Fifteen years after launching Writers Bloc, a literary program in Los Angeles that embraces pop culture and politics in a series of conversations between authors and guest interviewers, Andrea Grossman has played host to hundreds of writers as varied as David Foster Wallace, Steve Martin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ruth Rendell, Al Gore, and Mel Brooks.
Grossman, whose background is in film and television marketing and copyediting, is an ardent bibliophile. "L.A. is deeply engaged in the literary culture, and the fact is that people want to see authors to connect with them, especially in intimate live settings," she explains. Writers Bloc events are usually held in either the Writer's Guild of America auditorium or the Saban Theatre, both in Beverly Hills, and tickets are $20. "It's important to me that the series be accessible to everyone," Grossman says.
"I love good books, and I love reading," she says, "and frankly I only host authors whose stories I like and find compelling." Past Writers Bloc events include the pairing of Martin Amis interviewed by Elmore Leonard, Jane Smiley with Michael Feldman, Betty White with Carl Reiner, P.D. James with William Link, Wendy Wasserstein with Jamie Lee Curtis.
As a nonprofit, Writers Bloc doesn't receive any corporate support and relies exclusively on ticket sales to cover expenses. Grossman occasionally teams with Los Angeles magazine for cross-marketing purposes, and the magazine sometimes pays the cost of putting authors up in hotels during their stay for Writers Bloc events. The WGA theater gives Grossman a discount on its theater rental. "I've looked for funding and sponsors in the past," she says, "but the offers have been too restrictive. I don't want any interference in my programming."
Grossman freely admits that her political and cultural leanings dictate the Writers Bloc programs. "From 2000 to 2008 I didn't host many Republicans. I primarily cater to a more liberal, progressive market," she says. One of her most memorable events was with George Carlin, who recounted a painful event in his teens as he waited for his idol, Danny Kaye, at the stage door of the theater where he was performing. "As Carlin told the story, he choked up, remembering how rudely Kaye behaved toward him," Grossman says. "His disappointment was profound, and by the end of the story Carlin was crying. You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium—it was a revelatory moment."
Grossman teams with local independent booksellers to sell books at all events. An evening with Robert Kennedy Jr., who was interviewed by Bill Maher, generated a buying frenzy for Kennedy's Crimes Against Nature. "We had over 1,100 people there," she recalls. "Generally, my audience is too well educated and too professional to misbehave, but when we were down to the last few books that night women started waving cash in the air, essentially bidding on the last copies. It was incredible." The June 28 interview by filmmaker Bob Weide of Albert Brooks about his new book, 2030, was sold out and closed Writers Bloc's 15th year. Grossman's next season includes Stephen Greenblatt with Eric Idle while Penn Jillette, Calvin Trillin, Chris Matthews, Tom Brokaw, and Russell Banks are also set to appear. "I'm optimistic that authors will still come here despite the changing formats of books," says Grossman. "I essentially started doing this to get Elmore Leonard, John le Carré, and Philip Roth. I'm still waiting for Roth. If he ever comes to Writers Bloc, I can say, ‘Mission accomplished.'"