Entries from blogs tagged with “Lawrence”

A block-by-block guide to the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale

With nearly 100 local businesses slated to participate Thursday, July 21, the 57th annual Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale is again expected to draw at least 10,000 savvy shoppers over the course of the day — that'd be sunup to sundown, or roughly 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

While Massachusetts Street, particularly the stretch between the 600 and 1000 blocks, tends to attract the biggest crowds, bargain hunters would be remiss to not venture off the beaten path, says Sally Zogry, director of Downtown Lawrence Inc. Venues located a little farther down Massachusetts Street — or just off it — boast their fair share of treasures, too.

Also, “Just because a business is not outside does not mean they’re not participating,” Zogry advises.

Among her tips: Dress for the weather, stop by the cooling stations to keep hydrated, visit the portable toilets at the breezeways in the 700 and 800 blocks of Massachusetts Street if you need to, and bring a buddy — “it’s more fun,” Zogry says. Those arriving early in the morning may have more merchandise to choose from, but often the best deals are found later in the evening.

Shoppers check out the deals at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St., during the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, Thursday, July 16, 2015.

Shoppers check out the deals at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St., during the Downtown Lawrence Sidewalk Sale, Thursday, July 16, 2015. by Richard Gwin

“There’s a little something for everyone,” she says. “If you’re somebody who wants to get the $5 deal, you can get it. You can outfit your whole house, your closet, your dog or cat.”

Or, forget about the shopping (at least momentarily) and stop by the Journal-World’s booth at the corner of Ninth and Massachusetts streets for Town Talk Live with managing editor Chad Lawhorn (there will also be gift card giveaways, to further entice you) from 8 to 11 a.m.

In the meantime, we’ve compiled a short-ish rundown of a handful of the many businesses (because there are really too many to mention here) participating in the sale this year. We’ve also pointed out where to cool off, find food and get your face painted. Good luck, shoppers!

600 Block

Waxman Candles, 609 Massachusetts St.

Take a respite from the heat (you won’t find goods on the sidewalk here, for obvious reasons) inside Waxman Candles, where all votive candles are marked down to $1.10. Various candle holders and other odds and ends will also be on sale.

The Raven Book Store, 6 E. Seventh St.

Enjoy a 12-percent discount on everything inside the shop, plus markdowns on some greeting cards — 25 cents each or five for a dollar.

700 Block

Ruff House Art, 729 Massachusetts St.

Load up on discounted stationery essentials such as greeting cards, envelopes, cardstock and gift wrap at the letterpress shop, which is also slashing prices by 10 percent storewide.

Dusty Bookshelf, 708 Massachusetts St.

Everything’s marked down inside the shop (employees are keeping things hush-hush on specifics for now) and out, where sidewalk shoppers can snatch up books at $2 or less a pop.

Made, 737 Massachusetts St.

Browse through Made’s inventory of gift-y (and often locally made or local-centric) items — which include jewelry, prints, flatware and other home goods — all at 10-percent off. Also, keep an eye out for deeper cuts on select products around the store.

Cooling station: Take a load off at the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Massachusetts St.

800 Block

Fortuity, 809 Massachusetts St.

Cash-strapped fashionistas, pay heed: Starting at 5 a.m., the trendy boutique will offer racks of clothing with some items marked down to $5. Special giveaways, extra discounts and other surprises will be offered throughout the day.

Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St.

Sunflower is historically one of the busiest locales as far as bang-for-your-buck deals go, and this year’s sale is no exception: All past-season inventory — including winter clothing, shoes and accessories — will be marked down by at least 50 percent. All other items, i.e. bikes and summer gear, will be discounted 10 percent.

Love Garden, 822 Massachusetts St.

It’s a music lover’s paradise at the downtown emporium of all things cool, where shoppers can peruse 10-percent-off new CDs and LPs, 30-percent-off used CDs and hundreds of $1 records. The store is also selling limited-edition Love Garden tank tops in honor of the Sidewalk Sale.

Cooling station: Escape from the heat at TCBY, 845 Massachusetts St., and Pickleman’s Gourmet Café, where free cookies will also be handed out, at 818 Massachusetts St.

Refreshments: Air Summer Sno will be selling shaved ice to hungry shoppers in front of the law offices at 808 Massachusetts St. toward the end of the day.

900 Block

Yarn Barn, 930 Massachusetts St.

Stock up on overstock and newly discontinued yarn, plus a few sample garments, for 35- to 50-percent-off. Then get to work on that scarf idea you saved on Pinterest ages ago, because winter is coming.

Weavers, 901 Massachusetts St.

You’ll find pretty much any and everything marked down at the department store, from clothing to home wares. Some noteworthy deals include Weavers’ inventory of high-end Wusthof knives, which will start at $5.99 for the paring variety, as well as unspecified (but steep, Weavers assures us) markdowns on linens and Fiestaware. Also enjoy up to half-off all luggage, 50- to 60-percent cuts in women’s shoes, accessories, sunglasses and jewelry, and hundreds of dresses and in-season women’s sportswear for $9.99 and up. In the men’s section, look out for deals on Bill’s Khakis shorts and long-sleeved shirts.

The Toy Store, 936 Massachusetts St.

Enjoy markdowns of 20- to 50-percent-off at the Toy Store, where you’ll find a large offering of discounted doll furniture, books and Playmobil products in particular.

Refreshments: Fuel up at the Mad Greek, 907 Massachusetts St., where employees will be selling coffee and pastries in the morning hours. Also, check out the food hub at the U.S. Bank Plaza, 900 Massachusetts St., where La Familia Café & Cantina, Fine Thyme Food and Chocolate Moonshine Co. will be selling everything from breakfast burritos to fudge for hungry passersby.

Amusements: Get your face painted (for fun, or because you’re looking to intimidate your fellow shoppers with a little war paint) at Aunt Nancy’s Face Art, 944 Massachusetts St. Also, take a dance break at the U.S. Bank plaza (900 Massachusetts St.) with Jami Amber Lynne during the Brown Bag concert from noon to 1 p.m.

1000 and 1100 Blocks

Urban Outfitters, 1013 Massachusetts St.

Take 50 percent off (or 55 percent, if you’ve got the Urban Outfitters app) all sale items in the hipster haven, which includes men’s and women’s clothing, shoes and accessories.

Cooling stations: Rest up at the Granada Theater, 1020 Massachusetts St., and the Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.

Refreshments: ManaBar tea lounge, 1111 Massachusetts St., will be parked outside with hand-squeezed lemonade and iced tea (including locally brewed kombucha) for sale.

Reply 7 comments from R.L. Burnett Tony Peterson Rick Masters Erin Adams Brett Hansen Nick Gerik Greg Reno

Republish or perish: An interview with the Purple House Press

Back in third grade, my best friend hipped me to the wonders of Bertrand Brinley’s novel "The Mad Scientist’s Club," about a group of boys who float a mannequin over their town’s Founder’s Day celebration, construct a remote controlled “monster” in a local lake, and wreak further havoc with various other products of their tinkering.

Originally published in 1961, the book had gone out of print until a company called Purple House Press, which specializes in republishing classic children’s books, brought it back to life. Purple House Press has been one of my favorite discoveries in selecting children’s books for the library, and I was lucky enough recently to interview Jill Morgan, who founded the company 16 years ago.

DC: How did you get into the business of republishing out-of-print children’s books?

JM: In 1996 I quit my job as a software engineer to stay home with my two young children. I started collecting books over the internet, finding all the good old books I remembered from my youth. It was expensive, so I started buying and selling out-of-print books to fund my addiction! In the back of my mind was the idea of republishing them someday to bring the cost down, and it grew from there. I wanted people to be able to share with their own children the stories they grew up with. The catalyst was when my favorite book, "Mr. Pine's Purple House," was selling for $300 online. I wanted it to be affordable again so the story wouldn't die out. The book is about doing things your own way and not following the crowd. Mr. Pine actually seemed to be encouraging me to start Purple House Press.

DC: How do you choose the titles you republish? Do you take suggestions? At the library we often wish to replace favorite titles, but can’t due to them being out-of-print.

JM: Many of our books were my favorites as a child, many have been suggested by customers and friends, the rest I've found by researching them on the internet. We're always open to suggestions!

DC: How has the children’s book world changed since Purple House Press began in 2000?

JM: The production side is much easier now, working with our printers, being able to FTP files and see PDF proofs as opposed to burning CD's and overnighting everything. E-books continue to grow but they are a small portion of sales. I personally like them and believe it's the way of the future, but I do hope people continue to buy print books for their kids to hold and interact with. When my son was 5 he went through a stage where he carried around a copy of "Mr. Pine's Mixed-up Signs" everywhere he went for weeks. He even slept with it!

DC: What are your best sellers and personal favorites?

JM: My personal favorite is "Mr. Pine's Purple House" for obvious reasons, and it has been one of our best sellers. A new personal favorite of mine is a book we're releasing this fall, "The Practical Princess" by Jay Williams. Written in 1969, it's the story of a strong heroine who slays the dragon and rescues the prince. Wish I'd had it as a child! "Miss Suzy," "Pickle-Chiffon Pie," "Miss Twiggley's Tree" and "The Chestry Oak" are other top sellers. A large portion of our sales are to the homeschool market; we appreciate our supporters there.

DC: What is it like working with people whose work was beloved, but runs the risk of being forgotten?

JM: The first book I wanted to reprint was "Mr. Pine's Purple House." Back in 2000 I sent letters to the author, Leonard Kessler, through several different sources, and he got them all on the same day. He called me immediately, was quite thrilled to be part of our venture and took a chance with us. He approved of the company name, too. Leonard was 80 years old at the time and never realized how much his little book meant to my generation. Now he does, and his license plate reads “MR P1NE.” He and his kids have said reprinting the Mr. Pine books brought both Leonard and Mr. Pine back to life.

— Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.


Tour of Lawrence returns this weekend with an estimated 750 cyclists rolling into town

More than 750 cyclists are expected to roll into town (we’ll try to keep the bicycle jokes to a minimum here) when the eighth annual Tour of Lawrence kicks off Friday.

