Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Catch the Buzz, Live on TV

Tune in to Santa Monica's CityTV tonight at 7:00pm, for a one-hour, live discussion of our Citywide Reads book, Little Bee by Chris Cleave. This will be the fourth year of bringing the discussion to you live, in your own living room. The program will be hosted by one of our veteran book discussion leaders, Beverly Gray, with guests Max Diamond and Mary Menzel. This year, we'll also be welcoming Barry Kibrick, producer and host of Southern California’s premiere interview program “Between the Lines,” for a special appearance to provide his perspective.

The program will be aired on Santa Monica's CityTV, channel 16. For the first time ever, the program will also be carried live on LA36, cable channel 36 in the City of Los Angeles. If you'd like to participate in the book discussion, please call in with your questions during the 7:00-8:00 p.m. hour at 310-458-4950.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Oh, What a Day!!!

Wow, was it ever a good day today at the Santa Monica Public Library! This afternoon, we welcomed author Chris Cleave to the Main Library's Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium, along with more than 150 readers, a pair of talented actresses, and it all added up to a spectacular Citywide Reads event.

Just prior to Chris' appearance, we put on a brief, but very moving staged reading of excerpts from Little Bee, which we called "The Voices of Little Bee." Actress Petal d'Avril Walker gave voice to Little Bee and actress and veteran audiobook reader Rosalyn Landor gave voice to Sarah. The result was fifteen minutes of theater that we think left author Chris Cleave, as well as the audience, both mesmerized and moved. The photo below features Petal, Rosalyn, Library Board President Edward Edwards (who scripted and directed this performance), and Chris Cleave. And we really want to thank Petal, Rosalyn and Edward for all their hard work in putting this unique and very special reading together.

Immediately following the staged reading, we welcomed Chris to the stage to discuss his book and we have a pretty strong feeling that audience members fell head over heels for this charming, gregarious and talented author.
Chris told three stories that inspired his decision to write Little Bee. While in high school, Chris was deeply affected when his school's principal shared a video with students of four young East Berliners risking life and limb to escape to the West. Video of that escape can be seen on Youtube in this German television video: Chris came away from that screening viewing those asylum seekers as heroes. However, by the time was 22, the world appeared to have changed. That summer, Chris was assigned as a day laborer to work at a newly-opened immigration detention center called Campsfield House near his U.K. home, and spent 3 days learning the stories of the refugees he met there from countries like Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Jamaica. At the time, he was struck by the fact that these asylum seekers were detained in prison-like conditions for indefinite terms, and treated as if they were criminals, when all they had done was flee horrific situations in their home countries. Finally, in 2005, he learned the story of Angolan asylum seeker Manuel Bravo. Bravo's story is a difficult one to hear, but there's a chilling account of it on Britain's Independent newspaper website, which you can reach via this link: Finally prodded by Bravo's tale, Chris began interviewing refugees, doing independent research, and then spent roughly two years writing Little Bee. His intent was to take an unwieldy issue such as immigration and asylum and turn it into an intimate, accessible story that might challenge readers to think about the larger issue. As he pointed out to audience members, Little Bee is not his attempt to offer answers to such a challenging problem, but rather to start a debate.

For anyone who missed Chris' appearance with us, we're very sorry you did. But we definitely welcome you to join in on any one of our five remaining book discussions, or watch us on CityTV (Channel 16 in Santa Monica, and Channel 36 in Los Angeles) this coming Wednesday, February 24 at 7pm as we conduct a live, call-in discussion of the book. We also have a couple more related special events yet to come, including The Art of Storytelling on Saturday, March 6 at 2pm, in which veteran storyteller and artist Michael D. McCarty celebrates Little Bee's claim that even a sad story can be proof "that this storyteller is alive!"

For dates, times and venues for everything we still have in store, check out our resource guide, posted here:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's The Issue?

We've made it through a couple book discussions now and one thing most readers seem most interested in discussing about Little Bee is the real-life issues it weaves into its fictional narrative. With Little Bee, the predominant issue would be immigration and asylum for refugees, and discussion participants definitely had a lot to say, both about the issues themselves, as well as how skillfully (or not) Chris Cleave handled those issues within his story. Discussion participants also cited other novels they've enjoyed that dealt with a specific issue well fictionally, books like our 2005 Citywide Reads selection The Kite Runner, as well as classics like The Grapes of Wrath. We'd definitely be interested in hearing what you think, so please take the time to join one of our other upcoming discussions.

You may also be wondering what that picture to the right is. On Wednesday afternoon, February 17th, several of our librarians swooped down on the Third Street Promenade for a "book mob" to promote Santa Monica Citywide Reads. Similar to "flash mobs," where a group of people converge, unannounced, on a given spot for a brief time to catch the public's attention, we dropped in on the Promenade during the Wednesday Farmer's Market rush and passed out coupons for Little Bee books, and conducted a few flash group readings of segments we love from the book. We definitely caught the interest of many passersby, and if any of those passersby was you, we hope to see you at an upcoming discussion or special event. In fact, we hope to see all of you.

Remember, this coming Saturday afternoon, we'll be hosting Chris Cleave himself for a special author presentation, as well as a special staged reading of excerpts from Little Bee by actresses Rosalyn Landor and Petal d'Avril Walker. The program starts at the Main Library at 1:30 p.m., Saturday, February 20th, and free tickets for Auditorium seating will be released at 12:30 p.m. We definitely advise an early arrival, as we think this one will be filled to capacity quickly.

See you then!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Meet Chris Cleave

Hello Readers,

It's the eve of Santa Monica Citywide Reads 2010. Our program officially begins tomorrow, Friday, February 12th, and our first book discussion takes place Saturday, February 13th at 11:00 a.m. at Cafe Bolivar, 1741 Ocean Park Blvd. We definitely encourage those of you who've read the book early to stop by and let us know what you think.

But, as we're just about to kick everything off, we thought it a great to time to introduce you to the author we're celebrating this year: Chris Cleave.

We're excited to be working with Chris, who has proven to be a charming and lovely fellow, and we very much look forward to his appearance at the Main Library on Saturday, February 20th. The program will kick off at 1:30 p.m. with a special staged reading of excerpts from Little Bee, performed by actresses Petal d'Avril Walker (as Little Bee) and Rosalyn Landor (as Sarah). Chris will follow at roughly 2:00 p.m. and he'll definitely be taking audience questions, followed by a book signing. Tickets for this program will be released at 12:30 p.m. the day of the event, and we expect them to go fast, so arrive early.

Back to that introduction of Chris. Born in London in 1973, Chris spent his childhood in Buckinghamshire and the West African nation of Cameroon. A graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, he studied psychology, then ran through a series of smaller jobs. He eventually took up professional writing, first as a writer for London's Daily Telegraph, then on to his current weekly column on parenting for The Guardian newspaper. You can check out his column via his own website,, or directly on The Guardian's site,

In 2005, his first novel, Incendiary, was released to controversy and acclaim. The novel, about a London mother coping with loss of her husband and son in a terrorist bombing, went on to win numerous awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award and the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction prize. He followed that up in 2008 with the novel The Other Hand, which was released in the U.S. in early 2009 as Little Bee.

We look forward to hearing what you have to say about this year's featured novel, and we hope you'll come out on the 20th to meet Chris and share your thoughts with him as well. Chris tells us that he looks forward to meeting all of you.