Magic Barrel’s 20th Anniversary: Fundraising Through Literature

foodshareflyerThe Magic Barrel returns to the Whiteside theater Friday, October 25th, for its 20th installment of local and nationally known writers reading their work on stage. The Barrel event raises money for the Linn Benton Food Share, which has been feeding those in need in the two counties for over 30 years.

I had a chance to speak with one of the event’s organizers, Gregg Kleiner, about the night of entertainment and giving. He’s a journalist and author of the acclaimed novel Where River Turns to Sky. He has been a part of the steering committee for the event for over 10 years, read his own work in past years and even emceed the event a few times.

“We have a mix of writers–poetry, fiction & non-fiction. Each one reads for about 9 minutes, so if you don’t like something, just wait a few minutes, and it will change.” Kleiner continues, “If Ken Kesey were still alive, we’d have him too.”

The writers are an eclectic mix of Oregon’s own and out of towners.

Among them is Portland’s Matthew Dickman, who along with his twin brother Michael, is a nationally renowned poet. His work has appeared in the likes of Tin House, The American Poetry Review, McSweeney’s, Esquire and The New Yorker.

Also reading poetry will be poet/photographer Henry Hughes, winner of the 2004 Oregon Book Award for his poetry collection, Men Holding Eggs. He also writes commentary for Harvard Review.

In the non-fiction aisle, we have Corvallis’ own Elena Passarello, an OSU faculty member and award winning essayist. Her essays appear in Slate and Oxford American among others.

There’s also Lauren Kessler, best selling author of narrative non-fiction pieces including the Oregon Book Award winning Stubborn Twig.

Some novelists are in the bunch, including Wendy Madar. She’s an OSU faculty member in addition to writing mystery novels and non fiction work as well. Her Jeneva Leopold mysteries, which take place in Oregon, have been very successful. The third installment, Gripper, is due to come out later this year.

“I’m most excited about this year’s emcee,“ says Kleiner.

He’s referring to Barry Lopez, the National Book Award winning author and essayist. He’s one of Oregon’s most celebrated authors.

“But it’s always about hunger relief,” he adds.

Magic Barrel started out as a part of Writer’s Harvest, which raised money to fight hunger on a more national level. After two years, it was decided that they wanted to do something for Corvallis and the surrounding area, which according to the Oregon Food Bank had nearly 1 in 5 people facing “food insecurity.”

Over the years, the event has evolved with changing readers and styles. There have been children’s book authors (there is this year as well), there have been multimedia presentations (none of that this year, according to Kleiner).

They’re asking for a little more this year than last year’s ticket price of $7. The event has a suggested donation of $9, this year.

“But nobody will be turned away for lack of funds,” says Kleiner.

The donation money they’ve brought in has increased sharply in the last few years; in 2012 they brought in more than double what they did in 2010 for the Food Share.

In addition to the writers reading their work, there’s blues by Plaehn & Hino (starting at 6:30) and a silent auction of a Yuji Hiratsuka intaglio print called Fruit Handlers. Hiratsuka is a world famous print artist and OSU professor.

Along with the entry fees, all of that goes entirely to the Food Share. So it is to be hoped that 2013 will be their biggest year yet in terms of actual donation money.

“There are 800 seats at the Whiteside, and we plan to fill them,” says Kleiner.

by Ygal Kaufman