It’s not so much that Los Angeles doesn’t read; it’s that sometimes we like other people to do it for us.
The latest edition of McSweeney’s Presents: The World Explained had a packed house. As organizer Joshuah Bearman surveyed the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater last September, he saw “the regular crowd, the type of people you’d expect to see on Franklin shuttling between the Bourgeois Pig and La Poubelle.”
And then, like stars appearing at dusk – or like flecks of lint on a black T-shirt – he saw “all these well-coiffed people in suits.”
He took a beat. “I was like, ‘What’s with the suits?”‘ he says. “And then I realized: It was agents and managers.”
Stories fuel Hollywood. Which might help explain why L.A. is seeing a rebirth of the literary salons and an increasing number of people mining the territory.
“There’s a sense of community, of getting a raw, real experience,” says producer Janet Yang. “People have always craved that and it’s something you don’t often find.”
Broder Kurland Webb Uffner lit agent Peter Stone, who was in the McSweeney’s audience that night, says he was tipped to the show by another organizer, Will Reiser. “The first time I went, it was all suits,” he says. “Suits laughing, which is pretty amazing. The second time it was mostly writers and a few suits who were making sure that those other suits weren’t getting too close.”
In addition to a handful of occasional outlets like McSweeney’s, the city hosts more than a half-dozen regular literary salons in Los Angeles, with “salon” meaning everything from a 1920s-era, alcohol-fueled roundtable to a more structured evening where $25 buys dinner and a T.C. Boyle reading.
The core purpose of lit salons remains the same: a chance to appreciate writers’ work. “Los Angeles is perceived as a one-industry town and (lit salons) create a social network for writers who aren’t screenwriters,” says author Meghan Daum.
However, Leila Strogov, editor of biannual literary magazine Swink, says she’s seen an uptick in the number of agents, directors and producers who come to Swink’s quarterly public readings, although it’s something less than an onslaught. “These two worlds are just starting to brush up against one another, but they’re not exactly in tango yet.”
Dan Lin, senior VP production at Warner Bros.
Pictures, is a Swink subscriber who’s also attended the live events. However, his initial awareness stemmed from happy coincidence: Strogov is married to one of his business school classmates.
Lin is still looking for a Swink story he’d like to option, but he already appreciates the informal, writer-centric enviroment. “It’s out in Silver Lake and people don’t go out there. There’s no industry players there yet but, frankly, it’s better that way.”
Another fan is Ron Yerxa of Bona Fide Prods. Who, with Albert Berger, has produced adaptations such as “Election” and “The Ice Harvest.” He’s an occasional audience member at Word Theatre, where actors read literary works in a restaurant while the audience eats.
“That’s the beauty of it: You don’t have to read,” Yerxa says. “You can have a croissant and listen.”
And, because this is Hollywood, that also can mean listening to the voices of stars like Ed Harris and Mark Ruffalo.
When big names read at literary salons, their agents often follow. However, their presence – and awareness of what’s being read – may represent coincidence, not strategy.
When asked about a client’s salon appearance, one agent professed complete ignorance.
“I don’t know why he’s doing it,” he said. “Maybe it was for a cute girl.”
Literal good times
Variety Weekend looks at some of the city’s finest readers.
Salon: Spoken Interludes
9018 Burton Way
What to expect: Buffet dinner at Il Cielo, followed by readings
On stage: Aimee Bender, Mona Simpson and Yeardley Smith
The next one: April 25. $30 (includes dinner)
Credit/blame: Hosted by writer-actress DeLaune Michel, this salon launched in L.A. but is now based in Westchester, N.Y. and makes special appearances here.
Salon: The World Explained, roaming.
Last one was at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade
5919 Franklin Ave
What to expect: Readings, comedy and slideshows
On stage: Comedians Patton Oswald and Paul Tompkins; scholars John Hodgman, Eli Horowitz, David Rees; plus Jon Brion and Zooey Deschanel
The next one: And we quote: “Whenever they feel like it.” But the next one will be in May. $10
Credit/blame: Backed by lit darling McSweeney’s and run by the editorial staff of the Yeti Review (aka LA Weekly’s Joshuah Bearman).
Salon: The Cult of 8 Club
1735 N. Vine Ave.
What to expect: Recent readings: David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream: The Life and Times of Ziggy Stardust” and Steven Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”
On stage: Pamela Des Barres, actor Carl Ballantine, director Peter Foldy
The next one: March 30 and it’s film-based. Free
Credit/blame: Hosted by actor Mike Rad, Paul Joseph Barclay and Wild Colonials guitarist D.J. Shark
Salon: Swink, roaming locations
Last one held at Workspace
3929 Fountain Ave.
What to expect: Features poetry and fiction by writers who are “pushing the boundaries of the traditional.”
On stage: Meghan Daum, Rachel Resnick, Lisa Glatt, Daniel Alarcon and David Ulin, among others
The next one: May – check website for details. Free.
Credit/blame: Hosted by Leelila Strogov, editor of bi-coastal, biannual literary magazine Swink. Events are held four times a year and feature both established and emerging writers.
Salon: 826 LA
685 Venice Blvd.
What to expect: The nonprofit after-school tutoring program, founded by Dave Eggers, now hosts readings, performances and other lit-minded events.
On stage: Rick Moody, Zadie Smith and Mike Davis; among others
The next one: April 28 at Royce Hall, Steve Martin in conversation with Dave Barry, Stephen King and others. $25; $200 for VIP reception.
Credit/blame: Hosted by 826 LA program director Mac Barnett, also the author of a forthcoming children’s book.
Salon: Word Theatre
held at various restaurants
What to expect: Actors perform written works in an intimate setting
On stage: The next edition includes Aimee Bender readings by Jessica Capshaw, David Krumholtz,Mark Moses, Jon Tenney
The next one: March 26, 11 a.m. at Aphrodisiac, 10351 Santa Monica Blvd. $30-$40, includes brunch.
Credit/blame: Hosted by producer and voiceover artist Cedering Fox and actor Darrell Larson. Upcoming author readings include Mona Simpson, Tobias Wolff and Rick Moody.
Salon: Mount Hollywood Underground
4607 Prospect Ave.
What to expect: A “literary speakeasy” with a mix of parlor games, poetry readings and audience participation.
On stage: Musical interludes by Evangenitals and Fake Radio; readings by John Albert and Jolene Siana
The next one: March 26. $7; $5 for members.
Credit/blame: Hosted by writer-performance artist Christine Louise Berry, principal of nonprofit arts org Smart Gals Prods.