The three-day event, sanctioned by USA Cycling, is presented by U.S. Bank and made possible by eXplore Lawrence. It is slated to draw upwards of 7,000 spectators as athletes compete in street sprints and races, both of the circuit and criterium variety, in locations across Lawrence.

“It’s matured over the years through word of mouth,” says event organizer Bob Sanner, who alternately describes his title as “head trash collector” of the races. “From the first several Tours of Lawrence, it was people coming through and seeing if Lawrence knew anything about hosting or organizing a cycling event. We’re into year eight, and I think it’s been demonstrated that, yes, we do.”

Cyclists competing in the men's pro race speed around a corner during the Tour of Lawrence downtown criterium Sunday, June 28, 2015.

Cyclists competing in the men's pro race speed around a corner during the Tour of Lawrence downtown criterium Sunday, June 28, 2015. by John Young

The city of Lawrence, he says, provides a perfect backdrop for the tour, which this year includes venues such as the Haskell Indian Nations University campus and the Historic Breezedale District. Downtown Lawrence also plays a vital role, with the stretch of Vermont Street between Seventh and Ninth streets hosting street sprints, the tour’s first official event, Friday at 6:30 p.m.

From 6:30 to 10 p.m. that night, Tour of Lawrence will host a free kids’ zone in the nearby area of Eighth Street between Vermont and Kentucky streets. The fun includes a bounce house, inflatable games, food and drinks — though refreshments will cost you extra — and, once the race ends, live music from Wichita-based alt-country rockers Split Lip Rayfield in a free street party for cyclists and spectators alike.

Saturday’s races through the Haskell campus and Breezedale neighborhood begin at 9 a.m., while Sunday kicks off perhaps the biggest day of the tour with criterium races at 9 a.m. The course starts and ends at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets, with some of the top names in competitive cycling whirring past spectators on a track looping the blocks between Seventh and 10th streets.

Little ones are invited to get in on the action, too — aside from the return of the kids’ zone from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday on Eighth Street between Vermont and Massachusetts streets, young cyclists will have the chance to compete in a free kids’ race that day at 11 a.m. Mandatory registration will take place between 9:30 and 10:45 a.m. on Ninth Street between Vermont and Massachusetts streets, and helmets are required.

Prizes include a Tour of Lawrence medal for the first 300 participants, coupons for downtown businesses such as TCBY and Ingredient, and the opportunity to win one of three $100 gift certificates to Sunflower Outdoor & Bike Shop.

Sunday also marks the return of Ad Astra Running Mass Street Mile footrace from 7 to 8 a.m. The event (registration is capped at 200 participants) includes categories for adults and kids.

Event organizers will be on hand throughout the races with water and pop-up tents to provide protection from the sun, Sanner says, though he’s hoping the projected forecast of slightly cooler temps (mid-80s for the weekend, as of press time) holds up.

And even if you’re not necessarily a cycling fan, you’re likely to encounter — and safely negotiate with, ideally — cyclists on the street this weekend, Sanner says.

Bottom line: respect one another and the rules of the road.

“I would encourage motorists to have an even greater awareness of what’s happening around them, and maybe take a second look before they turn or cross an intersection,” Sanner says. “These riders who are coming in have spent a lot of hours and have ridden a lot of miles on the highways and on the streets, so they’re very attune and aware of their surroundings.”

For more information, including a full schedule of events, visit www.touroflawrence.com.


Twins train hogs for Douglas County Fair

Video by Journal-World photographer Richard Gwin:

Twin brothers Lane and Tate Anderson, 13, walk their hogs "Big Large" and "Mr. Pig" Tuesday in preparation for the Douglas County Fair, which takes place July 25 to July 31. The Andersons are members of the Palmyra 4-H club.


‘Bob’s Burgers Cookbook’ a cure for those burger blues

The Fourth of July was a tough holiday for me. It’s not a lack of patriotism, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s the barbecues. You’d think I’d have gotten used to not eating meat after so long, but man. Just thinking about some nice grilled hamburgers gets me ready to abandon a decade’s worth of vegetarianism.

Some people stop eating meat because they don’t like the taste. I am not one of them. Every now and then I see a commercial on TV for Wendy’s or something and it gets my mouth watering. Wendy’s.

I find myself in this predicament fairly often. My wife and I finally watched "Breaking Bad" in its entirety a month or so ago. Of everything in the show, that Los Pollos Hermanos commercial from season three is what has stuck with me longest. I’m not knocking the show; it’s great, it’s just that the chicken looked so good. Another show that tempts my carnivorous side is "Bob’s Burgers." Never in my life has a cartoon made me so hungry!

For those of you who haven’t watched, "Bob’s Burgers" follows the Belchers, a fairly functional family of weirdoes. There’s the dad, Bob, the brilliant cook, founder and namesake of the restaurant, and Linda, the optimistic co-owner and sing-a-holic. Together they parent three of the most wonderful children to grace the silver screen: butts-obsessed teen Tina, keyboard enthusiast Gene and their youngest, the street smart Louise.

The kids “help” their parents with the day to day of the restaurant while managing to get into outrageous situations big and small. Through it all they remain best friends, and somehow Bob, and especially Linda, are still proud and loving parents at the end of every episode.

One of the running jokes in the series is Bob’s “Burger of the Day.” Every episode we’re given a terrible, wonderful burger related pun — the I Know Why the Cajun Burger Sings, Sargent Poblano Pepper and the Lonely Artichoke Hearts Club Burger, A Good Manchego is Hard to Find Burger, etc. — and now you can actually try them. Written by the show’s creator, Loren Bouchard, and featuring Cole Bowden’s recipes, "The Bob’s Burgers Burger Book" will humorously teach you how to create 75 Burgers of the Day. Ever wonder how the Bleu is the Warmest Cheese Burger tastes? Wonder no more.

If you’re not vegetarian, that is.

Vegetarians aren’t completely left out to dry. We herbivores get three veggie options. The Rest in Peas Burger, the Mediterr-Ain’t Misbehavin’ Burger, and the I’m Gonna Get You Succotash Burger. For the sake of this review (and my own curiosity), I attempted the Rest in Peas Burger, and it actually turned out pretty well. In my experience, homemade veggie burgers can end up kind of mushy, but this one held together nicely and had a decent texture and taste.

My second go around, I added some diced jalapeños and a little bit of soy sauce, and I really liked it. If you can’t eat four burgers in one sitting, they hold up well after freezing so you can make a bunch and heat 'em up later. My wife tried out the Mediterr-Ain’t Misbehavin’ Burger recipe (eggplant, chickpeas, arugula and tzatziki sauce), and even though we both agreed that we would have preferred the eggplant patties to be baked and breaded, I ate three, so that has to count for something, right?

While I’m sure these new recipes won’t completely alleviate my carnivorous cravings, they have helped to sate my burgerlust. At the very least they’ll help me get through the summer cookouts. Thanksgiving, here I come.

— Ian Stepp is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Charlaine Harris: Reaching a supernatural crossroads

I first discovered Charlaine Harris’ acclaimed Southern Vampire Mysteries (aka the Sookie Stackhouse series) while in college. At the time, I worked two jobs while finishing my bachelor’s degree, and I needed a vacation from the dense, academic drivel that consumed my evenings.

Following a recommendation from my mom, who is an avid mystery reader, I became immediately enraptured by Sookie’s paranormal world. It served as the perfect escape from my never ending to-do lists, beckoning deadlines and helped me fall in love with recreational reading all over again.

I not only devoured each of the books published at that point, but I also started my long-term relationship with the Urban Fantasy genre.

When I learned in 2013 that Harris planned a new supernatural series featuring prominent characters from her other mysteries, I couldn’t have been more excited. Imagine my dismay when "Midnight Crossroad" went on sale, and the internet became flooded with negative reviews. Against my better judgement, I decided to pass on reading "Midnight Crossroad" because I feared it would not live up to my expectations ... that is, until about a week ago.

Even though I’m a little late to the club, I learned that "Midnight Crossroad" has been ordered as a new series on NBC. After seeing the trailer for the pilot, the hype became totally real for me as it brought me back down memory lane to when I first watched season one of "True Blood," one of my all-time favorite shows. I knew that I needed to revisit my initial misgivings about "Midnight Crossroad" and give it a read despite what the critics said.

The novel opens as the young and erratic online psychic Manfred Bernardo (from Harris’ Harper Connelly books) moves to Midnight, Texas, to go completely off the grid. Little does he know that the town of Midnight is full of individuals who wish to exist in anonymity like himself. There’s Bobo Winthrop, the owner of a local pawn shop that fans of Harris’ Lily Bard series will be sure to recognize, the rakish Lemuel who only comes out at night, the beautiful Olivia, who may or may not be a trained killer, Chuy and Joe, a gay couple who own an antique mall and nail salon, the introspective Reverend, and Fiji, a new age witch with a curious cat.

When Bobo’s missing girlfriend Aubrey is found dead, the Midnighters must band together to solve the mystery while truths simmer to the surface that threaten to reveal the deep rooted secrets they each possess.

Harris has a knack for crafting some of the most complex and relatable characters in fiction. Each of the town’s residents are shrouded in mystery, and there are so many underlying facets that make each of them feel like people you might know. And yet, none of the characters are who they claim to be, which results in a degree of peculiarity that keeps the residents of Midnight from fading into a mundane reality.

Following the unspoken rule of Midnight to avoid prying into business that isn’t your own, Harris employs a third person perspective that allows the reader to feel like an active member of the Midnight community. This evokes a rich world that could actually exist even with the presence of paranormal forces. Harris’ intricate worldbuilding and emphasis on character development is part of what makes "Midnight Crossroad" such an addicting read.

Although many won’t agree with me, I believe that Harris is a contemporary incarnation of Agatha Christie. She does an exceptional job of not only crafting an engaging mystery, but also pacing the novel in a suspenseful way that would make Shonda Rhimes proud (Any "How To Get Away With Murder" fans out there?).

