Writing Matters buys books for Hephzibah kids

Elizabeth Berg uses author series to raise money for Hephzibah

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By Ashley Lisenby

Digital Editor

Oak Park resident and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg has a great appreciation for writers, books and reading — so much so that earlier this year she channeled that passion into a series, Writing Matters, which not only showcases writers but also attempts to foster a love of reading in local children.

"We wanted to use these events as a way to give back, so we donate our proceeds to buy books for children who would not otherwise have them," Berg said in an email Monday. 

Proceeds from the first Writing Matters event went to an inner-city school library, Berg said. Money from the second event went to Hephzibah Children's Association, a non-profit dedicated to the needs of abused or neglected youth. A third author appearance is scheduled for Dec. 13 in the Hemingway Museum of the Oak Park Arts Center.

Berg visited Hephzibah recently and asked children what books they enjoyed. One boy said he liked Goosebumps books. On her next visit she brought children's science fiction writer R.L. Stine with her to talk to the young readers and sign a copy of his book for the enthusiastic Goosebumps fan.

"We're delighted," said Executive Director Mary Anne Brown about the partnership with Berg, "because reading is so fundamental to our children's development."

With donations from Writing Matters, each child at Hephzibah can go to Magic Tree Bookstore to pick out a book, Brown said. 

"It is so delightful that [the children] get to sit at a bookstore and are able to pick out their favorite book," she added. "And it's their book to keep. We put their names in them."

Between the two Writing Matters events Berg said the series has donated $740. 

"We don't have a specific goal in mind other than donating all the proceeds from our event to the cause of buying books for children."

For now, Writing Matters donations will continue to go to Hephzibah.

The next Writing Matters event is Saturday Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. At the Oak Park Arts Center, 200 N. Oak Park Ave. Admission is $10. 

Three questions with Elizabeth Berg

How did Writing Matters start?

I believe strongly in the worth of books, reading and writing, and conceived of Writing Matters as a way to elevate book signings into a real evening out. I choose to profile authors who are deserving of more attention than they get: the best author you might never have heard of, you might say. We feature a great writer, a "kid reader," as we call it (a younger child chosen to read an essay about why he or she loves books), and a reading, [plus] good food that links somehow to whatever author we're featuring, wine, fresh flowers, and a convivial and joyful atmosphere. We also commonly offer a little surprise or two. We want people to feel like they never know what they're going to get — but that it will be great!

I've been reading "Brewster" by Mark Slouka (and I'm really enjoying it). Why did you choose this novel for the next Writing Matters event?

I didn't choose the novel, I chose the author. Our events don't focus on a single book, but rather on the body of work of whatever author we host. Brewster happens to be the latest (award-winning) novel from Mark, a highly acclaimed and well-respected writer, who has many other wonderful books. 

When is the next Writing Matters event after this one?

The next author will be in March or April, and has yet to be determined. Our goal is to have four writers a year, in spring, summer, fall and winter.

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