La Rambla Stage Special Guest Speakers – with Steve Piacente and music by Eli August

2020 Special Guest speakers – Michael Dirda, Verlyn Flieger, Ethelbert Miller, Daniel Glavin, Wendy Swallow, Marti Gironell, and Dr Cynthia Jacobs Carter … with music by Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings

Master of Ceremonies Steve Piacente

Please scroll down for more information on each presentation

Special Guests – Michael Dirda & Verlyn Flieger J.R.R. Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy

Special Guest – E. Ethelbert MillerIf God Invented Baseball: Poems

Special Guest – Dr. Daniel “Danny” GlavinFrozen in Time: Hunting Meteorites in Antarctica for Signs of Life 

Special Guest – Marti GironellStars in His Eyes – (In partnership with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage)

Special Guest – Wendy SwallowSearching for Nora: After the Doll’s House

Special Guest – Dr. Cynthia Jacobs CarterFreedom In My Heart: Voices From The United States National Slavery Museum


La Rambla Stage Master of Ceremonies – Steve Piacente

Life coach and former journalist Steve Piacente is the award-winning author of three novels, Pretender, Bella and Bootlicker. Steve, the owner of Next Phase Life Coaching, is also Director of Training at The Communication Center in Washington, D.C., and an associate professor at American University. After journalism, he spent ten years as a speechwriter and communications manager in the federal government. Steve holds a B.A. in Communications from American and a Masters in Fiction from Johns Hopkins University. In 2019, Steve published his first non-fiction book: Your New Fighting Stance: Good Enough Isn’t, and You Know It!


J.R.R. Tolkien and the Roots of Modern Fantasy

Presented by Michael Dirda and Verlyn Flieger

When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, back in mid-twentieth century, the genre of fantasy as it appears in bookstores today did not exist. Without intending to, Tolkien started the trend, spawned a host of imitators, and is still unsurpassed.  But what exactly did he do, how did he do it, how does he stack up against the inheritors of his legacy, and what came before him?  His word for it was Faërie, which means more than it looks like.  It describes both his method and his product.  The actual ratio of fantastic to realistic in his work is less than you might suppose.   

Michael Dirda is a longtime  book columnist for The Washington Post and the author, most recently, of the Edgar Award-winning On Conan Doyle and  Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books.  He is at work on an appreciation of late 19th and early 20th-century popular fiction in Britain, tentatively titled The Great Age of Storytelling.

Verlyn Flieger is Professor Emerita in the Department of English at the University of Maryland, where for 36 years she taught courses in Tolkien, Medieval Literature, and Comparative Mythology. She is the author of five critical books on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien. She edited the Extended edition of Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major. With Carl Hostetter she edited Tolkien’s Legendarium: Essays on The History of Middle-earth, and with Douglas A. Anderson she edited the Expanded Edition of Tolkien On Fairy-Stories. With Michael Drout and David Bratman she is a co-editor of the yearly journal Tolkien Studies. She has also published two fantasy novels, an Arthurian novella, and short stories.


If God Invented Baseball: Poems by E. Ethelbert Miller

2019 Literary Award for poetry by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.

If God Invented Baseball is a complete game of baseball poems, a full nine innings pitched by a “master twirler,” whose complete arsenal includes fastballs, curves and change-ups, and the occasional knuckler, to keep readers swinging for the fences, his full artistry on display.

Ethelbert Miller’s work captures the enjoyment of the game from childhood to old age. Baseball fans will place this book next to their scorecards, peanuts and beer. Poetry readers will equally be delighted.

If God Invented Baseball is a book for the ballpark and the home.

photo © Rick Reinhard 2017

E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs and several books of poetry including The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller, a comprehensive collection that represents over 40 years of his work. For 17 years Miller served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. His poetry has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. Miller is a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow to Israel. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College and has taught at several universities.

Miller is host of the weekly WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and host and producer of The Scholars on UDC-TV. In recent years, Miller has been inducted into the 2015 Washington DC Hall of Fame and awarded the 2016 AWP George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature and the 2016 DCMayor’s Arts Award for Distinguished Honor. In 2018, he was inducted into Gamma Xi Phi and appointed as an ambassador for the Authors Guild. Miller’s most recent book If God Invented Baseball, published by City Point Press, was awarded the 2019 Literary Award for poetry by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.


