12 typewriters in it that you could rent for 10 cents a half-hour. And there were eight or nine students in there working away like crazy."

So he went to the bank and returned with a bag of dimes. He plugged a dime into the machine, typed fast for 30 minutes, and then dropped another. When he took breaks, he went upstairs to the library, soaking in a book-loving ambience he was making forbidden in the fiction he was writing below. He took books off the shelves, finding quotes, then ran downstairs to write some more.  Nine days -- and $9.80 in dimes later -- he'd written "Fahrenheit 451." Almost.

What he'd finished there was "The Fireman," a short story published in Galaxy magazine in 1951. Later, he expanded the story into "Fahrenheit 451," which was published in paperback by Ballantine.

When "Fahrenheit 451" was selected as one of the books for the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read project, Bradbury said, "My God, what a place to write that book!"

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Photo: Ray Bradbury at the 2003 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury, 91, has died

Raybradbury_kirkmckoy

Ray Bradbury, an iconic science fiction author who helped bring the genre into the mainstream, has died, his family confirms. He was 91.

Bradbury was the recipient of many awards, including a National Medal of Arts, a special citation from the Pulitzer board, a medal for distinguished contribution to American letters from the National Book Foundation, and an Emmy. He is a member of the SF Hall of Fame, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a crater on the moon was named for one of his works and an asteroid is named in his honor.

Bradbury served as an affable emissary for science fiction. His futuristic ideas were much sought after: he consulted with both Disney and NASA.

Bradbury wrote his classic "Fahrenheit 451" at a pay-as-you-go typewriter in the basement of UCLA's library. In the book's futuristic world, reading is banned and books are burned. First published in 1953, it has sold more than 10 million copies, been published in 33 languages in 38 countries, and has never gone out of print.

Other notable works by Bradbury are "The Martian Chronicles," "Dandelion Wine" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes." In his career, he wrote more than 30 books, hundreds of short stories, plus poetry, plays and books for children. He is credited as a writer on dozens of movie and television projects and worked with John Huston on the screenplay of the 1956 film version of "Moby Dick."

Bradbury was born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill. He moved to Southern California, where his efforts to become a writer took hold. According to legend, he gave a copy of "The Martian Chronicles" to Christopher Isherwood, and his career was underway.

We'll have a full obituary of this Los Angeles legend coming soon.

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Fug Girls get 'Messy' with young-adult follow-up [Updated]

FuggirlsJust in time for summer beach reading season, professional celebrity skewerers the Fug Girls are back with another young-adult sendup of Hollywood celebu-spawn. We caught up with Go Fug Yourself bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan to talk about their "Messy" new book.

Jacket Copy: In your young-adult debut, "Spoiled," a vacuous blond ladder climber goes Manolo a Manolo with her surprise half sister. In "Messy," she continues to spar but with a different female character. What is it about rivalry that appeals?

Heather Cocks: It isn't so much about rivalry as outsiderness. In "Spoiled," Molly was a geographic outsider. In "Messy," we get someone who’s emotionally an outsider. Those are the kinds of feelings that anyone can relate to. A lot of teen rivalry is feeling you’re different from someone else and being judged for being different. I don’t know any teenage girls who look back on that time and say, 'What a wonderful, magnificent time of personal growth.' Usually you're thinking of the girl who made you feel like an idiot.

MessyJC: Like "Spoiled," your new book is a takedown of celebrity culture. But, like your blog, it's a takedown that unfolds in the blogosphere. Why did you want the rivalry to center on a Hollywood insider blog?

Heather Cocks: There's definitely the idea that the Fug Girls are writing a book, so there’s a fun wink to how we met and got started. The reason these books even exist is because we have this blog. People often assume that we ourselves are anonymous because we don’t put our pictures on the website and we have facetious bios we put up. My picture is from Joan Collins when she was on "Dynasty" and Jessica’s is Shannon Doherty from "90210," so people see that and assume we’re trying to stay anonymous and sometimes disbelieve we’re women or that our names are really Heather and Jessica because they’re cheerleader names you would cherry-pick to write a blog like ours. That brings up the whole idea of whether you can believe what you see on the web. It was a fun way for us to deal with identity issues. [Updated June 6, 2012, 8:51 a.m.: The original version of this post said the Fug Girls don't put their fiction on their blog. They don't put their pictures.]

