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Authors Read for Homeless

West, Smiley, Gordimer Join in Benefit at Sanders Theater

By M. ALLISON Arwady

Nearly 1000 people filled Sanders Theater last night to listen to three famous authors who read from or discussed their works at an annual benefit for the homeless.

Cornel West '73, professor of Afro-American studies and professor of the philosophy of religion, Jane Smiley and Nadine Gordimer high-lighted "Voices Louder Than Words," a two-and-a-half hour event sponsored by a group of Boston book-sellers.

Audience members donated $10 to hear the authors read from their works. For another $40, patrons could attend a post-event reception at the Harvard Faculty Club. All of the profits were donated to shelters around the Boston area to fight homelessness and illiteracy, according to Gates.

The evening was hosted by DuBois Professor of Humanities Henry Louis Gates, Jr., James Carroll, Jill McCorkle and Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus John Kenneth Galbraith, who introduced the speakers.

"It was an incredible opportunity to hear so many people with such a command of words," said Annie Baehr, a Winchester resident, following the meeting.

"What we heard were voices fighting injustice [and for] social change and democracy," said Maggie D. Russell, also a Winchester resident.

West, the author of Race Matters, a 1993 New York Times best seller, spoke of racial and social inequality and the challenges of democracy, rather than reading from his book. He urged the audience to "try to imagine what it's like to be in [homeless people's] shoes and in their skin."

"Everyday people are often characterized as weeds, bacteria, rain-drops," West said, and society "sees them as problem people, not people with problems."

Smiley, the author of eight books, won a Pulitzer Prize for A Thousand Acres. She discussed the ugliness of monocultures and read a chapter from her forthcoming book, Moo.

"I felt a little of an outsider, a hick, getting on the plane in Des Moines, Iowa, and arriving in Boston where all the bookstores are," she said. "I come from a town where there's no cafe latte."

Gordimer, originally from South Africa, discussed the problem of homelessness as a world challenge, saying homelessness is "part of our common humanity."

She also read sections from her book None to Accompany Me.

Although some audience members criticized the event's length, audience members gave a standing ovation, and most reactions were positive.

"It was fantastic. I liked the original purpose of it, raising money to help children and attack illiteracy," said Kathy A. Tamulis, who is working toward a master's in social work at Boston College. "The choice of authors helped to support that."

"Cornel West was amazing, really moving," said Jennifer L. Buckley, a Colgate senior. "But it was a little long. It was hard to sit still for that long."

"I thought time flew," said organizer Laura Zimmerman of New Words Bookstore. "I was mesmerized."

The benefit was a success, according to Zimmerman. "The first year we had Stephen King," she said. "But we were really happy with the turnout this year."

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