Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Local Authors Hang Out With Obama

By Anneli Rufus
Wed, May 13, 2009 at 1:27 PM

This just in from Berkeley author Ayelet Waldman, who while touring with her new book Bad Mother and her husband/fellow novelist/Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon, wound up performing for the president at the White House this week, and sent me this email today:

This just in from Ayelet Waldman, who while touring with her new book Bad Mother and her husband/fellow novelist/Pulitzer winner Michael Chabon, wound up performing for the president at the White House this week, and sent me this email today:

"Michael and I managed, by dint of much confusion regarding the extent of our cool, to end up on stage in the East Room of the White House, performing for the President, the First Lady, the First Grandmother, and the First Girls. Honestly, I don't know how the hell we got there, and the people with whom we shared the stage were so much more talented that it was all we could do not to miss our call and slink off to the bar.

"It was An Evening of Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word, and we were the Spoken Word. We were silly, maybe a little cute. We had a point to make and we tried our (decidedly lame) best to do a little Mike Nichols & Elaine May softshoe. But the other performers. They blew our minds completely. First up was Mayda del Valle, Def Poetry Jam superstar. She blew people away with a poem that brought tears to my eyes (and I'm betting to the First Lady's too, although maybe not. Mrs. Obama has about a million times more self-control than I.). ... Two heartbreakingly young spoken word poets jammed the hell out of the room (Joshua Brandon Bennett and Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio), Josh making me cry again with a poem about his relationship with his deaf sister and Jamaica jamming fabulously in both English and Hawaiian. If you heard them your mind will be boggled to learn that they're both college students. Jamaica's only 18 years old.

"Manuel Miranda, who won a raft of Tonys and Grammys for his musical In the Heights, completely killed with a hip hop song about Alexander Hamilton, as sung by Aaron Burr. I kid you not. If you ever have a chance to see him on stage, run don't walk. He's one of those performers who comes along every once in a rare while who's just got magic about him. He exudes "superstar." He's also maybe the sweetest person I've ever met in my entire life.

"OK, so now to Esperanza Spalding. ... She's got the voice of some ethereal being, and she accompanies herself on the bass. Yes. On the acoustic bass. Oh, and when she saw my YSL pumps and the Lanvin dress I borrowed ... she told me I had the flyest junk she'd seen in a long time. Yes, the woman who basically authored cool thinks my junk is fly.

"Guess whom you don't want to follow on stage with your cute little 3 minute routine? James Earl Jones. Reciting Othello. 'Nuf said.

"Best part of the experience by far was early in the day, in the Green Room (and yeah, it's green. And the Blue Room is blue, and the Red Room is red), when we were messing around after rehearsal. James Kass, the Executive Director of Youth Speaks, gave us a little beat box (not bad for a 40-year-old white guy) and the poets started cyphering. (Yeah, I didn't know that word either, but now I do. Because I'm cool. And my junk is fly.)"

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