Spoiled_pbJacket Copy: How is writing young-adult fiction different from your blog, especially writing as a team?

Jessica: Heather and I are very comfortable writing together because we’ve been doing it for eight years. Our posts on Go Fug Yourself we write ourselves, but our work for New York magazine and other freelance we do together, so it feels like a natural extension. Logistically, we had a very detailed outline and then we traded.

JC: Why did you even want to write fiction for teens?

Heather: It’s such a different muscle from what we do on the blog because it’s creating something new as opposed to riffing on material. To have a picture that’s your base is different from creating the world yourself. We both watch a lot of CW and ABC Family. We're very soapy people. We read a lot of young-adult because there’s so much really well-written fiction for young adults. God knows the number of times we mention "Sweet Valley High" on our website. It felt like a really natural arena to step into.

JC: What's so great about your books is that the humor from your blog completely translates. What makes fashion and celebrity culture so fun to make fun of?

Jessica: We sort of see Go Fug Yourself as the online version of sitting around with your friends watching the Oscars. It's a virtual coffee klatsch to sit around and say, "What is she wearing? What is he thinking?" We intend it to be good-hearted, but I also think if I had all these resources -- all the money and the stylist and the trainer and the time -- I would look fantastic all the time. There’s something confounding when someone who has all the resources to look amazing all the time sometimes looks totally insane.

JC: Brick was such a narcissistic, movie-star dad in the first book. Without spoiling "Messy," does he step up in book two?

Heather: One of my favorite scenes is when Brooke achieves a measure of professional success early in the book and she tells Brick and they have a little moment together. Anyone who read "Spoiled" knows she’s very much driven by wanting his attention. Brick in this book becomes a little more involved in her life, so I think people will be happy to see him spending some time. But he just finished work on "Avalanche," his epic snow movie shot in Key West.

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-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan; book covers for "Messy" and "Spoiled." Credit: Kim Fox; Little, Brown and Company.

 

How writers can be Emerging Voices in Los Angeles

Penemergingvoices2012

PEN Center USA has one of the few programs in Los Angeles designed to give new writers a leg up: Emerging Voices. It's not for people with an MFA or for writing professors. It's not for people who work in publishing. It's not for authors who've already published books. Who it is for: writers living in Southern California who have just begun to build their writing resumes, who are ready to focus on a specific work -- and who have a killer writing sample.

The application period for the 2013 Emerging Voices Fellowship is now open. The deadline is Aug. 15.

In the eight-month program, PEN provides each author with a $1,000 stipend, tuition for two courses at the UCLA Extension Writers Program, master classes, a writing mentor, and hosted Q&A evenings with Los Angeles authors. As part of the program, the fellows are asked to devote 25 volunteer hours to a literary cause. 

In January, the 2012 class of Emerging Voices was introduced at a party and reading. In the photograph above, from left to right, they are Nathan Go, Amanda Fletcher, Sacha A. Howells, Chelsea Hodson, Jonathan Alfi and Rayne Gasper. Each lives in the L.A. area and is at work on a project they hope will become a book.

Helping them is a stellar group of mentors, which changes every year. The 2012 mentors are novelist Ron Carlson, who heads the creative writing program at UC Irvine; National Magazine Award-winning journalist and novelist Ben Ehrenreich; Guggenheim Award winner Richard Lange ("Dead Boys"); Jillian Lauren, whose memoir "Some Girls" was a bestseller; novelist Alex Espinoza ("Still Water Saints"); and Victoria Patterson, whose short story collection "Drift" was a finalist for the Story Prize.

One unusual aspect of the program is that it provides a class with a professional voice coach, so the Emerging Writers can learn the art of reading in public. At the end of the term, they get to show off their new skills at a group reading. Look for that later this year.

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 -- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The 2012 Emerging Voices writers. Credit: Casey Curry / PEN Center USA

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