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SUNDAY BRUNCH | Culture Watch

Books, They Wrote

January 11, 1998|DAVID L. ULIN

When Martin Amis takes the stage at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills on Jan. 23 to interview crime fiction legend Elmore Leonard, Andrea Grossman will be smiling in the wings. For the 42-year-old former political fund-raiser, this is not just an opportunity to see a pair of prominent writers make an unexpected, and very public, connection, it's also the kickoff for the third season of Writers Bloc, a home-grown nonprofit author interview and lecture series she founded in 1996.

Since debuting with Terry McMillan, Writers Bloc has highlighted such literary lights as Joan Didion, Paul Theroux and Garrison Keillor, and promises John Irving, Robert Stone, Chris Buckley and Carl Hiassen for later in 1998. The idea, Grossman says, is to feature what she disarmingly calls "my favorite writers" in a setting that allows them to interact with their audience in an intimate way.

Her impetus for developing Writers Bloc was her frustration at the paucity of choices she found at local literary events. "I noticed that there was a void in the cultural establishment of Los Angeles," she says. She ultimately came up with her own program, one with a flexible format, in which authors read or not, according to their wishes, before participating in an interview that ends with questions from the floor. "What I want," she explains, "is to create a forum where there can be a conversation."

The Jan. 23 event, keyed to the release of Leonard's new novel, "Cuba Libre" (Delacorte), is an example of this. The juxtaposition of Leonard's down-and-dirty gruffness with Amis' archly British literary sensibility may seem odd, but Amis is not only a longtime admirer of Leonard's, but has just published "Night Train" (Harmony), a crime novel of his own.

For the time being, Writers Bloc operates on a shoestring, but that's second nature to the self-described "old programming hack," who worked at the Z Channel and SelecTV in the early 1980s, and currently schedules events for the UCLA Friends of English. Still, Grossman says, "my main experience in this has to do with reading. I've always been a passionate reader. There are so many authors I'd like to sit down and talk to."

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Writers Bloc presents Elmore Leonard in conversation with Martin Amis on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills. $10. For reservations, call (310) 335-0917.

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