Book Club: New Stories from Pico Iyer, Maggie Shipstead, Ibram X. Kendi


Hello and welcome to the LA Times Book Club newsletter.

Colleen Kinder had invited one of its literary heroes, author of travels Pico Iyer, to her Yale writing class to discuss a history of Reykjavík and other essays she assigned to students. Instead, its guest author “went rogue” and for the first time shared a story of wandering the summer streets of Iceland for hours in the company of a magnetic stranger with piercing blue eyes.

Years later, the blue-eyed woman still dominated Iyer’s memories of Iceland’s largest city. And the class discussion struck a chord with Kinder. She started asking other writers: Who haunts you? Responses poured in.

This is the genesis of our May book club selection“Letter to a Stranger”, a new collection that features 65 writers exploring fleeting encounters that changed their lives forever.

May 26, Kinder and Iyer, plus LA authors Maggie Shipstead and Michelle Teawill discuss their stories in “Letter to a Stranger” with the Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds.

The letters are all short, often surprising, and will evoke strangers from your own past. Kinder, the book’s publisher, organized the collection around themes such as gratitude, wonder, chemistry, remorse, and farewell. She says experience has taught her that “harassing ghosts make glorious muses”.

“Yes, our families and our institutions raise us, make us grow,” Kinder writes in the introduction, “but so does serendipity, the cast of characters that are randomly assembled in our path.”

Iyer writes his letter “To My Lost Trishaw Driver” in Mandalay, Myanmar. Shipstead reaches out “To the Woman We Met Before the Flood” in Pai, Thailand. Tea writes “To the Girl in the Tattoo Parlor” in Dallas.

Other essays tell of brushes with a first responder after a storm, a player met on jury duty, a waiter in Istanbul, a taxi driver in Paris, a room full of travelers watching reality TV in La Paz, and a traveling magician in Nicaragua.

Join us: The “Letter to a Stranger” book club will be broadcast live from 6:00 p.m. PT May 26. Invite a friend to watch this one with you. Get tickets.

June preview

Mark your calendar: June 22, bestselling author and historian Ibram X. Kendi will join readers at the book club in Los Angeles to discuss his upcoming book, “How to Raise an Anti-Racist.”

Kendi is the author of five books for adults and three books for children, including “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016, and “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” a best-selling 2019 memoir and social commentary.

His latest book, “How to Raise an Anti-Racist”, will be published on June 14 and is aimed at parents, teachers and other caregivers. Kendi tackles questions such as: How do we talk to our children about racism? How to teach children to be anti-racist? How do children of different ages experience race? How do racist structures affect children?

Kendi is a professor of humanities at Boston University and founding director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at the Atlantic and a racial justice contributor to CBS News. In 2021, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Engineering Fellowship.

Ticket information will be coming soon for this event in person.

Poet Amanda Gorman on stage at the LA Times Festival of Books.

(Los Angeles Times)

Meet Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman talked about poetry, the pandemic and 405 traffic on Saturday as the Festival of Books returned to the USC campus.

Gorman Book Club Conversation with Orange County Poet Laureate Natalie J. Graham was the 24-year-old poet’s first public performance since President Biden’s inauguration.

Gorman thrilled a crowd of more than 1,200 when she read “Fugue,” a poem from her new collection, “Call Us What We Carry.” Look here.

One of my favorite festival moments came after the book conversation when Gorman stopped to sign a copy of her children’s book, “Change Sings,” for 3-year-old Amelia, a girl from Anaheim Hills wearing a bright yellow blazer.

A woman and a man kneel on a book next to a child wearing white socks and a butterfly hair clip.

Poet Amanda Gorman signs her book for 3-year-old Amelia, who came to the festival with her father Josh Harrold.

(Donna Wares/Los Angeles Times)

“We’ve read Amanda’s poems to Amelia since we first saw her at the grand opening,” said Josh Harold, Amelia’s father. “Amelia was thrilled to dress up as her for Halloween!

“For Halloween, we had braids in her hair, as well as the red headband to match the inauguration outfit! We went to Palm Springs where there is an Amanda Gorman mural for photos. We couldn’t get very close to the mural, but it was still cool to see. “

Harrold said he likes to take Amelia on an adventure every Saturday while his wife takes time to relax on her own. “This Dadurday at the Book Festival may have been the best yet,” he said. “One day, Amelia will grasp the magnitude of the moment, but since that moment she’s been saying things like, ‘Amanda Gorman was so nice, Dad.'”

A young woman in a yellow coat gestures as she speaks on a podium.

Amanda Gorman reads “The Hill We Climb” during President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021.

(Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

The book festival returns

The 27th Los Angeles Times Festival of Books returned in person on April 23-24, with more than 550 authors, poets, artists, chefs, journalists, celebrities and musicians. Some highlights:

Photos. Check out this incredible portrait gallery of attendees who stopped by the Times studio to be entertained, cuddled and photographed by Jay L. Clendenin.

A man in a cowboy hat, jeans and a jacket with a tie smiles as he leans back in a chair with his feet resting on a table.

Craig Johnson, author of Walt Longmire’s mystery novels, joined a Sunday panel with Los Angeles author Attica Locke and book club editor Donna Wares.

(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

The book speaks: Here are some stories from a busy weekend that featured Luis J. Rodriguez, Janelle Monae, Carl Bernstein, Amor Towles, Don Winslow and many more.

Two women are seated on a stage, holding microphones.

Times columnist Erika D. Smith interviewed Janelle Monáe during the Ideas Exchange at the Festival of Books.

(Nick Agro / For the Time)

Live journalism: Times journalists such as Kevin Merida, Bill Plaschke, Robin Abcarien, Steve Padille, Christopher Reynolds, Jenn Harris and Nani Sahra Walker shared their work and answered readers’ questions on the festival’s Ask a Reporter stage. The Saturday, Gustavo Arellano hosted a live podcast discussion with Julia Wick, Erika D. Smith and Alene Chekmedyian which took readers inside the races of Los Angeles mayor, council, and sheriff.

A man speaks on a podium

Editor Kevin Merida at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Book prices: Rep. Adam Schiff, Veronique Tadjo and Paul Auster were among the winners of the annual LA Times Book Awards.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who came out and supported our comeback,” says festival organizer Anne Binney, Deputy Events Director of The Times. “I loved the excitement of authors heading to their panels, some perhaps not knowing exactly how things would turn out, and then coming back and reporting, ‘The event was packed’; ‘the questions from the audience were so good’; and ‘we could have gone on for two hours!’”

A man holding a cloth briefcase writes with a pen on a large poster.

Brad Ratliff signs the “What are you reading?” banner at the Festival of Books.

(Dorany Pineda)

Please subscribe to the Los Angeles Times if you don’t already. Here’s a great deal: get unlimited digital access for six months for just $1.

And remember to sign as an individual or corporate sponsor of the new Los Angeles Times Community Fund, which supports our book club and annual book awards. We count on your help to continue to develop our literary programs and our live journalism events.

Finally, thank you to all the book clubbers who came for the Fête du Livre. It was amazing to see so many readers and writers again or for the very first time – and to finally be able to connect with previous guest authors in person. The response exceeded anything we could have imagined after two years of reading at home and talking about books from the couch.

Maybe a Woodland Hills reader Brad Ratliff sums it up best.

” I waited years for this event to come back,” Ratliff told the reporter Dorany Pineda. “I’m just thrilled to see how big and wonderful it is. I just can’t help but smile.

Los Angeles Times Community Fund Logo

(Parisa Hajizadeh-Amini/Los Angeles Times)

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