I will warn everyone that "Midnight Crossroad" has a bit of a slow start, as it introduces its denizens in Dickens-esque, detailed glory, but the story takes on a relentless pace once the murder victim is discovered. Even if I didn’t guess the killer correctly, reading "Midnight Crossroad" was one heck of a journey. It had me wanting to reread the novel to see if I could discover the subtle trail of breadcrumbs Harris left for readers to follow.

If I’ve learned one thing from this experience, it’s that life is too short to read what critics recommend or society discerns as “quality literature.” From now on, I plan to follow my gut, read what I want, and I’ll decide how I feel about it instead of forming an opinion based on the critiques of others. Are you in the mood for a gripping mystery with supernatural flair and a touch of camp? Then give "Midnight Crossroad" a chance. If it isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty more books in the proverbial sea.

— Fisher Adwell is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Lawrence cook takes home top prize, scholarship at national culinary competition

Zach Frieling was sweating, his body wracked with nerves as the results began to roll in at last month’s SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky.

He remembers the “shock” that came with the news that he’d won first place in the conference’s culinary arts competition, and also the pride in his supporters’ faces — his family, including a teary-eyed Mom, was in attendance, as were his instructors and coach.

“It was the best moment of my life, probably,” recalls Frieling, who works as line manager at downtown Lawrence’s popular Limestone Pizza. “I’m just glad I could make them all happy.”

Zach Frieling, line manager at Limestone Pizza, prepares pizzas at the 814 Massachusetts St. eatery. Frieling won first place in the culinary arts competition last month at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky.

Zach Frieling, line manager at Limestone Pizza, prepares pizzas at the 814 Massachusetts St. eatery. Frieling won first place in the culinary arts competition last month at the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky. by Richard Gwin

Frieling, 21, represented the state of Kansas and took home the gold medal at the competition, which pitted young chefs from across the nation against each other in a “Chopped”-esque contest designed to test organization, knife skills, cooking techniques, creative presentation, food safety, quality and flavor.

A spring 2016 graduate of Flint Hills Technical College, Frieling was asked by his alma mater to participate in the preliminary state competition held in Kansas City earlier this year while still a student. At the national cook-off in Louisville, he competed with college students for the top prize, which gave each aspiring chef a mystery basket with which to craft a four-course menu the night before the competition.

Frieling’s chopped romaine salad with apple slaw and bacon-almond brittle, pureed green lentil soup, mushroom-stuffed chicken ballotine and braised foreshank ultimately earned him the top prize.

He thinks the soup probably helped push him over the top — “I was the only one that did a pureed soup,” Frieling says. “We couldn’t use electronic equipment at all, so I had to puree it the old-fashioned way of putting it through a strainer and mashing it through.”

Aside from the shiny gold medal, Frieling’s prize package also includes a full-tuition scholarship to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. His mother, “crying again,” discovered a folder from the prestigious culinary school tucked away in a swag bag after returning to their Louisville hotel. Frieling had won seventh place in the national SkillsUSA competition last year, but never “anything like this before,” he now recalls of the moment.

“That,” he says, “is what I’m going to do next.”

For now, the young chef is trying to stay humble. Most in his position would set their sights on opening a restaurant, Frieling included, but he knows himself well enough to realize it’ll be a while before he’s “at that point.”

Frieling, who is quick to point out that he’s still “only 21,” credits longtime supporters like Limestone co-owner and executive chef Rick Martin for his success. Frieling’s enjoyed learning from industry professionals and hopes to continue.

“I’ve had a lot of great mentors, especially Chef Rick,” he says. “I’ve known him for almost six years now, and that guy has given me so much. I’m so happy to show him that it wasn’t for nothing.”


Graphic novel recommendations, part two: nonfiction

If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve no doubt heard the writing workshop mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” Combine that with the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and you’ve got the sweet spot that graphic novels inhabit — a medium that can pair compelling narrative with evocative illustrations can convey nuances of emotion and experience unavailable to words alone.

If you are familiar with graphic novels at all, it is most likely through the lens of superheroes or fantasy or, well, fiction. But this endlessly flexible medium is also a vehicle for great nonfiction, and especially for memoirs that explore family dynamics — a realm where so many things are often left unsaid, and pictures can be particularly powerful. Here are some great picks to get you started:

Longtime New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s "Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant" is a memoir in which she recounts her experience caring for her elderly parents in their final years. Chast is an only child; although she was close to her father, her mother’s strong personality and lack of warmth dominated their family. Chast’s unflinchingly honest and refreshingly funny portrayal of the complexities of family relationships and the heartbreak and tedium of navigating the golden years is drawn in her characteristic, anxiety-riddled style.

"The Arab of the Future" is former Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Riad Sattouf’s memoir of the childhood years he spent with his French mother and his Syrian father living in France, Libya and Syria. Originally published to great popularity in France, Sattouf’s work offers an evocative child’s-eye view of the difficulties of cultural assimilation and the confusion of living in a society in the midst of upheaval and of the struggle to understand the motivations and actions of one’s own parents.

MacArthur fellowship recipient Alison Bechdel’s award-winning "Fun Home" (which has also been made into a Broadway musical!) is a complex “family tragicomic” recounting Bechdel’s efforts to understand her relationship with her father, a funeral home director and high school English teacher. His parenting style is distinctly chilly, and Bechdel must also come to terms with his death, his identity as a closeted gay man and her own coming out as a lesbian.

— Melissa Fisher Isaascs is the Information Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.


10 Questions with Benjamin Farmer and Joni Alexander of Alchemy Coffee & Bake House

In this week's installment of 10 Questions, which turned out to be nine because this reporter evidently cannot count, Alchemy Coffee & Bake House co-owners Benjamin Farmer and Joni Alexander chat about their recent Best of Lawrence honor (first place in the competitive "best coffee shop" category), their "Portlandia"-style peers and the food world's next big trend.

Here's a condensed and edited version of our conversation with the pair, who are partners in business and in life. Really — they're engaged to be married this fall, capping off a big year of expansion for Alchemy, 1901 Massachusetts St., which now distributes its mega-popular cold brew to about 40 retailers in the Kansas City area. You can also catch Farmer and Alexander this month at KC's Chipotle Cultivate Festival.

Alchemy Coffee and Bake House owners Benjamin Farmer, right, and Joni Alexander pose at their shop, 1901 Massachusetts St., which was recently voted Best of Lawrence 2016.

Alchemy Coffee and Bake House owners Benjamin Farmer, right, and Joni Alexander pose at their shop, 1901 Massachusetts St., which was recently voted Best of Lawrence 2016. by Richard Gwin

Congrats on the Best of Lawrence win. How’s it feel?

Joni: We were both very surprised, but super grateful and thankful, really. I mean, it’s the customers and the community that are supporting us. We have a lot of people in here who tell us, “Congratulations on Best of Lawrence,” and we just spin it right back around and say, “Actually, thank you, because you’re supporting us, and this is our dream.” We’re really happy. Like, super happy, but feeling super humbled about it. We work really, really hard, so it’s nice to see the fruits of that labor.

Benjamin: It feels shocking to me because we’ve only been here three years, we’re off the beaten path and I kind of feel like the underdog in a lot of ways. Still, even now, it’s just like, “How did we … ?”

Your coffee-making process takes about four minutes, during which there’s a perfect window for a short conversation, which seems at odds with our culture’s fixation on consuming things as quickly as possible with as little human interaction as possible. Was that a mission of yours when you started Alchemy, to foster communication and community?

Benjamin: I feel like it’s become, especially in the last five years, almost cliché to say all that. At the same time, there’s a reason for that. But it was part of the motivation for me doing a coffee shop, to have a place for social interaction. We do provide something that I think there’s a shortage of. We’ve always maintained that, yeah, if you want conversation we’ll give it to you. If you want a quick cup of coffee and then get out of here, we’ll give you that as well.

I was interviewing Radiolab co-host Jab Abumrad a while back in advance of the Free State Festival, and he was talking about how the relationship between our desire for quick, cheap, satisfying content and the simultaneous rise of high-quality TV shows, which could also apply to the artisanal or “craft” movement in food and drink. Is this something you’re seeing in the dining world?

Benjamin: That’s something I see a lot of places. I don’t think that’s something we experience here a whole lot, though we do experience that at times, where people are like, “I want this really good pour-over and I want it now.” But really, overall, at least on the coffee shop side, that’s pretty rare. Generally, they understand — especially since they see us hustling, standing over there making the coffee — it’s pretty rare that somebody actually gets rude with us and says, “Where’s my coffee?”

Joni: I think the impatience comes from if they’re standing in line too long. If you’re already being helped, you’ll stand there for 10 minutes if you know somebody’s working on something for you. But it’s when you’re waiting in line and you’re not the one being helped and nobody’s acknowledging it that that’s when the frustration happens. But I think we do pretty good here. That’s what we tell all our employees — just acknowledge the person when they walk in the door … that way, they know you know they’re there. In general, across the board, in a huge community sort of way, people just want to be acknowledged.

Benjamin: In the coffee shop scene that we’re in — the style of, for lack of a better term, “Portlandia” — it can get lost and messed up. We train our employees how to handle situations with customers, so that way we’re not creating a potential situation where the customer’s getting ignored or standing there for 15 minutes not getting acknowledged.

Speaking of “Portlandia,” do you see anything in today’s coffee culture or the encompassing artisanal culture that you just can’t help rolling your eyes at? Have we gone too far in some ways?

Joni: When I hear people say, like, “We handpicked the wheat that was rolled in my grandpa’s backyard,” it’s just like, seriously? It’s over the top.

But there is great value in knowing where your products come from. It’s just such a catchphrase now. People are latched onto that, and they write about it, and then they become so focused on where they get their ingredients, maybe even more than the ingredients themselves — that’s where I get annoyed. They’re like, high-fiving themselves behind the counter, but it’s like, "What did you do?" You made a terrible cup of coffee or terrible piece of whatever.

Or when it’s so extravagantly expensive that people can’t afford it. We’ve got high-end, quality stuff, and we really put time and effort into it, but you have to do it at a price that’s affordable for everybody. That’s the point, you know? But I feel like the more artisan things become, the more out-of-reach they become for the rest of society. And we’re trying to not do that.

