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November 21, 2013     Beverly Hills Weekly
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coverstory A LOVE OF LITERATURE Andrea Grossman discusses 18 years of Writers Bloc By Helen Zhao attention is to incorporate that pop culture? But they are. See that's my response to what you're saying is - you're wrong. I can't imagine a better way to spend an eve- ning, besides watching great TV of course or hanging out with my family and kids. I can't imagine something more engaging and fun than sitting and reading a book. My husband and I do that every night. My chil- dren do that as well. A great story is the best thing in the world. Great books lead you to great places. Don't forget - great movies and great television often spring from these great books. Beverly Hills resident Andrea Grossman founded Writers Bloc Presents, a nonprofit literary series bringing writers and thinkers before audiences for the last 18 years. How did Writers Bloc come to fruition? Writers Bloc is a nonprofit literary series dedicated to bringing to LA audiences our favorite writers and thinkers to hear them talk about their ideas with somebody else who can elicit those ideas in a fun, non- canned and spontaneous way. It's really a conversation that allows for audience involvement with Q and A afterward, and can really be provocative and sometimes theatrical. I started it about eighteen years ago when I recognized a real hole in the Los Angeles cultural landscape. I had been volunteering at UCLA, bringing writers to speak, but it was to a very niche audience. I thought that I wanted a place to go that was very public where my friends and my peers would be able to go and hear the authors, the writers, the artists, the thinkers that we love and whom we want to hear, so conse- quently Writers Bloc was born as a reaction to what didn't yet exist in LA. Certainly the LA Public Library and a couple of large institutions had series, but they really didn't offer the kind of pop culture writers and thinkers who interested me. I love pop culture. I love mainstream fiction. I love mainstream nonfiction. Bookstores certain- ly would bring those writers, but bookstore readings are really different than Writers Bloc, in that Writers Bloc is a conversa- tion between a featured author and another interesting personality. You said that these other programs aren't incorporating pop culture. Perhaps books aren't as sexy as movies and television shows nowadays, and maybe the way to capture an audience's I know you enjoy television and movies. But what would be your argument for storytelling in the book format as opposed to movies and television? They put me inside a story, l can take it where I want to go. I can see what I see. I can be swept away entirely. A novelist can write and portray stuff that you don't see on television or in the movies. I'm not saying I don't appreciate TV and movies as much. I really do. I love TV now. It's the best thing going. But a great book can just absorb you in a thousand different ways. It's something I've been doing my whole life and I get such extreme pleasure from it. How has Writers Bloc evolved over the last 18 years? My family, my children, my husband have been incredibly supportive. There have been times when I've gotten so frus- trated and as the publishing world has changed, it's of course gotten more chal- lenging, but it's evolved in that terrific artists and thinkers want to keep Writers Bloc. It's such a pleasure when somebody great comes to Writers Bloc or a publisher calls me and says, would you like so and so? It's just so validating. That builds up the prestige factor. Year after year, that accumulates. The pantheon of people who have participated is really extraordinary. It's really humbling. I can't believe who's done it - like Justice Sonya Sotomayor - so thrilling. It was her idea to have [actress] Eva Longoria do the Q and A. And Eva Longoria was brilliant, well prepared, not to mention pretty gorgeous. It was phenom- enal. She [Sotomayor] suggested it. I was surprised. But I wasn't going to argue with the United States Supreme Court justice whom I love and admire. If she wants Eva Longoria, she'll have Eva Longoria. Rachel Maddow with Bill Maher was hugely popu- lar. Anytime Steve Martin walks into a room - he's done five Writers Bloc pro- grams. George Carlin. What speakers are coming up? I have James Carville and Mary Matalin coming up in January. In December, I have James Swanson who is a bestselling author. He wrote a book called Manhunt about the search to find John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Lincoln. His new book is on the assassination of President Kennedy. Terrific journalist Richard Reeves is doing the program with him on Kennedy. I have a tribute to Elmore Lenoard with actors, reading from his work. I have Scott Stossel. He is an editor for the Atlantic Monthly and his new book is on fear and anxiety. I had Jared Diamond with Sandra Tsing Loh last night. That was so fun. It seems many people don't have the patience nowadays to read books - instead indulging in