Before I found the actual Church, libraries were the closest thing to a church I knew. I can’t imagine my faith, or my life, without books. And most of us can’t imagine Los Angeles without Louise Steinman, head of the ALOUD series at the L.A. Public Library.
It’s hard to believe that every Los Angeleno doesn’t know of ALOUD—but let’s assume they don’t.
ALOUD is a series of performances, lectures, and readings, free to the public, presented almost 70 times a year by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Most of the events are at the downtown Central Library. We present some of the most interesting, notable, creative people of our time: writers, artists, scientists, educators, performers.
We invite our guests to have a dialogue with the audience at the end. There’s usually a book signing.
Really, ALOUD is a place where we practice agreeing and disagreeing about things. When you think about the definition of a democracy, and of civic discourse, you can see why the library’s so important. ALOUD is an important part of that in our community.
The library is one of the last places where we tremulously hope that the people there will be polite to us.
Absolutely. You can now apply for citizenship at any of the 73 branches of the L.A.Public Library. You can get a high school degree online through the LAPL. We’re hiring retiring vets to work in the library. We had people explaining the Affordable Health Care in various branches. People are saying, “The days of the public library are over,” but we find the opposite is true. Books are flying off the shelves, in all forms.
In 2010, when library hours were shortened due to budget cuts, you’d see kids who live downtown sitting outside at night with their parents doing their homework, getting the wireless signal. It really is a beacon. The people of Los Angeles believed in the library so much that they supported Measure L to ensure the library was open seven days a week.
So the library is vital—and it’s free!
I always feel a loyalty and a deep gratitude from ALOUD audiences.
Mark Taper Auditorium, the venue, is a special space. The audience is special, too: diverse, inquisitive, appreciative. We have guests who come here from all over the world, Nobel Prize winners, and they always comment on the audience.
I should say as well, public transportation is available to downtown. Parking, with a library card, is a dollar. The events start at 7:15, so you can come early, grab a bite, and make a night of it.
We do take reservations, because we only have 240 seats. We encourage people to come on standby if they can’t get in. If you send people to our website and they see the breadth of what we offer, they’ll see there’s something for everyone.
It’s such an honor to be able to do this work. I feel truly blessed.
Did you found the ALOUD series?
Yes. When the library opened after the fire in 1993, I was hired to start a public program here. It was a hard slog at the beginning. There was no structure in place and little assistance. Now I have wonderful colleagues and a superb director-president of the Library Foundation, Ken Brecher.
It’s important to say we’re not funded by the city. We’re supported by the people who become members of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, which I urge your readers to do. The Library Foundation supports the great mission of the L.A. Public Library: free access to ideas and information. Something of this caliber and frequency really is a gift to the city, and if people don’t know about it, they’ll be quite delighted to find out.
Who are some of the most thrilling people you’ve gotten to meet over your years in ALOUD?
Salman Rushdie. We had a fantastic program last year on Rosa Parks. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Isabel Allende, Fr. Greg Boyle with Tattoos on the Heart.
George Saunders and Bernard Cooper.
Wasn’t that wonderful? Jessye Norman—people left in tears. Writers Geoff Dyer, Denis Johnson, Lorrie Moore. Richard Ford, Marilynne Robinson, James Ellroy. Colm Toíbín. The L.A.Chamber Orchestra. November 20th we’ll have Jack Miles, who won the Pulitzer for God, Reza Aslan and Rabbi Sharon Brous: “The Future of the Religious Past: A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew Discuss The Norton Anthology of World Religions.”
You’re a writer yourself.
Yes. One of my heroes came this spring, Philippe Petit, who walked the tightrope. He has a marvelous new book: Creativity: The Perfect Crime. He really sings praises to the idea of chaos in the creative process. You might not know what something is going to be, but don’t shut it down.
I think in this digital age, people are very hungry to be in the presence of other humans who are curious about the world.
The other thing I love about ALOUD is, because it’s open to everyone, you have, rich donors sitting next to homeless people. It’s a great equalizer. Everyone is welcome.