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Amy Wilentz  

Award-winning Reporter and Expert on Haiti.

Amy Wilentz is the author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (1989), Martyrs' Crossing (2000), and I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger (2006). She is the winner of the Whiting Writers Award, the PEN Martha Albrand Non-Fiction Award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Rosenthal Award, and also a 1990 nominee for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Wilentz has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Time, Time magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones, Harper’s, Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, The San Francisco Chronicle, More, The Village Voice, The London Review of Books and many other publications. She is the former Jerusalem correspondent of The New Yorker and a long-time contributing editor at The Nation. She teaches in the Literary Journalism program at the University of California at Irvine, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three sons.

Wilentz tells entertaining anecdotes about following Arnold Schwarzenegger on the campaign trail. She talks about fleeing New York after September 11th only to discover new chaos and catastrophe in Southern California. The Hollywood political scene is one of her favorite targets, and she dissects it with compassion and humor. She understands the West Coast's Obama fervor, and provides a fly-on-the- wall view of various Hollywood political salons of different persuasions.

With wry humor, Wilentz talks about having babies and raising young sons amid the chaos and tragedy of the "peace process" in the Middle East. She talks about crossing checkpoints and how life is lived on both sides of the line, on both sides of the Wall. She does a segment on why in his final weeks, Yassir Arafat was wearing guestroom slippers from an Israeli hotel; and on how Sheikh Yassin, the eminence grise of Hamas until his assassination by Israel several years ago, became a paraplegic by turning handstands on the beach at Ashkelon as a teenager. Eloquent on all fronts, she speaks about the fates of all of those concerned -- the Rachel Corries, the Muhammad al-Duras, and the Gilad Shalits -- with empathy and understanding.

This is Wilentz's talk on her travel/political writings. The general theme is how to make places most Americans will never visit come alive for them, and why that's politically and culturally important. Along the way, she makes broad, trenchant cultural analogies: she compares, for example, the look and feel of Israeli settlements on the West Bank with that of the gated cliffside developments that overlook the Pacific near Santa Monica. With personal anecdote, she discusses what it's like to meet torturers and terrorists, heroes and samaritans, in Haiti, Jerusalem, Senegal and Liberia. She talks about the role of voodoo in Haiti and of the mysterious Baye Fall cult in Senegambia, and how China is becoming the new power to hate in Africa. A sweeping but funny talk about travel writing and the Third World.

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