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Whittier Fetes Writers Who Have Told Its Tales : City Pays Homage to Authors--Including Its Namesake--in Centennial Year

December 11, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

In celebration of Whittier's 100th birthday this year, there were centennial balloons and centennial luncheons, centennial handbell concerts and centennial chili cook-offs.

But it occurred to Mayor Pro Tem Sabina Schwab that in this city named for poet and author John Greenleaf Whittier, one group had been excluded.

"We've just recognized so many people in other fields of endeavor--artists, musicians--but never the authors," Schwab said. "Whittier himself has never been honored here. He, after all, dedicated a poem to us and was a writer and author himself."

So Schwab got together with Joe DaRold, executive director of the Whittier Museum, and came up with the idea for this weekend's reception and book fair for Whittier authors. About 30 are expected to attend, including acclaimed food and wine writer M.F.K. Fisher, author of more than 20 books and a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine.

DaRold suggested that this month might be an appropriate time for the book fair, in honor of poet Whittier's 180th birthday Dec. 17. So, with the backing of the Whittier Historical Society, which owns and operates the museum, DaRold started gathering the names of authors from Whittier or who have written about Whittier.

Nixon Asked to Attend

In his fondest dreams, DaRold said he hoped to persuade former President Richard M. Nixon, a Whittier College graduate, to attend. He also invited Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who recently wrote a biographical book about her mother, Pat.

Both of them said no, but DaRold was flattered that Fisher and others accepted. This year marks Fisher's 50th anniversary as a published writer, and the Whittier Museum has put together a special exhibit of her work.

Fisher, 79, attended Whittier High School and spent one semester at Whittier College. Fisher's father, Rex Kennedy, was an early publisher of the Whittier Daily News.

In 1971, Fisher published a not-always flattering book about growing up in Whittier called "Among Friends," and articles about Whittier also appear in her 1971 anthology, "As They Were."

Other local authors scheduled to attend the book fair include teen-age romance novelist Christopher Pike and Regina Phelan, author of "The Gold Chain," a historical novel of early California.

A reception for the authors will begin at the museum at 7 tonight, and the book fair will be Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets for the reception are $15, with proceeds to benefit the Historical Society. Admission to the book fair is $2 for adults or $1 for children, and is redeemable on the purchase of any book.

In addition, Whittier College will feature displays on writer Jessamyn West, Nixon and Whittier. Books autographed by Nixon biographer Stephen Ambrose, as well as Nixon and his daughter, will be for sale.

Conducive Community?

Although he does not have proof, DaRold suspects that Whittier has a higher than usual percentage of writers among its residents. The Quaker emphasis on family and education may have something to do with it, he said, and "Whittier is a quiet community and I would think writers would find that hospitable."

DaRold anticipates increased interest in historical books about this city founded by Quakers because many older buildings were destroyed or damaged in the Oct. 1 earthquake and its aftershocks. Among those for sale will be "Whittier: A Picture Postcard History" by local bookstore owner R.F. (Rudy) Valdez.

"Books, especially those with photographs of old Whittier, are becoming popular," DaRold said. "The community out there today is not the Whittier we've known and lived in. They're happy to have those as a personal reminder."

Valdez, owner of R.F. Valdez Books, said recognition from the community is "a very meaningful thing" for a local author and he hopes the book fair will become an annual event.

Whittier residents have kept seven area book dealers in business, which Valdez said is substantial for a city of about 70,000. "That indicates a high interest in literary things," he said, and predicted strong community support for this weekend's events.

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