Benjamin: That’s what I struggled with initially. I was like, "Do I do $3.25? Do I do $3.50? $3.75?" Really, I need to be doing $3.75, but the average Lawrencian probably feels way more comfortable with $3.25.

Joni: We (think about) that all the time with food, too. It’s like, this biscuit sandwich could be $10 if we were downtown, but how often when we go out do I want to spend $10 on a breakfast sandwich? I don’t. I want to spend $6 to $8, and it better be amazing.

Where do you think the cutoff is between downtown and the sort of more residential, less swanky part of Massachusetts Street?

Benjamin: I don’t know. I think in most people’s minds, it’s somewhere between 11th and 12th (streets). I don’t think we’re necessarily getting hurt by being out here. I mean, yeah, we would probably see more passersby. It would be a different crowd, though. That’s why I tell people, I don’t ever want to leave this neighborhood. I love it. It’s good people and it’s more laid back, but we’ve still got high traffic.

Joni, you were a model before Alchemy, and I know Benjamin was a diesel mechanic, among other things, before getting into the coffee business. How do the skills from your old jobs apply here?

Joni: I traveled pretty constantly for years, modeling. The best thing I got out of that career was being around insanely different people of all different kinds of cultures. Plus all the castings — I’ve been on probably 5,000 castings or something insane like that. It takes a lot to surprise me or shock me, really, because I’ve seen the gamut of all kinds of stuff. And that’s great, though, when you’re dealing with people. I can talk to any person in any kind of situation. That’s why we have a big window into the bakery — people can come up and talk to me and I can make something particular for them. Some people have dietary issues, so I’ll ask them, “What works for you?” Next week, come back and I’ll have something for you.

Benjamin: I did about everything from retail to tree trimming to FedEx trucks to mechanic jobs to carpentry jobs to hardware stores. I mean, I’d worked in restaurants, but I didn’t have a whole lot of barista experience starting this, which sounds counterintuitive. What got me working for myself was tree trimming and doing concrete — doing my own contracting. That gave me enough of a business background.

You’ve got a pretty intricate setup here. How do you explain your process to skeptics or people who are mystified by it all?

Joni: We get those people pretty regularly, who are super uncomfortable and unfamiliar with our (operation), because we don’t have menus and we don’t have pricing on menus, which makes people uncomfortable because they’re used to that. Literally, if you just smile at somebody and say, “Hey, how’s it going?” then everything drops and they’re human, right there with you.

When the pour-over thing started here, nobody else was really doing it. And people were either really into it or really annoyed by it. It was polarizing. And now it’s just like old hat. People walk in and are like, “What beans do you have today?”

Do you have any predictions for the next big trends in the food or coffee world?

Joni: Everything’s a pendulum swing, right? So, it was like, mom and pop, then the '80s and '90s hit and everything went fast food and commercialized and computerized. And I feel like we’re at the height now of that swing back to community-based stuff, which is basically how I bake and how the coffee is, too. I love to do cupcakes and cookies and wedding cakes and pies and all these other things, but a simpler version. What I see happening on the food side of things, and I think it’s going to gain momentum, is that it’s going to keep that basic feel but it’s going to become about quality and not so much about the paragraph of what they did to it (the dish). So, it’s not going to be about 10 things in the sauce, but three things in the sauce, and that sauce is going to be really good.

You guys have two young kids at home. Have they gotten into coffee yet?

Joni: Oh, no. Not yet. They’re 5 and 6. They’re into the sweets, though.

Benjamin: They like to come around here and mess with the cups and fill up the bean jars occasionally, but we haven’t put them to work too much yet. A couple years, maybe.

In lieu of a 10th question, we're including a few of Farmer's and Alexander's favorite places to grab a bite around town. Cheers!

— Limestone Pizza, 814 Massachusetts St.

— Yokohama Sushi Japanese Restaurant, 811 New Hampshire St. and 1730 W. 23rd St.

— Wa Japanese Restaurant, 740 Massachusetts St.

— India Palace, 129 E. 10th St.

Previous installments of '10 Questions'

Matt Hyde of 715 and Ladybird Diner

Taco Zone's Brad Shanks

Fork to Fender's Eric Ireland


Free State Festival proves popular again; next year’s fest to focus on global-local connections

Anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people flocked to Lawrence’s Free State Festival events, according to estimates from festival organizers, putting this year’s numbers roughly in the same range as 2015 figures.

Still, it’s an imprecise tally, said festival director and ideas programming coordinator Sarah Bishop, who hopes to have more detailed analysis when results from this year’s survey (it’s distributed to festival attendees) become available later this summer.

The 2016 Free State Festival, which was held June 20 through June 25 in various venues across downtown Lawrence and the city’s Cultural Arts District, drew its biggest numbers at June 25’s free Public Enemy concert outside the Lawrence Arts Center. At final count, approximately 8,500 people attended the show, surpassing the crowd at last year’s free performance by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic by about 500.

Public Enemy's Flavor Flav points out to the crowd during a free concert Saturday evening, June 25, 2016, as part of the Free State Festival.

Public Enemy's Flavor Flav points out to the crowd during a free concert Saturday evening, June 25, 2016, as part of the Free State Festival. by John Young

“We were really excited to see so many people from out of town coming in for both Public Enemy and Kris Kristofferson,” Bishop said. “It really drew people from a wide swath surrounding the area.”

Fans traveled from as far away as Connecticut, Maryland and even Canada for the Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter’s June 22 concert, she noted. The sold-out concert filled Liberty Hall, where Kristofferson celebrated his 80th birthday the same night with a cake from downtown Lawrence’s Ladybird Diner.

Other festival highlights included June 24’s evening of free live music outside the Lawrence Arts Center (Bishop estimates an attendance of about 2,000) and Monday’s stand-up performance by “Lady Dynamite” star Maria Bamford, whose sold-out gig packed Liberty Hall.

Even free events, like the weeklong “The Art of Conversation” programming at the Watkins Museum of History, did surprisingly well, Bishop said. The talks aligned with this year’s festival theme of activism through art, each day dealing with contemporary topics such as gender and sexuality, health policy, race and law enforcement, and the politics of water.

“People were really engaged and enthusiastic,” Bishop said. “It was really nice to see residents connecting in that way and having great conversations about these important political, social and cultural issues.”

While the festival has focused on Kansas history and culture in the past, the 2017 and 2018 editions will ask “audiences to think about how the global and local connect,” as per a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for Arts to “take the festival to an international level,” Bishop said.

The 2017 festival, which will most likely fall amid June’s Final Friday, will tentatively have a Mexican emphasis, with issues like immigration — and the growing number of immigrants arriving in Kansas each year — being especially timely now, Bishop said.

“We’re thinking about the ways in which Lawrence connects with Mexico, the ways in which Mexican culture manifests here in Lawrence, Kansas, and the really interesting art that’s being (created) in Mexico,” she said. Bishop also plans to include more educational outreach programs in 2017, ideally working with students at Centro Hispano to produce bilingual films.

This year’s festival initially received $60,000 from the City of Lawrence, falling short of the $100,000 requested by festival organizers, but later picked up an additional $7,375 from the city’s transient guest tax (that’s the 6 percent tax charged on all overnight hotel stays in Lawrence) grant program.

Bishop hopes this year’s high attendance, particularly of those visiting from outside Lawrence, will help convince potential funders of the festival’s financial viability. Just as important: “putting Lawrence on the map as a creative hub,” she said.

Sally Zogry, executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said she had yet to see any detailed information on the 2016 festival’s impact on downtown businesses, but that the event consistently “does wonderful things” for the local economy.

Folks often “rediscover” downtown Lawrence at the Free State Festival, she said.

“I would venture to guess people spent money downtown, whether it’s a bottle of water or an expensive meal or an outfit they’re buying for the event,” Zogry said. “It really does bring people down here who maybe don’t come downtown as often, if they’re living across town or in Eudora or Baldwin City or Topeka or even Kansas City.”


Taco Zone files plans to add outdoor seating

If you’re a fan of Taco Zone and eating al fresco, here’s a bit of news that might whet your appetite (get it?) for both.

Brad Shanks, co-owner of the popular downtown eatery at 13 E. Eighth St., has filed plans to install a railing “with a built-in shelf” for food and drinks around the storefront. The design, which is still being processed by the city's planning department, would increase dining space by six or seven seats, says Shanks.

“We just have a really small spot, so we thought this was a good way to add a few seats,” he says. “Our customers were asking for it, so we were finally like, 'Let’s get it done.’”

Taco Zone’s interior totals about 900 square feet, with about “half of that” dedicated to dining. And then there’s the added benefit of marketing that comes with outdoor seating — “I think people sitting outside with sunglasses, drinking margaritas and eating tacos, is better than having a sign,” Shanks says.

If all goes to plan, Taco Zone customers should be able to do just that by late July or early August, he says. In the meantime, here’s a link to the site plan, if you’re curious.

Taco Zone, 13 E. Eighth St.

Taco Zone, 13 E. Eighth St. by Nick Gerik


Three graphic novel recommendations (that aren’t ‘Saga’)

I have a confession to make: I used to be one of those people who looked down their nose at graphic novels and comics and openly judged others for reading them. In frustration, I even said once, “It’s not really reading! It’s just a bunch of pictures!” (Yeah, I cringe thinking about it.) Sorry, everyone, for my past-self being such a huge jerk.

You will be happy to know that I have since cooled my jets when it comes to judging how, or what, others read. Reading is such a personal experience, and I am now a firm believer that any amount of reading is important, and it counts, even if it’s just the back of your cereal box in the morning.

Last year I set out on a journey to actually sit down and read a graphic novel and find out what “works” for me. Since then, I think I’ve read maybe a hundred or so? Give or take? Safe to say, I am a massive graphic novel convert. Graphic novels are such a unique reading experience, and the type of joy I find reading a really good series can only be compared to spending sunny afternoons at my grandma’s house as a kid, flipping through her pile of newspapers to find cartoons I hadn’t read before. Her favorite was "Family Circus" — mine was "Peanuts."

