Recently I returned from a week long trip out of town to find a new library had popped up in my neighborhood.
Now usually the arrival of a library would come with some fanfare, but this one showed up without a word of warning. Take a look:
Located in my friend Rita Dalbec's yard, this "little free library" is part of a growing movement to encourage reading in your neighborhood.
Dalbec said she heard about the project from a friend, got a hold of the suggested plans for building your own, and handed them over to her dad. He made a few modifications of his own, and voila! Dalbec's boulevard is now home to Little Free Library #0624.
This miniature library project was started by two Wisconsin guys. Todd Bol made the first library in the form of a schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a teacher. When he saw how popular the little library was with passersby, he joined forces with his friend Richard Brooks to expand the idea. Now, what is dubbed "little" has become a huge success.
Rita Dalbec says the concept of the little free library is simple; take a book, leave a book.
I added two books. If you have a look in the box you will see many more books. Users that I am aware of are 13 months to 83 years old.
Enthusiasm for the project appears to be infectious. Recently the Walker Art Center along with three local presses got involved.
Back in March, NPR reported that over 200 libraries had been installed. Just a few months later that number has exploded, with little free libraries popping up in Haiti, Ghana, and Afghanistan. Now over 1700 libraries are registered around the world. There are dozens in the Twin Cities.
Bol and Brooks say their goal is to see over 2,500 Little Free Libraries constructed around the world. That would exceed the number of libraries built by Andrew Carnegie.
Asked why she got involved in the project, Dalbec's response is short and sweet:
Reading is good for you and me. That's why I did it.(2 Comments)
As poet Lisa Brimmer prepares for a reading, she knows that her audience often comes with preconceived notions.
Perhaps because she is a young black woman, some expect her to draw heavily on hip-hop, the sound of her generation. Others might listen for a voice of defiance or anger.
Instead, they'll find a 26-year-old whose poetry explores the complexity of modern life: loneliness and isolation -- and sometimes, love.
Brimmer doesn't want to dwell on the past. She simply wants to draw on a rich African-American experience that isn't defined by one moment in time.
Her focus on jazz springs from her immersion into black American culture as a young adult.
The adopted child of white parents, Brimmer grew up in largely white Lodi, Wis., where she was a drummer and drum major in high school. Since then, she's had a lot of catching up to do, something she's discussed with her father.
"He said that while he regretted that he didn't teach me a lot about African American culture and he regretted the fact that I had to do a lot of catching up he felt like I was a smart kid and a good kid and I would get there eventually," Brimmer said. "And he didn't want to try to reach me a about a culture that wasn't his own because he felt like it would be unfair. And in that moment I think I became a lot closer to my father in a lot of ways because he has always accepted a lot of my personal journey and my artistic journey."
She came to the Twin Cities to study at the University of Saint Thomas and found a creative home in writing. She later won a Givens Foundation Fellowship for African-American literature.
Welcomed by local jazz musicians who encouraged her to use music in her work, she's dismayed that younger audiences don't embrace the genre, despite its crucial role in shaping modern sounds.
"It's incredibly frustrating. It shouldn't be pulling teeth to get some of my lady friends to come to a jazz gig, you know," she said. "It shouldn't be as difficult as it is."
Brimmer is heartened by the innovation in the jazz world, experiments that fuse jazz with hip-hop and soul.
Hearing such music and working with Lulu's Playground inspired her to create a new project called High Society with an acclaimed group of local musicians. They'll perform tonight at the Black Dog Café in St. Paul.
Brimmer now thinks of herself as another instrument in the band, able to adapt her poems on the spot.
"It's very exciting because I think the poem, it changes in front of the audience and then they're almost involved in the creative process," she said. " No matter how in sync the different guys are, how well they know each other's tendencies, there's still that possibility that anything could happen."
Brimmer's poetry speaks to the isolation of contemporary life. She laments the loss of community and how people don't see each other.
She hopes to restore those connections from the stage.
See a longer look at Lisa Brimmer here.
Chaos is king backstage at the Max Prince Show, a popular 1950s comedy-variety TV series. The stress of slipping ratings is eating Max alive, but his staff hurls nonstop zingers at each other and everyone within earshot.
Neil Simon's play "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," playing through July 8 at Park Square Theatre in Saint Paul, was inspired by his big break on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows."
Critics say you'll get your share of good laughs with this well-cast production. Scroll down to read excerpts of their reviews, or click on the links to read them in full.
Michael Paul Levin, Ari Hoptman and Karen Wiese-Thompson in Laughter on the 23rd Floor
Photo courtesy Park Square Theatre
Yes, there is something of a plot, but it really doesn't matter. The joy of this show is just watching the characters pitching and catching one-liners and breezing through the light nostalgia of TV's golden age. Isn't that what summer is for?
It's often said that a director either solves or creates his problems when he casts a play and director Zach Curtis has put together a terrific ensemble for Laughter On The 23rd Floor.
Michael Paul Levin in Laughter on the 23rd Floor
Photo courtesy Park Square Theatre
Two towering presences dominate the script, and the respective actors fully inhabit them. First is Ari Hoptman as Ira, an extremely funny and extremely difficult-to-work-with writer (based on Mel Brooks), which is topped by Michael Paul Levin's absolutely mad performance of the oft-addled and more than a bit paranoid star of the show, Max Prince.
Director Zach Curtis keeps the action as fast-paced as the zingers, so we don't have time to linger on the darker side of plot developments. This "23rd Floor" may not leave you rolling on the floor, but it's definitely got some genuine laughter.
Have you seen Laughter on the 23rd Floor at Park Square Theatre? If so, what did you think?