shorter articles, television shows, and movies. How has your group maintained such an appreciation for books? There are so many people I know "and so many people who come to Writers Bloc - my mailing list is over 12,000 and they have all put themselves on that mail- ing list. I have not adapted any lists. I have not stolen any email lists or imported any email lists. Generally they're from Southern California. But I've had people fly in from the east coast, from Colorado, from Florida, to come to some of my pro- grams. It's amazing. I remember several years ago, Julie Andrews did a Writers Bloc program. A woman flew in from Colorado. Carrie Fisher has done a number of Writers Bloc programs. A guy told me who was waiting outside of the theatre who had a ticket - he flew in from Baltimore to see this particular program because he wanted to see her interview Salman Rushdie. There are people who love and appreciate books. Many of them live in Beverly Hills and in Brentwood and in the Palisades and in Pasadena and in the South Bay. And they come in and they battle traffic. Oh my god, they fight rush hour. They fight gridlock to get to these programs. That's how I gauge how I program for Writers Bloc - would I get in the car and fight traffic to go see this particular thinker or artist? And only if I say yes, do I go for the person. In the 1980s, you worked at the Z Channel. Tell us about that. I was the director of film acquisitions or director of programming. I can't remember my title. My boss Jerry Harvey ran the Z Channel. It was really terrific and it was really great training. It was perfect train- ing for Writers Bloc. I would put together film festivals. I would buy movies for the Z Channel that were quality driven, that were good movies. The Z Channel prided itself on good movies. It set the bar high just like Writers Bloc does. I loved it. I had a great time at the Z Channel. I wanted the job so badly. It was the perfect job. HBO and Showtime were little infants in the constel- lation of paid television and cable TV. The Z Channel was representing great quality. It was a small paid TV channel that was available in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and the Palisades. Major players in the movie industry all had it and they all wanted their movies to be on Z because their peers would see it. It was sort of the precursor to screeners that the various guilds sent out before awards. The Z Channel would play movies that wanted to be in contention for Academy Awards. I remember Warren Beatty dropped off Reds. Warren Beatty wanted Reds to air on Z in this special screening. That was during what is now considered awards season. When that hap- pened, other filmmakers wanted their mov- ies to be shown on Z during awards con- sideration time. There would be these film festivals - we would call them - of movies that had just been released in the theatres but would air on the Z Channel for one or two times so that members of various guilds could see them at their convenience. Peter O'Toole would call the time. I just loved it when Peter O'Toole would call. Tell us about your family. All my kids attended Beverly Hills schools. We've lived in Beverly Hills pretty much forever. My husband Rick Grossman is general counsel for Dignity Health, which is a large hospital system in California. My son Gabe is 25 and he's in grad school at Columbia University study- ing screenwriting and directing. My daugh- ter Helen is 23. She is a graduate of Carlton College and she works downtown doing social media and marketing for a very cool collaborative work space called The Hub. My daughter Lena is 20 and she's a junior at Tulane studying English. If somebody is going to be an offspring in the Grossman family, then they've got to be English majors. I went to E1 Rodeo and Beverly High. My kids went to Horace Mann. I jog in the morning. I know half the people on the street. I walk everywhere. After living here for so many years, one sees it's a very small town. When I went to my high school reunion a few months ago, I looked around and saw that so many of us have really never left. So many of us live in Beverly Hills still. That says an enormous amount for our community. What is currently on your reading list? I just finished such a great book called Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. James Swanson's book, The End of Days. Anything by Michael Connelly. Anything published by Europa Press. There's noth- ing as satisfying as a great cop story with complex characters. There's nothing as sat- isfying as a spy story, because those books represent justice to me - the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of right and wrong. What is the future for reading and Writers Bloc? Well I hope the future of reading is really strong, and I think it always will be, whether on an e-reader or on a paper book. It doesn't matter. People will be download- ing and reading. Whatever platform they use, people will be reading. And I hope Writers Bloc will be around for a long time because it's fun. I can't imagine doing any- thing else. November 21- November 27, 2013 Page 9