Since my graphic novel knowledge went from “'The Walking Dead' was comics first right, riiight?” to having read over a dozen series and being well-versed in the format in the span of only a year, I came up with a few suggestions of some lesser-known graphic novels that deserve more love and attention. Two of them can be found on Hoopla (spoiler alert, they are: "Alex + Ada," and "Afterlife with Archie"). Conveniently enough, you are allowed a total of five checkouts per month on Hoopla, which is more than enough to get every volume available of these two series. Binge reading, anyone?

"Lady Killer" by Joelle Jones (Dark Horse Comics) Josie Schuller is the ideal 1950s woman — a gorgeous housewife. She has an immaculate wardrobe (so what if she gets the occasional bloodstain on her dress?) that even June Cleever would kill for, a husband that is both handsome and charming (how refreshing), and adorable twin daughters (who are, of course, blond). Josie also moonlights as an assassin who knows her way around the kitchen knives. So, you know, she is just your typical American housewife.

The creator and illustrator of the series, Joelle Jones, has included an introduction in this volume which discusses how female characters are never allowed to be quite as brutal or violent as their male counterparts. Based off of that, and how this series has been marketed as either Betty Draper meets Hannibal or Dexter, you can expect an intense amount of blood and violence beyond the perfect veneer of sweetness and great shoes. Josie Schuller is definitely a force to be reckoned with and will be appealing to anyone who loves a strong female character who puts all the menfolk in their place, while still wearing high heels and making it home in time to make dinner. Tongue in cheek, this graphic novel practically screams “GIRL POWER!”

"Alex + Ada" by Sarah Vaughn (Image Comics) "Alex + Ada" is set in the not-so-distant future and follows a young man named Alex and a female android named (you guessed it) Ada. On his birthday, Alex is given a somewhat controversial gift from his grandmother — a companion robot to help him move on from his ex-girlfriend (thanks, nana). In this universe, while humans heavily rely on androids as servants, companions, and the like, the tension between the two are rising after a somewhat sentient android went all Terminator on a group of people, killing many. Despite the political and legal ramifications, Alex and Ada develop a “star-crossed lovers” relationship.

Don’t let the simplistic art style and the plot summaries fool you — this graphic novel series is not really a romantic comedy. In a three-volume arc, it explores complex themes like: Where does life begin? Are androids considered alive? Can Artificial Intelligence be enough to grant androids individuality and independence? How can love between a human and an android be equal, when technically one legally owns the other? It certainly brings to mind historical struggles and modern-day discussions of equality and equity. This is my “sleeper hit” series of the year, so why aren’t you reading it already?

"Afterlife with Archie" by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Archie Comics)
Readers might be familiar with the Archie comics, which have been a part of our collective experience since the late 1930s — appearing in grocery stores and even as its own cartoon show decades ago. Riverdale is still the same magical place, where a soda shop is the best place to take your date, and a certain redheaded boy is in love with two certain girls and can’t possibly choose (I’m on team Veronica, by the way) … only now the beloved characters have cellphones.

This reboot of the classic series presents the question, “What would happen if the idyllic Riverdale were overrun with zombies?” What results is a thrilling story where best friends are pitted against one another and where no one is safe — not even Jughead’s adorable dog (or Jughead himself, for that matter), who begins the original plague. Humor is used throughout to cut through the darkest moments, and there are scenes in here so emotional, I actually had tears in my eyes as I watched a character encounter a zombified version of their loved one — proving that this franchise has still got it.

As a bonus, I’d also like to suggest "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina," another horror retelling by Archie Comics, where the witches are truly terrifying. This is no Melissa Joan Hart, people.

— Kimberly Lopez is a Reader’s Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Dispatches from a newly minted book club

While reading is often thought of as a solitary activity, book clubs and reading groups provide a bit of social camaraderie for certain book lovers.

Lawrence is lucky to have a wide and active community of readers, with lots of book clubs of all sizes popping up across town. To provide even MORE bookish goodness, the Book Squad decided to start another book-a-month club that meets downtown.

The Third Thursday Book Club gathers monthly in a cozy room at 7 E. 7th St. and has gotten off to a fantastic start. This is the first time I’ve started a new club from scratch, and I have been so pleased with the discussions! Our meetings have reminded me why these groups are so important — they allow us to connect with one another about our experiences through the lens of a shared book.

(photo via 7 e 7th - did I mention there is wine?)

Our first book, "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides, was one that I was both nervous and excited to “assign” to the group. There is SO MUCH going on in this novel! Eugenides tells an epic saga that involves race relations, family drama, genetics, superstition, Greek culture, sex, sexuality and more. It’s a whopper! The small group that met in April took up the entire two hours with our conversation. We touched on the above themes as they related to the cast of characters in "Middlesex," and the discussion opened up into wider revelations about our own experiences. The novel’s deeply personal narration gave us courage to open up about families, sex education, traditions and other topics.

Similarly, when a slightly larger group gathered in May to talk about "The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri, our conversation surrounded the characters’ lives as well as the ways we related — or did not relate — to the narrative. I learned about fellow club members’ own immigration experiences, about other members’ travels near Calcutta where the novel takes place, about love and loss and relationships that were similar to or different from the brothers’ in the story. Once again, our time together flew by, and I know that I walked away with a richer perspective than I had when I arrived.

Last week, "Euphoria" by Lily King — a novel based loosely on the life of Margaret Mead — was our book du jour. A couple of the members gave additional historical information that enhanced our appreciation of the novel. As with the previous months, some folks came to the meeting without having read the novel (not minding spoilers!) and left saying that they learned a lot, both about the book itself and the people discussing it.

Our next book for July is "Being Mortal," a non-fiction release from 2014 that is sure to inspire some heavy-yet-enlightening conversation. While discussing death and end-of-life experiences with a room full of people might not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, I am truly looking forward to connecting once again and re-discovering how books can bring near-strangers together. You are welcome to join us!

Post script: I know that not everyone wants to meet in person, and/or our busy schedules simply don’t provide the opportunity. Along with groups that meet face-to-face, there are also plenty of online book challenges and clubs to participate in (along with the Oprah 2.0 club, Emma Watson launched a feminist book club on Goodreads, and science fiction fans may enjoy i09’s active club that sometimes includes feedback from authors themselves!) Using a common reading experience to connect to others is truly a beautiful thing and is a way to provide a little break from such a “solitary” activity.

— Kate Gramlich is a Reader's Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.


Radiolab co-host Jad Abumrad on journalism, the fury of Terry Gross fans and what makes ‘messy’ stories worth telling

The creative process, according to "Radiolab" co-host Jad Abumrad, is marked with uncertainty. Whether that creative queasiness — “gut churn,” he calls it — helps or hinders the operation is the inquiry at the center of Abumrad’s multimedia presentation of the same name, coming to Lawrence this weekend as part of the Free State Festival.

“In many ways, the talk — my life, actually — has been in some sense a study of that phenomenon,” says Abumrad, chatting over the phone from New York City, the town where even the most celebrated public radio personalities can remain incognito. (More on that later.)

Here, in an edited and condensed version of his interview with the Journal-World, the onetime MacArthur Fellow ("Radiolab," which he co-hosts with Robert Krulwich from New York City’s WNYC studios, now reaches more than 500 public radio stations across the country) shares stories from his days as a cub reporter, the fury of Terry Gross fans and what makes the “messy” stories of life worth telling.

“Gut Churn” is slated for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.

Jad Abumrad

Jad Abumrad

You grew up in Nashville as the child of Lebanese immigrants, and you’ve talked in the past about how this created a sense of not fully belonging here in the U.S. or in Lebanon. How did that experience inform your work as a journalist?

It’s funny — when you are not quite American and not quite Lebanese, or whatever hyphenated identity you find yourself to be, you’re kind of not either. And so it felt important for me to be something that was a third thing and not either. Becoming a journalist was kind of like that thing for me. It was like, here’s this third thing I can be where I can actually ask questions about the first two things. And if I look at all the work I’ve done in my life, it’s actually not about science — I mean, people label the show in various ways that don’t feel right to me — but it’s actually about two different cultures, two different spirits, crashing into each other. I think anyone who is an immigrant feels that (way) — you’re somehow of a place that you’re not really of, and you’re in a place that you’re not really in, and so you are somehow the collision between these two cultures, and that’s the story I do every single day.

You actually got your start not in journalism but as a film composer. How did you learn the ropes?

I sort of stumbled into it. I went to school for creative writing and music, and I got out of school and was trying to do both. I got to this point where I realized that I don’t seem to be good at either of these things. And my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, was like, “Well, you could do radio. It’s sort of the middle ground between the two things you’re doing.” So I got involved at a radio station. I got hooked very quickly. I got into it more for the craft, and I didn’t know the first thing about journalism.

I was volunteering at a radio station down the street from where I’m now sitting called WBAI. The first day I show up, the news director, who’s about to have a sex change — and I didn’t know (about it) — has just suddenly disappeared, and suddenly I’m there and there’s no one to teach me, and somebody just hands me a recorder. They’re like, “Go out and record this protest at City Hall.” So, I did this awful 12-minute piece of people rah-rah-ing about who the (expletive) knows what. But WBAI was so crazy at that moment that, literally, I walked in there and I was on the air not that day, maybe, but the next day. There was no barrier. I literally started figuring it out as I went. Basic stuff like, "How do I ask a question so that I get an answer I can use? And how do I create conversation between two different voices?"

It was very disorganized — I didn’t have anyone who was mentoring me in journalism. Honestly, I feel like I’ve only really been a good journalist in the last three or four years. I feel like, "OK, I can kind of deal with almost any scenario right now." I would’ve blown a lot of money but saved myself a lot of time had I gone to J School.

What’s happened within those three or four years, do you think, that’s taken you to the next level?

