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Social activists, with pen in hand...

April 26, 2009 |  1:44 pm


A crowd of knowledge-hungry Angelenos packed UCLA’s Korn Convocation Hall this morning to hear the “Writers as Activists” panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Braving the early morning hours and festival traffic, cuppa joe in tow, audience members got much more than they expected -- in a good way.

Moderated by Leslie Schwartz (author of “Angels Crest”), panelists included Sandra Tsing Loh (contributing editor for Atlantic Monthly, commentator for NPR and author of “Mother on Fire”), David Goodman (independent journalist and author of seven books including “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times”) and Donna Foote (former Newsweek correspondent and author of “Relentless Pursuit”).

Each author read an excerpt from their book; Goodman read a captivating passage about a young black boy in rural Jena, La., who dared to sit under “the white tree.” The idea for this book came while doing previous book tours, and meeting people across the country who were inspirational to him and his sister, Amy Goodman, who co-authored the book.

Foote’s passage highlighted the time a young man, Phillip, spent teaching at Locke High School in South Los Angeles as part of the Teach for America program, had an altercation with one student who repeatedly played “the race card” -- a demonstration of the racial barriers that still inhibit South L.A. The book follows four Teach for America recruits as they navigate their way through the challenges that come with teaching at a gang-infested high school.

Tsing Loh, who had the audience laughing every time she opened her mouth, shared her tale of a quest to find an appropriate Los Angeles Unified School District school for her kindergarten-age children. Her quest left her (gasp!) at the nearest public school, where she fell in love with the (possibly gay) principal. She was sold. (Side note: Her daughters are now in first and third grades, and doing very well, thank you.)

Tsing Loh and Goodman are self-proclaimed activists, but Foote said she doesn't consider herself an activist, but a “journalist who wants to tell the truth.” Tsing Loh believes that writers and creatives like herself can “bring the fun and story to activism.” For example, she showed the audience her pair of yellow panties emblazoned with “Burning Mom’s” on the front, a tribute to all mothers who want education to be more of a priority in Sacramento (and Washington, D.C., too).

Goodman’s approach to activism is more like Foote’s, proclaiming that he is “an activist for telling the truth; all journalists should be.”

All that talk of education and activism had audience members on the edge of their seats, thirsty for more, thus showing once again that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.
-- Lisa Van Lund

Photo: Sandra Tsing Loh. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times