iPod, iPad, iWrite

They weren't all there for the cake, though the cake -- emblazoned with the names of famous writers -- was lovely. No, Coffman Theater at the University of Minnesota was packed beyond capacity on Tuesday night for Zadie Smith, author of "White Teeth" and "NW," who spoke eloquently and at length about why we write. "There are few things that make you feel more ridiculous than sitting down in front of the computer to write a novel," she said -- except, she noted, sitting down in front of the computer to write a poem. "Saying, 'I am a poet' is like saying, 'I like gas lamps,' or 'I'm the town crier.'" The best-selling Brit talked about where writers and writing belong in this new world of the Internet, iPads and iPods. In a world where everyone is a writer online, she said, "who will notice all this care you take with your sentences?" The audience listened raptly. And then there was cake.


Trophy lives

They already know that they've won the Country Music Association Award for major-market personality of the year because Brad Paisley called on the air to tell K102's Wakeup Crew of Donna Valentine and Mike "Muss" Mussman. Next, they had to figure out what to wear to Country's Biggest Night next Thursday in Nashville. "I tried on 58 or 59 dresses," Valentine told I.W. "I bought seven and returned six. I put on a fashion show for a couple of friends." She said Muss is consulting with Laura Schara, former longtime fashionista for Macy's Glamorama. Now that Valentine has resolved her fashion issues, a more pressing question is, since the award is "personality of the year," will she and Muss each get a trophy? "I'm sure Rascal Flatts don't share one," she said.


Inherit the art

With whoops and hollers, art fans raised more than $90,000 for Highpoint Center for Printmaking at a gala auction of just 15 items Saturday night. Minneapolis auctioneer Glen Fladeboe cheerfully harangued the crowd into bidding high by warning "It's not good for the kids to inherit too much money." Film producer Elizabeth Redleaf paid $11,500 for the top lot, a stitched-and-painted abstraction by New York artist Carter. Items by Minneapolis College of Art and Design grads Santiago Cucullu, Carolyn Swiszcz, David Rathman, Todd Norsten and Rob Fischer all hit or topped their listed values. When one piece fetched $1,000 over its list price, Fladeboe announced: "That is proof that the recession is over."


Best in class

While Justin Bieber was causing a commotion at Target Center Saturday night, another group of tweens thronged the lobby of the nearby Cowles Center to get photos and autographs from Alarmel Valli. The celebrated Indian dancer performed for more than two hours. "See the music, hear the dance," she said, explaining her philosophy, as local dancers Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy nodded approvingly in the audience. The Ramaswamys, who've built Ragamala dance troupe in Minneapolis over 20 years, view Valli as their guru. Valli recalled her first teaching visit here some 30 years ago: Aparna was just 9 at the time but even then, she was the best in the class.


Play date for '8'

The West Coast premiere of the play "8" featured such Hollywood heavies as Brad Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Martin Sheen and George Clooney. When the play, by award-winning writer Dustin Lance Black ("Milk," "J. Edgar"), is given a staged reading in Minneapolis, it will feature more than 20 well-known local actors, including Don Shelby, Tod Petersen, Linda Kelsey, Bob Davis, Sally Wingert and Beth Gilleland. Peter Rothstein will direct the one-night benefit reading of "8," which chronicles the 2010 trial in California that challenged that state's ban on gay marriage after a statewide ballot initiative known as Proposition 8. The reading Monday night at the Varsity Theater will benefit Minnesotans United for All Families, which is campaigning for a "no" vote on Minnesota's marriage amendment.


Absentee author

The lineup for the Minnesota Book Awards 25th anniversary party last Friday at Metro State U was stellar: Robert Bly, Charles Baxter, Kao Kalia Yang, Ed Bok Lee and Lorna Landvik were all scheduled to stand up and say a few words, but when the time came, Landvik was missing. As it turns out, she simply forgot. (And has been kicking herself ever since.) In a long apology she posted on her Facebook page the next morning, she wrote, "I can't tell you the names I called myself, but they were loud and not very nice. ... When my husband came home and I talked about what a stupid jerk I was, he looked at me with love and concern, and then nodded vigorously in agreement." Just goes to show you it's not just journalists who have trouble making deadlines.


The Southern rises again

After severe budget cuts in June 2011 and the elimination of most staff positions, a much-diminished Southern Theater is on the rise again. The West Bank Minneapolis venue, which used to have a $1.1 million budget, has released an annual report with with a $34,000 operating surplus and income of $152,463. The Southern served 38 artists and organizations in the 2012 fiscal year ending Aug. 31, including Ananya Dance Theatre, Pangea World Theatre and Live Action Set. The theater still has a $300,000 debt that it has to repay the McKnight Foundation. "We're in conversation about that," said general manager Damon Runnals, the only fulltime employee. "But I couldn't be happier with the amount of community support we have from artists -- we're booked out through December of 2013 with only a handful of dates open. We didn't have to turn into a roadhouse or go dark."