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Because Even Our Libraries Are Cool: Shepard Fairey Joins LA's Young Literati In Supporting the LAPL

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Photo courtesy Studio Number One
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If you thought the only Intelligentsia in LA was a hipster coffeehouse, think again. Meet the Young Literati. They’re a group of public library supporters on a cultural crusade to establish Los Angeles as the intellectual and literary city it deserves to be. Comprised of young professionals in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, the Young Literati are convinced that fostering a community dedicated to culture and the arts lies entirely in the fate of the Los Angeles Public Library. With the recent approval of library funding via Measure L, and with legendary artist Shepard Fairey as their 2011 honorary chair, it seems the Young Literati are embarking on their most ambitious and optimistic year yet.

So who, exactly, are the Young Literati? They’re a philanthropic group of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, who are determined to establish the LAPL as the cultural epicenter of LA. And this year, the honorary chair of the Young Literati is Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the OBEY Giant stencil and the iconic HOPE poster of the Obama presidential campaign. Young Literati Director Justin Veach describes the group as “the vanguard of the Library Foundation’s mission to raise awareness and support for the Los Angeles Public Library.” According to their website, becoming a member of LA’s Young Literati “is to join a group of engaged and informed Angelenos…who believe in and celebrate the principles that public libraries stand for—free and equal access, regardless of race, class, gender or sexual preference, to information and ideas that challenge and inspire towards a more informed, engaged, and democratic community.” An annual fee grants group members access to a variety of cultural happenings including the YL annual Toast featuring Shepard Fairey, cocktail parties with world-class authors, artists, actors, and scholars, and many other YL events throughout the city. In addition, members receive discounts on library events, offers, and merchandise. But regardless of the perks, the Young Literati remain steadfast in their support of the LAPL. And rightfully so: libraries are often at the core of thriving intellectual and literary communities.

The origins of what was, arguably, the most famous literati of the 20th century can be traced back to 1919 when a New Jersey woman named Sylvia Beach opened the first English lending library and bookstore in Paris; the now legendary Shakespeare & Company. The space quickly became the central meeting ground for WWI ex-pat authors, writers, bibliophiles, and world-renowned literati including Hemingway, Stein, Eliot, Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Pound. Shakespeare & Company hosted author readings, showcased local work, and encouraged lively cultural and literary debate. It was, above all else, a place where literature lovers could congregate, share ideas, and garner genuine peer support (in fact, it was Beach who first published James Joyce’s Ulysees when no one else would).

While the comparison of LA’s literary culture to that of 1920s Paris may seem far-fetched, it might not be entirely outlandish. Thanks to the movie industry, several top writing programs, and generally appealing weather conditions, some of the world’s finest authors call Los Angeles home. By bolstering our public library with a confluence of local authors, writers and booklovers, our city could easily achieve the literary renown attributed to the so-called ‘lettered’ cities like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago—cities that notoriously take pride in their own public libraries. So then, shouldn’t the LAPL be especially vital in strengthening the less-publicized literary identity of Los Angeles?

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The Library Foundation’s Young Literati certainly think so. Merely a month ago, the fate of LA’s public library was put precariously on trial. Thankfully, Angelenos passed Measure L to secure funding for our city’s libraries—but even so, Measure L is just one step toward securing the LAPL as an integral and invaluable part of Los Angeles. Donor groups in support of LA’s public libraries are essential to maintaining one of the oldest and most important institutions in the country, which is why LA’s Young Literati continue to promote and support the cultural importance of our city’s public library, despite shifting political climates. But in lieu of the LAPL’s recent public attention, the Young Literati are likely to welcome many new members this year. And now with Shepard Fairey on board, perhaps a bona fide LA literary revolution might not be too far off—of course, you’ll have to make a trip to the library to find it.

Support the Los Angeles Public Library! For more information, visit the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Young Literati website.