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:

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