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Volunteer puts focus on Claremont’s authors

A labor of love makes its debut tomorrow, as the inaugural Claremont Authors Book Faire takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Claremont Public Library. The free event is a showcase, both for the city’s rich literary history and its many authors working today.

“We always talk about Claremont as the city of trees and PhDs, but we also have a long literary tradition and an art tradition and a musical tradition,” Faire organizer Rose Ash said. “And they all need to be celebrated.”

Former Claremont mayor and historian Judy Wright first floated the idea years ago. After a recent health scare, Ms. Ash, ex-officio board member of the Friends of the Claremont Library, decided she wanted to make it happen.

“This summer I had a kidney transplant, and it kind of got me to thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and where I wanted to put my energy. One of the first things that occurred to me was rejuvenating this project,” she explained.

Tomorrow’s Faire features notable Claremont authors Jill Benton (biography), Chris Rubel (fiction), Allen Callaci (memoir), Diana Linden (art history), Joel Harper (children’s literature), Joe Woodward (biography/local history), David Allen (local history), Monique Saigal Escudero (memoir), Paul Steinberg (environmental policy), Larry Dunlap (memoir) and Yi Shun Lai (fiction). The writers will be reading, fielding questions and signing copies of their works. All of the authors’ works are part of the new Claremont Authors Collection, a permanent repository of Claremont-associated authors’ works, housed at the library.

Ms. Ash had the advantage of being friends with several of the writers taking part in tomorrow’s event. “About four or five of them just came immediately to mind from personal association, and the others I kind of had to hunt for.”

She wanted a variety from the community, she said, as well as writers from the Colleges. She strove for diversity in the authors of fiction, memoir, history, art, environmental policy and children’s literature.

Notably absent from tomorrow’s event is Jonathan Lethem, celebrated novelist, essayist, short story writer, recipient of a 2005 MacArthur Fellowship  Genius Grant and Pomona College professor of writing and English. “He was very enthusiastic, but he’s going to be out of town,” Ms. Ash explained. Mr. Letham did send over all of his books, she noted, which are now in the permanent collection.

Another coup was landing Wendy Lower, author of Hitler’s Furies, as well as Claremont McKenna College John K. Roth professor of history and George R. Roberts fellow and director of Mgrublian Center for Human Rights. “I love the book,” Ms. Ash said of Hitler’s Furies. “I think the scholarship is really important.”

Another key “get” was Allen Callaci, author of the brutally touching memoir Heart Like a Starfish, an account of his 2012 heart transplant surgery.

“I met him when Glendora [Library] did an authors’ book fair. I mentioned my kidney transplant, and he said ‘Hey, I had a heart transplant!’ He gave me his book, and I took it home, and two-and-a-half hours later I finished it. I could not put it down. It’s riveting. He’s a great storyteller. So I knew then that I had to have Allen.”

The Faire is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Claremont Library and the Claremont Public Library.

One important detail when getting the project up and running was to assure donors and authors their works would remain with the Friends of the Claremont Library permanently, Ms. Ash said. After a long negotiation with LA County, she gained that assurance. The group was then free to solicit donations from collectors and authors. So far, the collection includes about 200 volumes of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and scholarly works, among many others. It is housed in a simple bookcase with glass doors in the Claremont Public Library.

Donations to the collection are vetted by the Friends of the Claremont Library’s board, as well as volunteers. Writers that wish to submit need a connection to Claremont, but there is some wiggle room in that requirement.

“The lore is that Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, lived in the city, in a very beautiful home on College and Eleventh,” Ms. Ash said. The home is currently occupied by University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman. “So it’s a beautiful structure, but it turns out Frank Baum never lived there. But his son did. So that’s close enough!”

Ms. Ash wants to make the Faire a yearly event and, with the increased awareness it will bring, grow the collection.

“There are many people who have prominent [Claremont] authors in their collections,” Ms. Ash said, adding that she hopes the event will help persuade those folks to come forward and donate. 

“All they have to do is bring a book into the library, and say, ‘This is for the Claremont Authors Collection,’” she said. “We have a cataloger who maintains the collection that will accept it.”

In the meantime, Ms. Ash is focusing on giving her all to her labor of love. “This feels good,” she said. “It’s a passion.”

The Claremont Authors Book Faire takes place tomorrow, Saturday, September 24, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Claremont Library, 208 N. Harvard Ave. Visit claremontlibrary.org or call (909) 621-4902 for information.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com