Maybe in 2011 or 2012, I kind of got fed up a little bit (with "Radiolab"). We were just doing this story where we’d talk to somebody who was really smart, and he or she would paint a picture of some imaginary thing and then we’d make it. And I just kind of felt like, “I’m sitting on my (expletive) in front of Pro Tools all day long, not actually having experiences.” The show works in a certain way, but it needs to be messier. It needs to be more engaged in the world. Like, I’m tired of these very clean, expansive studio conversations that lead you to that very predictable moment. As much as I love all that, I got tired of it.

I wanted to start looking into the messiness of human beings living in a messy world, while still focusing on the complexities of life, which is ultimately why I feel I have a job. That’s what I feel I’ve been put here to do. Long story short, we began to do stories that were maybe more about politics, more about cultures clashing, things that get lost in translation. That forced me into a situation where I almost felt like I had to start over. Doing a lot of science reporting puts you in a position of having to get really good at technical writing and you’ve got to figure out a way to explain things to people, but it can be a very limited journalistic space. When you’re dealing with people who are sometimes traumatized or sometimes yelling at you, there’s a different set of skills that are involved, and I learned all that stuff.

We just did a huge investigation into the global surrogacy market, and that’s a situation where every radioactive issue was there in one story, you know? Like, LGBT issues were there, race was there, cultural imperialism was there. And as a journalist, I have to wade through all that, and it’s demanded more of me. We’ve gone through enough of those hard stories where I feel like I’ve gotten my feet under me as a journalist. And I like that. Every story feels like it’s harder than I’m able to do right now, and yet, we do it, and I feel a little bit bigger at the end of it.

There’s been a crazy surge in podcasts over the last few years, thanks to shows like yours and “Serial,” to name one recent example. What does this say about the way we’re consuming media and stories now?

I don’t know. Here’s my sort of idealistic answer, which I’m not sure I buy, but I’ll just say it: We want everything at once, you know? And our tastes and our predilections exist as a series of paradoxes. Like, we want (stuff) that’s small and sugary and sound bitey and vapid. We want that. I want that. I want stuff that’s stupid, as much as I think I’m a smart person. But the more dumb stuff I want, the more stuff I want that’s challenging and long and rich and complicated. I feel like the shorter my attention span gets, the longer my attention span gets. And I see that in the world — everybody wants everything.

And so in some sense, the poles are pulling against each other. Stuff is getting stupider at the very moment it’s getting smarter, and in some way I can’t articulate to you right now, I feel like they’re related. The trends toward stupidity and toward brilliance seem to be related to me. I’ll work that out at some point and give you a better answer.

NPR has a very niche fandom. Any strange encounters with fans you’d like to share?

I saw somebody had a tattoo of my name on their shoulder, and I was like, “OK, that’s weird.” Kind of flattering but a little creepy, you know? And then I saw my name on a bathroom wall once. But that’s as strange as it gets.

I spend most of my life in this tiny room interacting with pretty much no one except my staff, so most of the time I have no idea what the outside world is doing or thinking about what we’re up to. I definitely don’t get on social media anymore, just because life’s too short — at least not for getting feedback — so I’m usually pretty oblivious. And also, people in New York just keep it so cool, you know? Even if they recognize you, they would never let you know.

As someone who listens to a lot of "Radiolab," it seems like each of those episodes must take a long time to produce. What’s that process like? And how much time does it take to produce an hour-long episode?

I would say maybe anywhere from six months to two years. Most of what we’re doing these days is actually on the podcast. It’s not one-hour shows anymore; it’s 40-minute pieces of one kind or another. And even those take us a year. But, you know, from the moment someone has the idea until the moment it hits the air, it doesn’t ever seem to happen faster than six months. And it’s not like six months of solid work. You’ve got the idea, you’re scheduling interviews, you’re doing second and third and fourth rounds of interviews, then you’re going through endless edits trying to get the story shape to work, and there’s a way in which that process never lasts anything shorter than six months. And you’re working on 20 of those at once. Maybe each of the producers has three or four they’re working on, and so we’re doing edits throughout the week on each of these different stories, and one of them will kind of go on the shelf on the while because maybe something fell through, but then maybe something will happen in the world and we’re like, “Oh, we should bring that piece back,” and we yank it off the shelf.

"Radiolab" has been on the air for about 15 years now. In that time, it’s been critically lauded for its experimental use of sound and music. But when it premiered, did you get that universal praise? Was there any sort of pushback from the old guard of radio?

Oh yeah, definitely pushback. When we debuted, it started out at 8 p.m. on the AM frequency here in New York, which for various technical reasons, nobody listens to (at that hour). Nobody. So I was in this kind of desert for a long time, which was, looking back on it, a good thing. I needed to be in that desert where I was ignored so I could learn a few things.

At our first home on FM, which is where the audience was, the program director put us at, I think, 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, for a week. He did this because Terry Gross was going on vacation. She takes a vacation once a year or whatever, and in that time, they just run re-runs. And so he’s thinking, “Rather than re-runs, we’ll just put this new show on.” So, they put us on, and people in Terry Town were pissed. They hated it. The listener services people send you these Excel spreadsheets of every single call that comes in, good or bad. And they sent us this Excel spreadsheet, and I naively thought, “Oh, we’re beautiful. People will think we’re beautiful.” And I remember opening this Excel spreadsheet up, and it was just pages and pages and pages of (criticism). Category 1 was like, “Where is Terry Gross? What have you done with Terry Gross?” And the other category was like, “Where is Terry Gross, and who the (expletive) are these guys?” In that, there were a lot of the criticisms that we still get, frankly, which are, “Quit editing 10,000 things together at once. Just tell the story. Why do you have to put all the sounds in?” That criticism was very, very loud at the beginning.

I think listening habits and styles have changed, and now I don’t think we sound that experimental anymore. I think there are a lot of people who are doing stuff probably taking it even farther than us. Like, "Love + Radio" — if you hear an average, run-of-the-mill episode of theirs, they’re doing (stuff) that is like, “Wow, you can do that? You’re allowed to do that?” I feel like we could be better, or more experimental.


Fiesta to celebrate Mexican culture, food this weekend

In some ways, St. John’s Mexican Fiesta isn’t unlike La Yarda, says fiesta publicity chair and longtime St. John parishioner Jacinta Hoyt.

The community of Mexican railroad workers that sprang up 90 years ago in East Lawrence is long gone (the patch of small, brick homes was washed away in the flood of 1951), but its memory lives on through Hoyt, whose immigrant grandparents settled in La Yarda way back when, and the many Lawrencians who share her Mexican heritage.

“La Yarda was like one big family. These families would come together and have communal meals and do all sorts of things together.” At St. John, she says, “We’re still able to get together every summer and put on the fiesta.”

This summer’s fiesta, slated for 6 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, promises the same authentic Mexican food, live music, dancing and family fun that have been mainstays at the well-attended church fundraiser since its inception 36 years ago.

More than 200, Hoyt included, make up this year’s efforts, says fiesta chairman Frank Lemus. Many claim Mexican descent (St. John still has a large Hispanic congregation, Hoyt notes, with Spanish-speaking Mass being offered every Sunday) while many others do not. Some volunteers are not even parishioners at St. John but enjoy helping out anyway, Lemus says.

Proceeds from the event, which annually generates about $35,000, go toward St. John Catholic School’s Spanish language program, maintenance projects at the church and a scholarship program for local Mexican-American students.

From left, Judy Romero, Bertha Bermudez and Val Howland spread some rice out to cool to be used to make sopa in preparation for this weekend’s annual St. John’s Mexican Fiesta. The fiesta will be held from 6-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St.

From left, Judy Romero, Bertha Bermudez and Val Howland spread some rice out to cool to be used to make sopa in preparation for this weekend’s annual St. John’s Mexican Fiesta. The fiesta will be held from 6-11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky St. by Richard Gwin

Thousands — it’s hard to predict how many exactly, though some estimates in recent years have counted as many as 10,000 — are expected to attend this weekend’s fiesta, which this year is being promoted under the Free State Festival roster of events.

“For me, it’s seeing the people gather and have a good time,” Lemus says. “I always compare it to a big barbecue in our backyard at St. John.”

Among the attractions: carnival games and a bounce house for kids, the St. John’s Fiesta Dancers, and live music from Mariachi Girasol, Grupo Picante and more. And then there’s the food, with an estimated 800 tostadas, 2,000 tamales and 3,000 burritos being churned out in advance of the event by St. John volunteers.

Because of the labor involved, enchiladas will only be offered Saturday night, says Lemus, who advises folks to arrive earlier in the evening (food usually sells out by 10 p.m.) if they’re eyeing a specific dish.

Returning this year is the fiesta’s new-and-improved La Yarda display. Last year, shortly before the 2015 fiesta, the Douglas County Commission awarded St. John a $16,400 grant to refurbish the display, which includes photos and texts detailing the history of Mexican-American Lawrence families like Hoyt’s.

With any luck, her own children — they’re still very young — will lend a hand in future fiestas. For now, they’re just excited to revel in the fun of it, she says.

“It’s important for people, especially for me and my family and future generations, to just remember where they come from,” says Hoyt, who served as project manager on the La Yarda exhibit. “Lawrence is a very diverse place and this is just a piece of it. It’s important to recognize and remember it.”

Reply 3 comments from Barb Gordon Charlie Dominguez Sam Crow

Lawrence Libations: Rose lemonade at Aladdin Cafe

Lawrence Libations revisits an old summer standby this week, with a Middle Eastern twist on lemonade at Aladdin Cafe.

The addition of rose water — which itself has been marketed as a good-for-you “beauty drink” as of late in the Western world, apparently showing up in the aisles of upscale supermarkets and New York City juice bars, in addition to centuries of Middle Eastern culinary tradition — results in a very sweet, very odd flavor (in a good way) that’s difficult to describe. I guess “it tastes like rose petals” would be the appropriate answer.

Mixed with lemonade, it makes for an extremely invigorating (this stuff will wake you up if you're feeling sleepy) thirst-quencher. The Aladdin Café menu also promises saffron blossoms along with the rose water — we couldn’t find any blossoms in our drink, aside from a few flecks of the bright orange spice floating among the ice cubes. Still, pretty extravagant for a regular ol’ Monday afternoon in Lawrence.