Frozen in Time: Hunting Meteorites in Antarctica for Signs of Life

Frozen in Time: Hunting Meteorites in Antarctica for Signs of Life is the coming of age story of now world-renowned astrobiologist Dr. Daniel “Danny” Glavin who spent six weeks as a meteorite hunter in Antarctica as a member of the 2002-2003 Antarctic Search for Meteorites Team. The twelve-member ANSMET team recovered near record numbers of meteorites during their season.
While risking his life to survive the extreme, isolated and relentless Antarctic environment on a daily basis, doggedly searching for meteorites, Glavin also battled his own inner demons and searched his soul. He discovered himself and, in a surprising twist, what he truly wanted to do with his life. 
The authors make the science come alive in an easily understandable and enjoyable way. The meteorites themselves as well as the science become likeable and relatable characters with story arcs through clear, honest and often humorous writing.
Frozen in Time is a modern, true adventure story that hones in on what is most important in surviving not only Antarctica, but life itself.

Dr. Daniel “Danny” Glavin is a world-renowned astrobiologist who serves as Associate Director for Science at NASA’s Goddard’s Solar System Exploration Division. Frozen in Time: Hunting Meteorites in Antarctica for Signs of Life is his coming of age story. For the book, Glavin spent six weeks as a meteorite hunter in Antarctica as a member of the 2002-2003 Antarctic Search for Meteorites Team. Glavin earned a Bachelor’s Degree in physics from the University of California at San Diego in 1996 and a Ph.D. in earth sciences from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2001. In 2003, Glavin joined the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. where he co-founded the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory. He lives with his wife and two
children in Maryland.


Searching for Nora: After the Doll’s House 

At the end of Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House, Nora Helmer walks away from her family and comfortable life. It is 1879, late on a winter’s night in Norway. She’s alone, with little money and few legal rights. Guided by instinct and sustained by will, Nora sets off on a journey that impoverishes and radicalizes her, then strands her on the harsh Minnesota prairie. She’s searching for love, purpose, and her true self, but struggles to be honest in a hostile world.

Meanwhile, in 1918, a young university student tries to escape her family’s bourgeois conformity as she unravels her grandfather’s hidden shame and the fate of a shadowy feminist who vanished years earlier.

With this inventive work of historical fiction, Swallow answers the question whatever happened to Nora Helmer? Masterfully crafted and painstakingly researched, the twin story lines of Searching for Nora combine to tell a powerful tale of redemption as they unfold over four decades in the fjords of Norway and the unforgiving American frontier.


Wendy Swallow is an author and American University Professor Emerita. Her historical novel tells the story of what happens after Nora Helmer walks out on her husband at the end of Henrik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House. Swallow, who now lives in Reno, Nevada and Cape Cod, spent her career in Washington, D.C., including six years as a financial reporter for The Washington Post. She also lived in Kensington for six years. Swallow is also the author of two non-fiction books: Breaking Apart: A Memoir of Divorce, and The Triumph of Love Over Experience: A Memoir of Remarriage.


Stars in His Eyes – Reaching for the stars in Your eyes

Winner of the 2018 Ramon Llull Award

Based on the life of Jean Leon, famous restaurateur to Hollywood stars, presidents, and famous people, Stars in His Eyes is a story of dreams and success. Gironell will speak on reaching for your dreams through hard work, believing in yourself, and the importance of friendships. Touching on the Golden Age of Hollywood, the film industry of the past mid-century, and the world of fine wines and vineyards, Gironell weaves these themes through a story that is just as relevant today.

Martí Gironell i Gamero (Besalú, 1971) is a journalist and writer. His debut, The Bridge of the Jews, is the biggest bestselling historical novel ever written by a Catalan author and has sold over 100.000 copies. He’s written several novels set in different periods of Catalan history featuring universal protagonists. He currently works at the Catalan national television TV3 and writes for the newspaper El Punt Avui. He is considered a master of the historical commercial genre and his novels have brought renewed interest and fame to forgotten yet fascinating figures of Southern Europe’s history.


Freedom In My Heart: Voices From The United States National Slavery Museum

 Nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Nonfiction

This richly illustrated companion volume uses the remarkable artifacts, images, and documents of the United States National Slavery Museum to trace the entire history of slavery in North America, from the societies of ancient Africa to the repercussions still faced by Americans today—and to celebrate the perseverance and ultimate triumph of a people. Freedom in My Heart goes beyond the textbooks to call forth the unique voices, personal stories, and cultural contributions of slaves and their descendants, demonstrating how enslaved African Americans remained free at heart to develop a vibrant culture in the face of unspeakable inhumanity.

Dr. Cynthia Jacobs Carter is the Senior Advancement Officer at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She leads the Museum’s Planned Giving efforts. These efforts include helping to build an endowment for the Smithsonian’s newest museum, which is located on the National Mall.

She most recently served at the Smithsonian at as Chief Development Officer in the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Prior to that, she served at Africare as Chief Development/External Affairs Officer. Other positions were held at Africare, InterAction, Howard University, and at The George Washington University. Dr. Carter has taught at Georgetown University and at The George Washington University, both in Africana Women’s Studies. She is a National Geographic author of two books: Freedom In My Heart, and Africana Woman.


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