TRANSPORT Literary Festival—The Palpable Buzz of Inspiration
October 6, 2016 - Reviewed by Justin Biel
The inaugural TRANSPORT Topanga Literary Festival, hosted at the beautiful Topanga Library, took place the weekend of September 24-25.
Developed by Kim Zanti and the Topanga Authors’ Group (TAG) in conjunction with the Topanga Library, the festival brought together a talented collective of writers, poets and artists for an inspiration-fueled, two-day literary event.
With a gorgeous host venue, great speakers and a fully packed schedule of literary activities, the Topanga community came out in full support despite the pall of a late-September heat wave.
On Saturday, arriving at the library’s sun-filled patio, guests were welcomed at the steps by volunteers and encouraged, schedule in hand, to meet and speak at length with local authors. Great conversations with some of Topanga’s longstanding, creative heroes materialized across tables replete with books, as authors sold and signed them under the protective canopies provided by the library.
Other stop-in activities included a used book sale by Friends of the Library, a Story Wall where everyone was invited to “write a line” to complete a story by Festival’s end, a spontaneous poetry station and free refreshments.
Scheduled readings drew people out of the oppressive heat into the air-conditioned meeting room to be entertained and moved by poetry, prose and visual presentations.
The lineup of authors was impressive starting with Cassandra Sage Briskman, 16, reading from her first novel, "If You Wish...". Michele Johnson, editor of "The Topanga Story," dug into its pages to find the stories of singers, songwriters, screenwriters and playwrights who wrote in Topanga. Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Eric Pierpoint, authors of children’s and young readers’ books, respectively, shared their journey from concept to publication and the bumps along the way.
Poets Jean Colonomos—the inspiration for Topanga Messenger's annual Poetry Contest—and Lori Sambol Brody read from their works. A cadre of young Topanga bloggers and YouTubers, women all, talked about how they use social media to share their work, write reviews and develop a following. The Human Drama Unfolded with journalist and author, Celeste Fremon, who broke the story of former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca's downward spiral into prison. She talked about fiction techniques she uses to write non-fiction.
Story Time on both days featured authors of children's books reading them to children. Wandering among it all were the costumed Tricksters and Wierdos, literary revelers who brought stories and guided those who dared into literary explorations.
Adding a dose of musical flair, the patio also featured local musicians throughout the festival. Saturday included cellist Marshall McDaniel, who opened the event with his arrangement for cello of “America the Beautiful” and other classical favorites. To the added delight of all, songbird Jen Youngs and her guitar followed Marshall soon after. On Sunday, guests enjoyed a spirited performance by the Topanga Ukelele Revival.
Inside the main library space, Lyndsey Werner, secretary of Friends of the Topanga Library (FOTL), set up three crafts tables in the children’s section for kids to make bookmarks, books and Story Trading cards.
The “Unconference Room” set aside additional space for adult discussions and a follow-up place for Q & A sessions with presenters whose time was up in the meeting room. Topanga Humans were interviewed and recorded as they shared their Topanga stories.
Sunday’s events began with a poetry book launch for “Only More So,” by well-known poet Millicent Borges-Accardi. It was followed by “The Bark and Howl,” featuring literary passages on man’s best friend led by playwright and author, Jane Marla Robbins.
Gail Wronsky and Chuck Rosenthal shared poetry from their new joint venture, “Tomorrow You’ll Be One of Us,” a quirky collage of short poems using dialogue lifted exclusively from binge-watching 1950s-era Sci-Fi movies. A couple of favorites were The Claw—“The worst animation ever,” said Wronsky—and When Worlds Collide.
“This is the first time we’ve ever been able to work together,” said Wronsky. “That’s because we didn’t write any of it,” said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal also read from his new novel, “La Diosa,” while Wronsky read poetry from her book, “So Quick Bright Things, “ based on lines from Shakespeare.
Together and individually, this husband-wife team were clever, funny, serious and oh, so human, and delighted attendees with their distinctive styles.
Another hit among speakers, was illustrator, filmmaker and all around artist, Matt Mahurin, who gave a creatively inspiring presentation built around the music video he filmed for the band Disturbed’s cover of “The Sound of Silence.” Mahurin discussed his hands-on approach to filmmaking—often filmed in Topanga—and highlighted the importance of meaning in creative output and shared a portfolio of his famous works.
Sunday came to a close with a collaborative discussion with Michael Kastenbaum titled “Storytelling Through Movies: A Tool For Advocacy and Social Transformation.” Kastenbaum shared stories of his video work with international humanitarian organizations such as UNICEF and Oxfam, illustrating the power of the written word to spur social change.
As the library closed down under a waning sun, the heat of the day also waned while a handful of guests, speakers and festival producers remained, still caught up in the palpable buzz of inspiration.
There were surprises that arose from this first literary festival that may continue beyond the weekend. The Story Trading Cards were so popular, that Library Manager Oleg Kagan, will add them as an activity to their monthly library events.
Also surprising was the popularity of the Topanga Humans, who were invited to tell their Topanga stories into a microphone. By Festival’s end, there was a waiting list, who, Kagan promised will be recorded in the near future, as another ongoing library activity. If you want to be added to the Topanga Humans list, sign up at topangaauthorsgroup.com.
When these stories are compiled, they will be among the first to appear in the first online edition of “Topanga Anthology.”
The first TRANSPORT Literary Festival was made possible through the support of local volunteers, The Topanga Authors’ Group, and The Topanga Library. Special thanks to Kim Zanti, festival producer, and Oleg Kagan, Community Library Manager at Topanga Library.
For information about Topanga Authors’ Group (TAG) visit: topangaauthorsgroup.com/.
For information about the Topanga Library please visit: colapublib.org/.
Flavia Potenza contributed to this article.