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July 24, 2003|Susan Carpenter

A crowd pleaser

His writing is exceptional, his reading of it uninspired, but where Donnell Alexander truly shined was in his off-the-cuff repartee with the crowd at Book Soup on Monday. The 36-year-old author of "Ghetto Celebrity," the critically lauded memoir of a son coming to terms with his deadbeat dad, is a gifted linguist who tempers his street smarts with lyricism.

"I do this as awkwardly as I can, which I guess is a kind of contrived grace," he quipped, after a tongue-tied reading.

Nevertheless, he continued, eventually putting the book aside to ask the audience for questions, only to begin by cornering a woman in the front row.

"You read this book," he said. "Did you like it?"

Her answer was affirmative, much like the book's reviews, which have heaped praise on this literary confluence of hip-hop, graphic novel and urban lit.

The book's unusual format and hybrid nature make it difficult to classify. When asked where he would put it in a bookstore, Alexander dodged the question, deferring to the Library of Congress descriptor: social life and customs, 20th century. Pressed on the issue, Alexander said, "I'd knock over Harry Potter's table if I could, that's where I'd put it."

Alexander's reading/Q&A at Book Soup was more straightforward than others he's done. The author regularly hosts what he calls "Wet Daddy" events, which bring together the "best of young writers alongside the energy of live performance" with the goal of producing "a buzz perfect enough to make even Terence McKenna proud."

Recently he's held two in the L.A. area, in Echo Park and Altadena. Alexander, who lives in L.A., will host a third this October in Leimert Park.

-- Susan Carpenter

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