Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 16, 2011

A neighborhood literary salon engages women

The Peninsula Parlour brings residents, writers together in an intimate setting

by Sue Dremann

Once every three months, words tumble through the doorway at Lisen Stromberg's Old Palo Alto home as a local woman writer discusses her work. More than 30 visitors gather in a setting akin to an 18th-century French literary and philosophical salon, sipping on wine and munching on appetizers.

Stromberg digs deeply during an interview that follows a brief reading from the author's latest work, mining in detail the writer's process and influences.

This space — The Peninsula Parlour — is a gathering place for lovers of the written word. Each meeting brings writers and their audience face to face in a way not experienced in lecture halls and bookstore readings, she said.

In Stromberg's living room, attendees and author bond.

"There are not many opportunities to really connect with authors and writers. It's a special relationship when a reader has the opportunity to understand the author's process in creating their work — not just in terms of character development or story development but in terms of the actual process of the written word, the journey from beginning to end," she said.

"There is such a rich literary community around here; it's not hard to find authors who are wonderful to read and exciting to hear and meet," she said.

Stromberg started The Peninsula Parlour last December as a way to raise funds for her children's school (she donated the cost of admission). The events drew neighbors, friends and many people whom she did not know, brought to her home by word of mouth, she said.

The Peninsula Parlour is not a writers' group.

"It's not intended to be anything more than welcoming," Stromberg said.

Guest writers have included renowned author Cornelia Nixon; award-winning filmmaker and novelist Holly Payne; Mills College Distinguished Visiting Writer and PEN award winner Faith Adiele; and Stanford instructor and Wallace Stegner Fellow Malena Watrous. Next Tuesday (Sept. 20) from 7 to 9 p.m., author Carol Edgarian will read from her latest work, "The Three Stages of Amazement."

Proceeds from a $20 door charge go to the charity or cause of the writer's choice, and Books, Inc. in Palo Alto donates 10 percent of the author's book sales on the day of the event, she said.

Adiele's proceeds went to the National V-Day Organization, a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. The 49ers Academy will be the beneficiary during Palo Alto author Maria Murnane's Jan. 4, 2012, reading, Stromberg said.

Building community and neighborhood connections are goals of the parlour and are reflected in her own writing, Stromberg said. Her essays have been published in Newsweek and Salon.com, among other publications.

"When a writer can help you connect to your soul, when a writer can help you feel less alone, if a writer can make you feel known, then that is the gift of a writer," she said.

Stromberg turned to writing several years ago and is working on her first novel. It's about a woman who is on bed rest and who is coming to terms with her choices in life.

"I've never been happier," she said of her own decision to become a writer.

She said she is not opposed to inviting male authors but has focused on women because "the system is structured to support men authors."

In the 17th and 18th centuries salons became the universities of sorts for women, especially in France, according to historian Evelyn Gordon Bodek. Women had no power or influence in society outside of the salon.

Female literary gatherings began in 16th-century Italy; ladies in France soon followed suit, reclining on their beds in the 17th century. Friends surrounded the bed on stools engaging in intellectual conversations, historians note.

Attendees and writers at The Peninsula Parlour might today have more powerful, worldly roles than their earlier counterparts — Stromberg, a mother of three, is a former businesswoman with an MBA in marketing — but the exchange of ideas is no less invigorating.

"Each event is different. It's a really wonderful, almost elastic, changeable experience," Stromberg said.

Information is available at peninsulaparlour.com.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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