In 2008, Susan Hayden’s husband and creative partner, actor and writer Christopher Allport, died in a skiing accident, leaving her to raise their 11-year-old son. Looking for a place to heal and find a sense of belonging and to connect with others, the writer-performer-impressario created Library Girl, the monthly spoken-word performance/salon, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The imputus came from two friends, John Ruskin and Mike Myers, who run the Ruskin Group Theatre by Santa Monica Airport, and the name for the show came from Hayden’s son, Mason Summit. The first time he saw his mother wearing glasses, he called her “Library Girl” and “Bookworm Beauty.”
Hayden told the Journal she always saw Library Girl as a gathering. “It’s a place for community,” she said. “It’s a place to hear people reading from their own work. People love to come and connect.”
It’s also a family affair. Her son, a singer-songwriter who has released four albums, opens every show with his new material. Each show is based around a theme — usually a lyric or song title. Other nights are tributes or memorials to writers Hayden admires — Sam Shepard, Eudora Welty, Charles Bukowski — or dedicated to local small presses. These are of particular importance to Hayden because, she said, it gives lesser-known authors a “place to be heard, sell their books and get exposed to a new audience.”
Authors are free to read whatever they wish and she doesn’t check the work beforehand. There are only two rules: Each author is limited to seven minutes, and they can’t read off a phone or a tablet. “Library Girl is the opposite of technology,” Hayden said. “The idea is to get away from a screen for a little while and connect with other people.” She compares it to the idea of Shabbat as a time to disconnect from the world and focus on community. The monthly show “is not unlike a congregation at a temple desirous of ritual and gathering as a way to find meaning.”
It’s something she picked up from her family, growing up in Encino in a kosher home and as members of Valley Beth Shalom synagogue. Hayden went to Hebrew school three times a week and spoke fluent Hebrew but found the Conservative congregation a little too constraining. “I couldn’t find my place at the temple, or the connection I was seeking,” she said. She quit as she was heading into the home stretch of her bat mitzvah training.
Her father was devastated, Hayden said, but recognized she was becoming her own person. She didn’t turn completely away from Judaism, spending summers at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, where the observance was more to her liking. “It felt like Judaism-lite. There was a guitarist and on Shabbat everyone wore white and held candles. It was beautiful.”
She also spent time as a teenager at the Jewish Community Center in North Hollywood. Even so, she said, “I’m more of a cultural Jew. I’m grateful for having been raised Jewish and have a greater understanding of it now.”
She also embodies the idea of tikkun olam. She makes no money producing her shows. Every dollar she takes in is donated to the theater.
With Library Girl’s 10th anniversary, Hayden is proud of the community she’s created. “We’re all looking for a place to belong,” she said, noting that Library Girl is “a place where people come to connect and hear each other’s stories.”
Library Girl is held the second Sunday of every month at Ruskin Group Theatre Co., 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. For more information, visit her website.