Our Laguna: Authors’ tales tickle University Women

Some writers are more comfortable in front of a computer than in front of an audience.

That was not the case at the 23rd annual Literary Luncheon presented Saturday at the Surf & Sand by the Laguna Beach branch of the American Assn. of University Women.

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Anne Cherian, Kathryn Fitzmaurice and Nina Revoyr talked about what makes them tick and tickled the audience’s funny bone. They shared their triumphs and tapped the sympathy of the sold-out crowd.

Bynum’s book “Ms. Hempel Chronicles,” a 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist, was inspired by her experiences teaching in a Brooklyn middle school. Because everyone hates middle school, she said, she wasn’t sure who, if anyone, would read about it.


“But I like writing about children on the cusp of adulthood, a time of uncertainty,” Bynum said with a radiant smile.

Her adventures in updating a curriculum cast in stone when “A Boy’s Life” was in circulation came a cropper when she assigned her students the task of writing their own evaluations as a way to incite their interest in the class. The letters were sent home so parents could see how the student felt about themselves.

“That’s where things began to go wrong,” Bynum said.

It never crossed the young teacher’s mind that the parents would take the evaluations — some of them ludicrous — seriously.


A lesson for the teacher as well as the kids.

“The written word has a life of its own,” Bynum said. “You never know how what you have written will be read. Reading exercises the muscles of empathy.”

Cherian wrote “A Good Indian Wife,” the story of an arranged marriage between a man who came from India to be educated as a doctor in America, planning to marry a “white” woman but capitulating to his parents’ wishes, and an Indian woman who comes to realize her husband doesn’t want to be married, a hyphenated American-Indian who doesn’t even know who he is — and how she copes.

“She has to decide whether to get a divorce or stick it out like Hillary Clinton,” said Cherian, who was born and educated in India before earning graduate degrees at UC Berkeley. “I should tell you I am not a good Indian wife, and I didn’t come up with the title. My agent told me, ‘You write well, but you are hopeless at titles.”

Fitzmaurice is a resident of Monarch Beach. She decided to become a writer at 13, while vacationing with her grandmother, who wrote science-fiction stories.

Eleanor Robinson lived a different life style than her young granddaughter.

“Nothing happened ‘til late afternoon,” Fitzmaurice recalled. “Dinner was at 11. And typing went on until early morning — that’s when creatures of the night come out.

“She helped me write my first book. That’s why I gave the character in my book a grandmother like mine.”


“The Year the Swallows Came Early” is the story of an 11-year-old girl struggling to untangle the lives of her parents, while drawing a parallel with the famous birds of San Juan Capistrano and encouraging understanding, forgiveness and tolerance.

Revoyr’s fourth book, “Wingshooter,” will be published next year. Her second, “Southland,” won the Lambda Literary Award and the Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2003. Her third book, “The Age of Dreaming” was a finalist for the 2008 L.A. Times Book Prize.

Los Angeles Magazine described Revoyr as “fast becoming one of the city’s finest chroniclers and myth makers.”

“There are still stories to be told, great opportunities for writers,” Revoyr said. “There is real energy in California writing.”

Branch co-President Bana Hilel welcomed the writers and the audience and spoke briefly about the history and accomplishments of AAUW.

“As Susan B. Anthony once said, ‘It was we, the people: not we, the male citizens, but we, the whole people who formed the union. Men — their rights and nothing more; women — their rights and nothing less,’ ” Hilel said

“Since its founding in 1881, AAUW has been the nation’s leading voice in promoting education and equity for women and girls.

“Through its educational funds, AAUW awards $3.5 million in fellowships and grants annually. Notable recipients include Marie Curie, who won the 1903 Noble Prize in physics and Barbara McClintock, 1983 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine.


“We believe that all women and girls have a fundamental right to equality. Through our Legal Advocacy Fund, AAUW frames and fosters factual, in-depth objective dialogue among legislators and change makers, which has resulted in political, institutional and legal support for women equity in all walks of life.”

Co-president Gail Sahara brought home the good works of AAUW.

“I have been given the opportunity to tell you how your donations are spent — as well as encourage your continuing generosity,” Sahara said. “Thanks to you, we will award over $20,000 in grants and scholarships this year.”

Community nonprofit groups to be awarded grants include the Laguna Beach Community Clinic, for Women’s Health Day; La Playa Center, for English-as-a- Second-Language textbooks; Boys & Girls Club, for the Even Start Preschool Program; Laguna Beach Live!, for its Women Musicians Concert; Sally’s Fund and Laguna Beach Seniors, for assistance to the elderly; Laguna Beach Woman’s Club, for a mother-daughter forum; No Square Theatre, for the Muse Project; and the TLC tutoring program at El Morro Elementary School.

The donations made it possible for the branch to award 14 individual scholarships for high school girls and women returning to college at UC Irvine, Laguna College of Art & Design and Saddleback Community College.

Donations will also send eight Thurston Middle School girls to summer camp — the acclaimed Tech Trek where students are tutored in science, technology, engineering and math — subjects once considered beyond the abilities of the female gender.

“You enable us to support these programs in a variety of ways,” Sahara said. “Whether it is volunteering as a tutor at El Morro, reading scholarship applications during the selection process, attending our wine tasting, art or community events, or writing a generous check, we appreciate support in any form.”

Luncheon sponsors included School Board member Betsy Jenkins, Hilel, the Tech Trek Team, Pamela S. Berkson, Jean Brotherton and Katie Haven, Lee Winocur Field, Pamela Lawrence Horowitz, Miriam Kranser and Janette Mestre.

Jenkins’ contribution was the first at the highest level of donation.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year, and we are so grateful for the sponsors,” said event Chairwoman Kim Salter, herself an author with her husband, Santiago Estrada, of the just published “Turning Our Lives Around: Getting Unstuck and Staying Unstuck.”

Committee Chairwomen were Brotherton, Mestre, Diane Reed, Elaine Mata, Kranser, Laurie Dickerson, Barbara Hamkalo and Nancy Miller. Veronica Nice chaired the silent auction.

Auction donors included Aliso Beach Animal Clinic, Bubbles of Laguna, dentist Mark Judy, the Festival of Arts, Friends of the Library, Javier’s, JML Designs, JT’s Skin Care, Kittie Oliver Salon, Laguna Riviera Hotel, La Sirena Grille, Mozambique, Owen Evans Personal Training, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, South Coast Repertory, Stems and the Laguna Playhouse, as well as personal donations.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail