A Rapt Audience for Women Storytellers

Julie Amante

Year after year, many in the audience for the Laguna Beach Festival of Women Authors return, some even make the sell-out affair at the Surf & Sand Resort an annual get-together.

Perhaps they come because it is a good cause. As Kim Salter, chair for the 24th annual Literary Luncheon, hosted by the Laguna Beach branch of the American Association of University Women on March 19, said, “Who doesn’t support education?”

For example, once people find out that their donations to the silent auction will help send middle-school girls to science camp or help single moms go back to school, they are very generous, said co-chair Veroncia Nice.

“This is one of our big fundraisers of the year,” said Salter. Money raised at the luncheon made up most of the award of over $20,000 in local scholarships and community grants. And the silent auction is the one area they can increase revenue, since seating remains static.

Some may support the lunch this year because it celebrates the centennial anniversary of California women winning the right to vote, nine years before passage of the federal 19th amendment endorsed women’s suffrage. “That’s kind of exciting,” said Salter, also a co-chair of the statewide celebration.

But good deeds aside, the lunch is packed because the speakers, authors of recently published books, invariably share intriguing stories about themselves and how their tales come to print.

There is nothing like a good book to help us make sense of the complicated realities of life, even as we dive into the story to escape them. The works of the three women authors slated to speak at this year’s luncheon prove the point.

Through their writing, these dynamic authors transport us to other times and exotic worlds and yet bring us closer to universal truths, such as the nature of the “American dream,” the struggle to find meaning and priorities in our lives, and how society responds to culture shocks and clashes.

Given the publishing industry doldrums and the luncheon’s 200-person book-buying audience, Salter said securing three great authors was easy. She had read Julia Amante’s novel, “Evenings at the Argentine Club,” and liked it and heard her speak at another venue.

Amante is enthusiastic about describing what’s behind her story telling and sharing the role books and reading played in her life. “I believe that as a daughter of immigrant parents, books, libraries, and education opened up a world for me that allowed me to believe I could be whomever I wished to be,” she said.

Her novel, “Evenings at the Argentine Club” (Grand Central Publishing, 2009), is about a young woman who is afraid to fight for her dream, focusing instead on not disappointing her parents. At the same time, her father, in his 60s realizes he has not yet made good on the American dream he envisioned when uprooting his family from South America.

Lisa Napoli

Jane Hanauer, owner of Laguna Beach Books, helped secure Lisa Napoli, author of the recently released “Radio Shangri-la: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth (Crown, 2011),” for the event. Napoli appeared earlier at the bookstore.

Napoli, a native of New York now living in Los Angeles, was questioning her life and her work as a radio journalist when a chance encounter afforded her the opportunity to move halfway around the world to the ancient Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan to help with its first youth-oriented radio station, Kuzoo FM. Witnessing the cultural transformations of this remote country, she gained a new perspective on her own transformations, facilitating her journey to self-discovery. “Radio Shangri-la” chronicles that journey.

A lesson she took from her experience was that, “community and giving were really what it’s all about, and that I needed to do a better job at both.” She also said that after years as a journalist, she’s tried to get away from the media and simply “talk to people and hear what they’re thinking about.”

Tatjana Soli, author of “The Lotus Eaters” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), a debut novel of an American female combat photographer in the Vietnam War, actually approached the AAUW about speaking, Salter said.

Tatjana Soli

When Soli began her novel in 2000, she said Vietnam had a historical distance for her. Since then “as our country has become involved in numerous foreign conflicts, I think the parallels to Vietnam are inescapable. The novel also deals with the role of journalists covering these conflicts, and the parallels between the fall of Saigon and what we are all watching every night happening in Egypt and Libya, etc. are very resonant.”

Tickets to the Literary Luncheon, if available, are $80. The doors open at 11 a.m. for a no-host bar, the silent auction, opportunity drawings, book sales and a chance to meet the authors. The lunch and program take place from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. Send your check to Janette Mestre, 2240 Hillview Drive, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. Tickets will be held at the door.

Businesses can reserve a table for 10 and receive special recognition on the AAUW website and advertising space in the luncheon’s Program Book. For more information or to reserve a table, contact AAUW-LB’s event chair Dr. Kimberly Salter at 949-230-1169.


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