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Modern-Day Soirees Seen as the Way to Round Out Literary Circles

December 26, 1985|TIM WATERS

Some people ask Gloria Gordon if she wants to be another Gertrude Stein; she tells them she would rather be another Ina Coolbrith.

Ina who?

Coolbrith, to refresh memories, was the California poet who in 1915 was named the state's first poet laureate, nine years after her San Francisco home crumbled in the great earthquake that hit the city.

But Coolbrith--and this is where Gordon enters the story--was also active in the Spinners Club, a literary group that met regularly in San Francisco and included among its members such wordsmiths as Frank Norris and Jack London.

Now, in the spirit of the Spinners and other writers like Stein, who also enjoyed the company of her literary peers, Gordon has decided to begin her own literary club of sorts. Next month and twice a month thereafter, Gordon plans to hold soirees to overcome what she calls the "dearth of culture" in the South Bay. The gatherings will be held at Secondhand Prose, the used-book shop she has operated for six years in Gardena across the street from El Camino College.

High culture is coming to Crenshaw Boulevard.

"No one ever invited me to something like this," the 58-year-old Gordon said the other day while sitting in her shop. "That's why I had to invent my own."

The idea behind the soirees, Gordon said, is to showcase not only local writers but painters, musicians and lecturers as well. While she had wanted to start the soirees earlier, she did not have enough room in her cramped store until the accountant next door retired. He moved his ledger books out of two adjoining suites and she moved in some of her 25,000 or so books.

Gordon's said her premiere soiree on Jan. 10 will feature Muriel Blatt, a professor of English at Harbor College; portrait painter Ernest Johnson, and musician Tom Dowdell, otherwise known as "the Piano Man of Palos Verdes." Gordon said she has yet to figure out how the piano man will get his piano into the bookstore.

Gordon admits that soirees, or literary salons, are nothing new. Such meetings flourished in San Francisco in the second half of the 1800s when the publishing industry also flourished there, and have been a part of high culture for centuries. Such gatherings were regularly held in 18th-Century London by women who came to be know as the Blue Stockings, a nickname derived from the worsted blue stockings worn by the guest of honor.

"Literary readings are probably as old as the bard sitting in the cave," Prof. Blatt said.

But Gordon said that as far as she knows, there are no soirees in the South Bay. Blatt agreed, as did Anne Gusha, the former owner of the 77-year-old Williams' Book Store in San Pedro, which caters to an artsy crowd.

Moreover, Gordon said, her soirees will take on a democratic tone. No "ladies of the club" tea party here. No mere meeting place for the intelligentsia and the cream of society.

"I think everybody should have this privilege," Gordon said. "Even if I have some of the bums at Alondra Park show up, everybody will be welcome."

It remains to be seen whether the soirees will be successful. But Gordon, the mother of five grown children, four of whom are artists, appears as determined to make a go of the soirees as she did her bookstore--a store she kept in business at one time by house-sitting for friends to save money.

Book selling, she said, is "probably one of the slowest ways to make money that I know of."

Does she worry that the soirees won't be able to compete with other modern-day distractions such as television? No, she said.

"People have served their 10 or 20 years servitude to the television and are ready to get out again."

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