Perhaps you were wondering what all the fuss was about last week. Or, maybe you were part of it!
On May 7th, at our neighborhood bookstore, First Lady Michelle Obama was signing her book on gardening, “American Grown“, amid elaborate security arrangements. The week before, over 250 people had stood in line, purchased the book, received the coveted wristband, went through the security process and looked forward to meeting the First Lady. It was a rainy day, but Michelle Obama noted that while it wasn’t great weather for standing in line outside, it was “great for gardens!”
Just another day in the life of Politics and Prose? In a way, it was. While the First Lady was an especially exciting author for the store – and our neighborhood – the fact is that Politics and Prose hosts an author every day, and sometimes more than one. They have had former U.S. presidents, members of the First Family, and statesmen along with first-time authors. All are accorded the same respect and all attract an interested, and interesting, audience.
We are a neighborhood that loves to read. We especially like nonfiction, but also well-regarded, literary works of fiction. And we are exceptionally well informed and have interesting things to say about our reading! At least, this is how Sarah Baline, the events coordinator at Politics and Prose, describes us. I had a chance to sit down and speak this lovely young woman, who has the enviable job of scheduling and running the author events at the store – which run to some 475 per year.
From the beginning, Politics and Prose has hosted authors as part of its mission of “serving as a gathering place for people interested in reading and discussing books.” But somewhere along the line, instead of the store having to seek authors, authors began to seek the store. And somewhere further along the line, Politics and Prose began to host daily, sometimes twice daily, events in the store.
Now, in addition to in-store events, they use multiple venues, including the 6th and I Street Synagogue, DC public libraries, and even Comet Pizza down the street. The growing number and types of venues allow Politics and Prose to accommodate an increased number of authors, but also enable it to reach broader audiences.
The in-store events are free. With quiet but clock-like precision, bookshelves are rolled aside at 6 pm every night, chairs are set up, and audience members arrive for the 7 p.m. presentation, which normally includes a reading, questions and answers, and a book signing. Things don’t always go according to plan, which Ms. Baline takes in stride, noting that you have to have flexibility.
For example, though Deb Perelman is not exactly a household name, it seemed like it would be a fun, and different, author event. She writes a cooking blog called Smitten Kitchen and recently published a cookbook. The 400 cookbooks the store purchased seemed more than enough – until over 600 excited fans descended! What do you do? Well, you bring out some more chairs and enjoy the show.
Flexibility comes in handy at the larger events as well. When 1500 attendees were seated at GW Lisner Auditorium poised to hear Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, the Justice decided at the last minute to eschew the stage and rostrum and instead walk up and down the aisles as she talked. When you have five minutes to locate a different mike and inform the lighting guy of the change, well, you just do it. And you hope the author’s security detail is understanding.
What a fabulous program to have right in our neighborhood! To see the schedule of author events, you can pick up the newsletter and calendar in the store, visit Politics and Prose on Facebook, or visit the website. If you become a Politics and Prose member, you are able to purchase a book and ticket to the offsite events by presale, which for the more popular authors can be a big advantage.
The First Lady had it right when she said that Politics and Prose is “a real staple of the community”. But, as Ms. Baline made clear, our community is also a staple at the store’s author events. Hope to see you there!