Several generations of activists--self-described as "old lefties," "new lefties" and "middle-aged lefties"--gathered Saturday night for the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research annual dinner.
The casually dressed crowd's first business of the evening was to offer up a round of applause for the union employees of the Miramar Sheraton Hotel who served dinner. The main purpose of the event was to honor a group of Southern California women writers and British transplant Jessica Mitford with the "Write on, Women!" awards presented by the library, which collects, preserves and makes accessible the history of 20th-Century progressive movements.
"I suddenly realized everyone was really listening to me. I'm not used to that," said screenwriter Robin Swicord, recognized for her work on the movie "Little Women." Her speech was about her grandmother's and great-grandmother's places in the fight for women's rights. She concluded: "Your library is a place of safekeeping for stories that would otherwise be lost."
Mitford was accompanied by her husband, Robert Treuhaft, and grandson Chaka Forman, an actor who will appear this weekend at the Tiffany Theater in one of a series of plays staged to raise funds for the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Program.
Mitford, author of exposes including "The American Way of Death," received the Emil Freed Award for being "America's favorite gadfly."
Remarking, "Librarians are an absolute bulwark in the struggle for the First Amendment," Mitford told of her battles against censorship, which led to her famous motto: "You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty."
Katha Pollitt, a poet and columnist for the Nation, addressed "women, writing and Washington," urging, "We must stop playing the game on the other side's turf and stop being so polite."
Also honored were novelist Carolyn See, poet Mitsuye Yamada, actor-singer-playwright Martha Velez, activist Sherna Berger Gluck, Times staff writer Lynell George, Sisterhood Bookstore founders Simone and Adele Wallace, poet Terry Wolverton, and poet and essayist Wanda Coleman, a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
In the audience was a group of students from Wolverton's creative writing classes, Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey and daughter Kendall, Los Angeles Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, library President Jerry Persky, dinner committee chairwoman Donna Wilkinson, and honorary chairwomen Sarah Pillsbury and Peg Yorkin.
Definitely the sort of audience Pollitt referred to in her speech about things that "would never have happened without feminism."