Rose lemonade at Aladdin Cafe, 1021 Massachusetts St.

Rose lemonade at Aladdin Cafe, 1021 Massachusetts St. by Joanna Hlavacek

The hard stuff: no alcohol in this one

Where it’s served: Aladdin Café, 1021 Massachusetts St.

What it costs: $2.99

Other libations at this location: Notably, the Turkish coffee, if you’re looking to fully commit to the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean theme

— Drink up. Stay classy. Don’t forget to tip your bartender. And let us know if you want to suggest a libation for this feature — email jhlavacek@ljworld.com or Tweet her at Twitter.com/hlavacekjoanna. Cheers.


‘Heart of a Lion’ is a true story of fear, cats and ecology

I bet when William Stolzenburg wrote his previous book, "Where the Wild Things Were," he didn’t figure he would later find one of the wildest things in the Americas on a walkabout that stretched from the Black Hills of South Dakota, through Midwestern farms and cities, across major rivers, and all the way to the urban megalopolis of the East Coast.

But Stolzenburg latched on to this true story of mystery and hope, and the result is a gripping and wise travelogue for our time.

"Heart of a Lion" tracks a young male cougar as he moves out from an overcrowded wild “island” into the unknown in search of a new home and a potential mate. As the cougar winds his way out of the Black Hills, Stolzenburg’s retracing makes historical and scientific detours that add immeasurably to the tale. Imagine: A 140-pound young male lion spends two years traveling 2,000 miles.

His trek is monitored, though the whole story would not be pieced together until later, by 15 sightings and DNA samplings along the way. Frequently close to people, he harms no one, preferring what his kind has long preferred: deer, of which there are more than enough.

As might be expected, many humans overreact to the possibility of a mountain lion in their midst; some show patient fascination, and others cheer him on — even while knowing that his chances of success are slim.

Stolzenburg’s story is not only of a particular peripatetic puma, but of our long relationship to big cats. He begins in Pleistocene North America and eventually goes even further back, to the caves of South Africa where our fear began millions of years ago. Fans of writer Bruce Chatwin may recall Chatwin’s visit there with anthropologist Bob Brain and the talks they had that played such a huge role in Chatwin’s thinking (see "Under the Sun"), Stolzenburg describes the scene:

“Into a pair of perfectly round holes in a child’s fossil skull, Brain neatly inserted the fangs of a fossil leopard’s jaws. … The cave was no longer an ancient crime scene exposing the homicidal roots of human nature. More likely, it was a picnic spot for big cats.”

Our fear of predators, thought Chatwin, was the root of our need to tell stories.

As the South Dakota cougar continues east, we get a look at how modern ecological stories have changed. Teddy Roosevelt, a bundle of bully contradictions, blusters by. There are sightings of Aldo Leopold, wolf killer turned ecological prophet. Politicians and nonprofit organizations put in appearances and make a lot of noise. And the cougar walks on, past the Twin Cities, across the Mississippi River, past Green Bay and across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He vanishes for a time, then, nearly a year later, he’s seen in a back yard in Lake George, N.Y.

Summarizing recent studies that sprang from monitoring predators in Yellowstone, Stolzenburg describes healthy “landscapes of fear,” that is, how entire ecosystems improve when missing predators return. Fearful grazers retreat into the shadows, thus allowing saplings and flowers to grow, thus allowing bugs and beavers and birds to return, thus allowing rivers to run clear. In a corner of Wyoming, the key is wolves preying on elk. Nearly everywhere else it could be cougars and deer.

The landscape of fear that we are today a part of is rather different. Our primordial nightmares still exist, though we no longer have to retreat into the shadows. Tools like fire and firepower make us think we are kings of the jungle, whether verdant or concrete, and Stolzenburg’s telling of the cougar’s trek often made me shake my head at our misguided actions. But he describes some wise actions, too.

The cougar’s unexpected trip through wild and domestic, rural and urban, shows that to preserve predators and the health of the land we need more than ecosystem restoration and linkages. Let’s embrace some mystery — easy enough when considering a ghost cat. Perhaps more importantly, we ought to increase the three C’s of the wilderness restoration mantra to four: Cores, corridors, carnivores – and compassion. More stories like "Heart of a Lion" would help.

— Jake Vail is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

Reply 2 comments from Bob McCoy Ken Lassman

Van Go to celebrate young artists, successful endowment campaign at Saturday’s What Floats Your Boat

Emily Laughlin was only 12 when she first learned of Van Go Inc., the social service agency that provides arts-based job training to at-risk teens and young adults in Douglas County. She wasn’t yet old enough to take part in the program, but Laughlin, now 19, remembers the “beautiful” bench Van Go apprentice artists created in memory of her late mother, who had recently died from breast cancer.

She’s not sure if the bench — it was adorned with a pink ribbon, the symbol for breast cancer awareness — remains at the cancer ward of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where it originally sat. Nearly a decade later, though, Laughlin is sure of herself and the career path she’s embarking on with the help of Van Go.

“I found that I really enjoy it and that I’m good at it,” the aspiring art therapist says of metalsmithing, one of the many previously untapped talents she’s discovered in her time at Van Go. “It’s also made me realize what I want to give to the world and the future.”

Laughlin is one of many young artists whose work will be auctioned at Saturday’s 13th annual What Floats Your Boat. Slated for 7 to 11 p.m. at Clinton Lake Marina, the event is Van Go’s biggest fundraiser of the year, with proceeds — the goal is $80,000 this time around — going toward job-training programs for youths as well as operational costs for “keeping the lights on, the doors open and the phones on,” says Van Go development director Eliza Nichols.

“It’s not the most glamorous thing to fundraise for, but somebody has to do it,” she says. “It’s fairly easy to find funders to pay for art supplies or food, but the building itself — we have to be creative in our approach to that.”

Maya Frazier, 15, of Lawrence, holds up a large patio umbrella as she shows it to the crowd gathered during Van Go's annual What Floats Your Boat fundraiser Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Clinton Lake State Park marina.

Maya Frazier, 15, of Lawrence, holds up a large patio umbrella as she shows it to the crowd gathered during Van Go's annual What Floats Your Boat fundraiser Saturday, June 20, 2015, at the Clinton Lake State Park marina. by John Young

This year’s “approach” includes about a dozen pieces crafted by Van Go’s apprentice artists, who range in age from 14 to 24. As in previous iterations of the event, much of Saturday’s auction will be devoted to upcycled outdoor furniture painted in “retro” shades like turquoise, lime green and bright orange. Local artists Dave VanHee, Kristin Moreland and Stacey Lamb — along with Van Go apprentice artist Jordan Wittbrod are also pitching in with their colorful “art bikes,” another from years past.

The event — which will treat partygoers to dinner by Ingredient and McGonigle’s, live jazz by Blueprint and dancing under the stars with DJ Johnny Quest — will also celebrate the successful completion of Van Go’s two-year, $750,000 endowment campaign. The agency recently surpassed its goal with an extra $15,000 in tow.

“We’re really thrilled with the community support, and feel grateful and so humbled that the community supports Van Go,” Nichols says of the campaign. “It will allow us to be around for a long time.”

The money will go toward a safety net in case of emergency or sudden grant cuts, says Nichols, to ensure opportunities for young artists like Laughlin for years to come.

She’s shadowing an art therapy intern (it’s an internship within an internship, she jokes) at Van Go this summer, and will take her first steps toward an art therapy degree at Johnson County Community College in the fall.

“I didn’t believe I could,” she says of imagining an artistic career for herself back in high school. “They’ve boosted my confidence and made it seem possible for me to do that.”

Tickets for What Floats Your Boat range from $87.50 all the way up to $700, for a table of eight. They can be purchased at www.van-go.org or by calling 842-3797.


Beyond Bamford: Free State Festival highlights

Monday brings the arrival of this year's Free State Festival and its fully stocked lineup of music, art, film and ideas. Among the many attractions: "Lady Dynamite" star Maria Bamford (you can read our interview with her here), Radiolab co-founder Jad Abumrad, film screenings galore and a solo acoustic show from Grammy winner (and birthday boy!) Kris Kristofferson.

We've rounded up a few of the many noteworthy Free State Fest happenings here, but you can always peruse the full schedule at www.freestatefestival.org.





This interactive sculpture, constructed from 6,000 incandescent light bulbs by Canadian artists and collaborators Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett, utilizes pull string switches and everyday domestic light bulbs, “re-imagining their potential to catalyze collaborative moments and create an enveloping, experimental environment.”

It’s interactive, too: Viewers work together as a collective to animate “lightning” on the surface of the sculpture in “impromptu collaborations,” turning the entire cloud on and off.

The artists will be on hand to discuss their work during a free INSIGHT Art Talk from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Lawrence Arts Center’s black box theater. The exhibition itself opens at the end of the talk and will remain at the Arts Center through June 25.





If you missed last year’s critically acclaimed musical satire about gun violence in Chicago, here’s your chance to see it on the big screen.

Directed by two-time Oscar nominee Spike Lee and co-written by Lawrence's own Kevin Willmott (the filmmaker is also an associate professor of film and media studies at Kansas University), “Chi-Raq” is a modern adaptation of the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata,” in which the women of Greece hold a sex strike in the hopes of ending the Peloponnesian War.

Tuesday’s screening, slated for 8 to 10:30 p.m., will also include the short film “Juvenile Justice: The Road to Reform.” Tickets are $8.


An Evening with Kris Kristofferson

Singer Kris Kristofferson performs on stage during the 16th Annual GRAMMY Foundation Legacy Concert "A Song Is Born," on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul a. Hebert/Invision/AP)

Singer Kris Kristofferson performs on stage during the 16th Annual GRAMMY Foundation Legacy Concert "A Song Is Born," on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Paul a. Hebert/Invision/AP)

The Grammy-winning country singer-songwriter rings in his 80th birthday Wednesday from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. in a sold-out solo acoustic show at Liberty Hall.

