Friday, February 22, 2008

Rebecca Lichtenfeld

Great news. Rebecca Lichtenfeld has decided to join us and play a couple of songs at the August reading. She's a musician and human rights advocate, working closely with Peter Gabriel and his Voice Of Witness foundation. She's performed with Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, and the B-52s. None of that tells the story of Rebecca's magnatism and commitment to progressive causes. You'll have to come see it for yourself.

Even more great news, Matthew Klam will be joining us for the September reading.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Save all rent control (not just Steve's)

Thanks to everyone, homeowners and renters alike, who came out to support rent control last Saturday night. Our brave host, Stephen Elliott, gave us his reason for supporting rent control; I believe it was a flat at 19th and Gurerro, but let me make it clear: We all have a stake in this. If Prop 98 passes in June I might not end up seeking shelter in a doorway on Market Street, but that’s just me. Not only does a rent control repeal threaten to overpopulate doorways everywhere, it aims that threat at the city’s most vulnerable populations: the elderly, the disabled, those without support systems in place. The exodus of renters that Prop 98 would facilitate would make all of San Francisco look like the Marina. (And who wants to live there? Not me. Seriously, it’s so far away from everything.) And aren't there enough people being forced out of their homes already?

With that in mind, Colm Toibin took the stage and told us how renters in his native Dublin lost the battle and well, nobody can afford to live there anymore. Oh, and his glasses weren’t broken; they came that way. He unfolded them, popped them on and read a story about a juvenile detention center, with one gruesome scene relating the pulling of a tooth using a pair of pliers. Now, you may or may not remember, my teeth hurt when Tobias Wolff read last month— that was sheer anxiety. This month it was sympathy pain. While Toibin read, I could actually feel my gums tightening around my incisors. I’m not kidding.

Next up was Vendela Vida, co founder of 826 Valencia, which always deserves a link. In between reading her story, Soleil, available in a new collection edited by Zadie Smith, called The Book of Other People, (proceeds benefit 826NYC, which also deserves a link) and also has stories by Nick Hornby and George Saunders. Vendela told us the genesis of the story; a teenage girl growing up in California had wayward Swedish au pairs invading her bedroom— someone to look up to, who was cooler than mom—and who steered her wrong, very wrong, in important matters, such as hair and fashion. Beware the au pair!

Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser came up next and showed up how to do the Six Word Memoir Slam from their new book Not Quite What I Was Planning. (They also got a nice write up in this week's New Yorker Talk of the Town.) Local literati including Daniel Handler, Joe Loya and Elizabeth Bernstein shared their six word memoirs with the crowd. Stephen Colbert’s six-word memoir: Well, I thought it was funny.

Next came, all the way from Canada, by way of New York, Michelle Orange. She read about her recent trip to Beirut. Yes, Beirut. Here’s a bit of gallows humor, a joke told to her by her tour guide— an Israeli general threatened, at the beginning of the 2006 war to turn Lebanon’s clock back twenty years, but that was the best news the women had heard in decades. Why not go for thirty? Also toward the end of her piece when our heroine was last seen exiting a museum, a large plume of smoke begins rising in the air. A U.S. Embassy car had been blown up. The bomb was detonated a breath too soon, and only injured the car’s passenger and driver. But the three people who happened to be passing by were dead. A soldier from a nearby checkpoint came to search Michelle’s bag and asked where she was staying. “You should go back now,” he said. “I would leave here if I were you.” I have to say also, that the usual bar chatter, which can be annoying, was absent while Michelle was reading. We were all listening very closely.

Steve Almond, who quit his teaching job at Boston College, thanks to Condi Rice’s invitation to speak at commencement, (which he said was not really an act of conscience, rather a spasm of disgust) read a series of letters he received as part of the fallout. Here’s an excerpt from Nathan’s, a young pen pal: Hey asshole, maybe you’re just upset because Rice has bigger balls than you. Steve read his replies in a dry voice: Dear Nathan . . . Check out the podcasts for the (almost) full effect. What I mean is, you had to be there; luckily we have the podcasts for the next best thing (and posterity). Lest you think Steve Almond is only full of glib commentary, he ended his reading on a poignant note.  It's not all fun and games at the Progressive Reading Series, folks. The full story of Almond's decision, er, spasm of disgust, can be found in his new book, Not That You Asked, from which I feel obligated to quote these two sentences, “I had quit my part-time job. It was a testament to the political lethargy of the country that such a pissant gesture would excite adulation in the first place.”

Charles D’Ambrosio read two short pieces of nonfiction, One about the halfway house in Seattle where his brother, Mike, who is schizophrenic, has lived in for 12 years— it’s closing. The house is, according to D’Ambrosio, a shithole. However, it’s where his brother’s friends are and upon the closing, they’ll be scattered. What he read was letters Mike would write to the whole family like this: Dear______ and just fill in the names. One especially lovely line from Mike, “I am fine as a blade of grass,” which made think of this from the Talmud, “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.’”

If you missed it, you still have your chance next month to raise even more money to save rent control. We will again convene at the Makeout Room, on March 15th and it’s the same deal—you can get your tickets in advance by sending twenty bucks to or take your chances at the door (good luck with that).  You’ll also score yourself another (different) groovy shirt. We’ll be hearing from the lovable, the irascible Bucky Sinister; the charming Peter Plate; the fabulous Justin Chin; the one and only Amy Tan; mastermind Jerry Stahl and Rabih Alameddine, about whom I know nothing, but Junot Diaz, whom I trust, says this about his book The Hakawati, “Here is absolute beauty. One of the finest novels I’ve read in years.” See you there.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Event Number 3

Announcing: The March 15 Progressive Reading
A Special Benefit to Save Rent Control in San Francisco

When: Saturday, March 15, 7pm
Where: The Make Out Room – 3225 22nd Street, San Francisco
Price: $10 - $20 sliding scale

On June 3 there will be a proposition on the state ballot disguised as Eminent Domain reform. Hidden inside this bill is a ban on all rent control in the state of California. All funds from the March, April, and May readings will go to efforts to Save Rent Control.

(A different one from last month's event...)


Amy Tan author of Saving Fish from Drowning and The Joy Luck Club
Jerry Stahl author of Love Without and Permanent Midnight
Justin Chin author of Gutted
Bucky Sinister author of What Happens in Narnia Stays in Narnia
Peter Plate author of Snitch Factory
Rabih Alameddine author of The Hakawati

Hosted by Stephen Elliott author of Happy Baby and editor of Sex For America

The Progressive Reading Series happens on the third Saturday of every month though the 2008 election at 7pm at the Make Out Room in San Francisco.

We strongly recommend getting tickets in advance as these events sometimes sell out. Advance ticket holders get priority seating. Purchase tickets in advance by sending $20 per person through Paypal to

Get on the Progressive Reading email list by sending an email to:

More information on the Hidden Agenda Scheme

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Here is a link to our Flickr page, where we have photos from the last event and will continue to post pictures in the future. It can also be found in our "Links" section to the right. Enjoy!