Miss out on tickets? Catch “Uncle Howard,” Aaron Brookner’s tribute to his late uncle (director Howard Brookner’s body of work, buried for 30 years in the bunker belonging to Beat Generation icon and one-time Lawrencian William S. Burroughs, finally gets its due), at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lawrence Arts Center main stage. Tickets are $8.


A Journal-World-adjacent activity kicks off the docket Thursday: “Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World” from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. at the Cider Gallery.

Featuring Roy Wenzl of the Wichita Eagle, Jeremy Schwartz of the Austin American-Statesman, Kate Mather of the Los Angeles Times and the Journal-World’s own Karen Dillon, this panel “takes on hard questions to prophesy what investigate reporters and their readers have in store” in today’s (and tomorrow’s, perhaps) media landscape of “sound bites, social media and free online news sites with less-than-stellar reporting credentials.” Journal-World managing editor Chad Lawhorn moderates.

"Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World"

"Telling Stories that Matter: Journalism in the New Media World"

Next up: Patricia Lockwood, the poet who the New York Times Magazine once dubbed “The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas,” gives her hometown a sneak peek of her new memoir, "Priestdaddy," from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Lawrence Arts Center’s large gallery. The reading will be followed by an audience Q&A and book signing, with copies of Lockwood’s latest poetry collection being sold by the Raven Book Store.

Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood


Outdoor Music: The Americans and more!

The Americans

The Americans

LA-based rock-and-rollers The Americans (claims to fame include gigs on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and the first dance at Reese Witherspoon’s wedding) headline an evening of free live music from 5 to 11 p.m. outside the Lawrence Arts Center.

The group, whose sound boasts “deep roots in traditional American music,” take the stage at 9 p.m. following the 6 p.m. screening of “American Epic,” the new documentary executive-produced by T Bone Burnett, Jack White and Robert Redford.

Other acts include 40 Watt Dreams at 5 p.m., Little Soldier Singers at 6 p.m., Katy Guillen at 6:45 p.m., Arthur Dodge at 8 p.m. and Son Venezuela at 10:15 p.m.


Saturday promises two festival headliners amid an already-packed schedule. First up (in an anachronistic sort of way) is Radiolab co-founder and MacArthur Genius Award recipient Jad Abumrad, presenting his multi-media talk, “Gut Churn” at Liberty Hall. Slated for 7 to 8:30 p.m., this “engaging” presentation delves into the anxieties of the creative process, and will be followed by a Q&A. Tickets cost $25.

Jad Abumrad

Jad Abumrad

Elsewhere in downtown Lawrence, hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy (featuring Chuck D and Flavor Flav) will perform a free concert on the Lawrence Arts Center’s outdoor stage from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Gates open at 6:30 p.m., and if last year’s free George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic concert is any indication, the crowd will be packed.

Chuck D, left, Flavor Flav, center, and Professor Griff, right, of Public Enemy perform during their induction at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Nokia Theatre on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)

Chuck D, left, Flavor Flav, center, and Professor Griff, right, of Public Enemy perform during their induction at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Nokia Theatre on Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Danny Moloshok/Invision/AP)


Free State Festival headliner Maria Bamford on getting older, saying no and the many endearing qualities of pugs

In her critically acclaimed, semi-autobiographical Netflix series "Lady Dynamite," comedian Maria Bamford mines her very real struggles with mental illness (the Minnesota native checked herself into a psych ward a few years back after being diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, and subsequently checked out, at least partly, from Hollywood) for very quirky, very frenetic, at times very poignant laughs.

On Monday, she'll stop by Lawrence for a co-headlining appearance at the Free State Festival. Slated for 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., "An Evening with Maria Bamford" entails a stand-up performance by the funny lady in question, followed by a short film screening and Q&A.

Here, in an edited and condensed version of our interview with Bamford, the "Lady Dynamite" star and executive producer shares her thoughts on getting older, saying no and the many endearing qualities of pugs.

Maria Bamford is the star and executive producer of Netflix's critically acclaimed comedy series "Lady Dynamite." The comedian co-headlines this month's Free State Festival, and will perform her signature stand-up in "An Evening with Maria Bamford" Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.

Maria Bamford is the star and executive producer of Netflix's critically acclaimed comedy series "Lady Dynamite." The comedian co-headlines this month's Free State Festival, and will perform her signature stand-up in "An Evening with Maria Bamford" Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.

Your show is very upfront about your experience with mental illness. Do you think “Lady Dynamite,” and other current shows tackling mental illness, would have been possible a generation ago? Are we undergoing some sort of shift that’s allowed a show like yours to be produced and be successful?

I think there’s been a huge shift in terms of hearing so many more people talking about it. I felt relatively comfortable talking about it. So many different shows are addressing different parts of it, whether it’s PTSD or OCD or bipolar. I haven’t seen a show featuring schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia, but I can’t wait until that’s addressed. A main character with schizophrenia would be wonderful.

Your parents, or fictionalized versions of them, get a lot of screen time on “Lady Dynamite.” How do they feel about the show?

My parents called me after they’d seen most of it, and they just loved it and were really excited. I think my dad had some friends at the lake watch it and had sort of a party, which I think had been a mistake (laughs), because it’s not for everybody. But I know they’re very proud. My sister is very proud of it and thinks that it’s great. They were all just very happy for me. Obviously I couldn’t have done that show or any other stand-up or whatever without their support and love. I’m so grateful that this happened now in my life, because I have so much unconditional love around me that even if it was just a giant flop, it would have been OK.

The show does a great job of capturing this sort of quintessential Midwestern-ness, from your omnipresent politeness and cheery attitude to your dad taking you to the Dairy Queen for a pick-me-up after a rough day. But you actually spent your hospitalization in LA and not in your real-life hometown of Duluth, unlike what we see in the show. Why make that change in setting?

I didn’t do all the heavy lifting in the writing of the show, but I think it was more interesting to go back to Duluth and have this feeling of a different space to go into entirely. In real life, it was more complicated. I also wanted to be among friends — my friends are very important to me — so my parents came to visit me in LA when I was hospitalized rather than me going there. But there are some great mental health facilities in my hometown. They have a great psychiatric facility for kids, which I’m sure I would have taken part of when I was a kid. But when I was there, I think there were just nuns. And I would go sit on the couch and talk to a nun, which can be therapeutic in its own way.

Your character seems to really be living under the thumb of her own passivity and tendency to be overly polite in all situations — including one in which a therapy leader is unsuccessfully baiting her to get angry during a game of badminton — which I recognized as an issue that a lot of women in particular struggle with. Is that something you’ve experienced personally, this compulsion to always please and be polite?

I think it was definitely an observation of the writers. I, of course, like to think of myself as this direct, confident person, and it was funny to see the reflection of probably more of what I really am. I’m definitely passive aggressive. My husband’s from Philadelphia, and it’s funny how he’ll just say how he feels about something, and it’ll take me a few days to say, “Hey!” Or I’ll just kind of dance around it.

My dad sent me to a Dale Carnegie course when I was 16, and one of the primary (tenets) was “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain — compliment.” My father also told me, “If you want a man to love you, just listen.” What I interpreted that as is “Don’t talk, and always be positive,” which is so funny because my mom is not like that. My mom is a megaphone (laughs).

One thing I was concerned about in the portrayal of the hospitalization was that it would be realistic. Playing a game — like, that could never happen in a psych ward. There aren’t a lot of planned activities. If there are, they’re super depressing. They’re like, “We can have a dance class, but we all have to stay seated in our chairs.” What!? I was feeling bad before, but now you’re going to play REO Speedwagon, and I can’t stand up? (laughs)

That's weird. You’d think they’d be very encouraging about movement in alleviating depression…

Nope. I think, at least from what I could tell, it was a legal issue. There weren’t enough people to watch everybody, and maybe the disparity of ages of everybody in the ward. It was literally insanity, and very funny, in retrospect.

I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the awful but hilarious jobs that your character takes on despite some very serious misgivings — like, for example, a cartoon about Sea World produced by Bill Cosby, or “Lock Up a Broad,” the game show where women are literally caged until they apologize for their alleged transgressions. Do any of these come from real job offers you’ve received?

I have a very champagne problem of getting all these job offers. And I’m so grateful to have job offers, and also, I think, having the work ethic or the willingness to earn, like, “OK, yes, get out there. Hustle!” This is what it’s about — you do a job and be of service and be pleasant. But then what happened in terms of when I got the job (as the “Crazy Target Lady” in a series of ads in 2010) for Target, I realized the job itself was really fun, but I couldn’t disconnect myself from what I was saying, which is basically encouraging people to buy enormous amounts of consumer goods that they don’t necessarily need or want.

The joke on the show was “Nobody says no.” Now, I’ve turned down and will continue to turn down commercial jobs, just because I know myself. Which is really a lot of (the reason) why commercials pay so much, is because there’s sort of a gag going on criticizing anything about the corporation. And any employee can tell you that about working for a corporation — you’re paid to be a part of the team. But now I don’t take those jobs because I know that it will affect me emotionally. I know I’ll start to feel bad if it isn’t something I believe in.

Your character makes this remark in the very first episode about “what a great late-in-life opportunity” her new show is for her — you’re 45, not old at all — along with some other jokes about not having kids at her age because it’s too dangerous. How does it feel finding all this success at this point in your life?

It feels great. There’s no pressure. I don’t feel that thing I felt when I was younger of like, “Oh, this is going to make me or break me,” or “This is the be all end all.” I think that’s one gift of getting older — you just keep going. There’s highs and lows, and there’s another day. It’s been really fun just to enjoy it and pay off our house and prepare for retirement in an “Abundant Now.” We’re doing a lot of affirmations in our family (laughs).

Your dog Bert is also a character on the show, which is funny because the first time I remember seeing you was during a bit on “Kroll Show,” where you also played a woman who was really, really into pugs. What is it about these little dogs that you’re so drawn to?

They’re super affectionate, pugs. Although those pugs on the show are professional, so they weren’t as affectionate because they were always working. But my unprofessional dogs at home are just so loving and so soft and don’t need any exercise, for the most part. It’s also a nice reflection of, you know, when you think, “What am I like?” And I hope I’m like this. I hope I’m slightly adorable and useless.