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September 2, 2015

National Book Festival Features Zero Members of Congress

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The 15th annual National Book Festival features the largest-ever contingent of writers (175) for Saturday’s literary shindig at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown D.C. And while there will be no shortage of political and policy tomes being hawked and talked about, there will be a noticeable absence from among the authors among us: members of Congress.

Full story

By Jason Dick Posted at 12:53 p.m.
Getting Lit-erary

July 13, 2015

Kids Book Club Podcast Is Washington Journalist’s Latest Venture

Kitty Felde has taken her broadcast skills to the podcast.

The freelance radio reporter — whose voice was known to both Southern California and national audiences as a public radio and television storyteller for decades — is moving into a new phase of her career that includes elements of the past. Full story

March 9, 2015

March 2, 2015

Issa Rae: A Relatable Star in the Making

Devoted fans gathered at the historic Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on a cold night recently to hear author — and YouTube sensation — Jo-Issa “Issa Rae” Diop discuss her new book, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.”

Throughout the evening of Feb. 24, Issa Rae displayed her trademark wry sense of humor while touching on a range of topics including her path to stardom, portrayals of black women in media and the challenges of writing such a candid collection of personal stories. Full story

February 13, 2015

David Carr’s Raspy Voice Lives On in ‘Page One’ and ‘Night of the Gun’

For those still processing David Carr’s sudden death, The New York Times scribe lives on in two great works he left behind, the 2011 documentary “Page One: Inside the New York Times” and Carr’s memoir, “Night of the Gun.” Full story

February 5, 2015

The Interpretation of Marco Rubio’s ‘American Dreams’

Rubio has a new book, "American Dreams." (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rubio has a new book, “American Dreams.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

My fellow Americans,

No three words better capture the spirit of my plan to revive the American dream than “my fellow Americans,” suggestive as those words are of the opening of an inaugural address. As I imagine myself looking down the National Mall at the sea of hopeful faces, eloquently holding forth on the American dream, I hear myself moving on to modestly recall the sacrifices of early Marco Rubios that brought me to this pinnacle of dreaming.

I want all Americans to have a part in my dream. Many of our citizens risk missing out. We are failing them. They deserve better from their government, institutions and elected representatives. For 40 years, government has been getting in the way, stifling talent and frustrating ambition. The blame falls across the political spectrum, on Democrats and liberals. Full story

January 7, 2015

Random Awesome Passages From Rep. Steve Israel’s ‘The Global War on Morris’

The budding writer. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The budding writer. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., rolls out his book tour for his satirical novel “The Global War on Morris,” Roll Call After Dark makes note of some of the book’s passages, in a random and hopefully entertaining manner.

  • “Refined social graces are imperative in the moments before skulking into a motel room for some primitive grunting. It lends a certain air of decorum.”
  • “And when she dropped her Long Island accent, and began pronouncing her Rs, it was a sign of formality.”
  • “Cheney felt his heart thumping.”
  • “In the Martyrs of Militancy safe house — also known as the Feldstein family condo in Boca — Hassan found a quiet room away from his comrades.”
  • “Caryn had to work that night, but didn’t mind. She considered her job an observation post, where she could collect material for her planned documentary on the economic plight of retail workers, tentatively titled ‘Mall Stall.’ Plus, the overtime was decent and she had a 401k.”

Want more? Israel reads from his novel at Politics and Prose at 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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October 2, 2014

Take a Trip Down Baseball Memory Lane

Things weren't always so merry with Washington baseball. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Things weren’t always so merry with Washington baseball. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As the Washington Nationals open the National League Division Series on Friday, their second post-season appearance in three years, it’s easy to forget Washington baseball teams have frequently sucked.

Fred Frommer, author of “You Gotta Have Heart:  A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National League East Champions,” never forgot. His book will make any Nat fan appreciate what they have now, and he’ll be discussing it at the National Archives on Friday at noon in the William G. McGowan Theater with his frequent discussion sidekick, former Senators announcer Phil Hochberg. It’s a nice way to prepare for the 3:07 p.m. game against the San Francisco Giants at Nationals Park.

Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney wrote about some of the Senators’ woeful ways in today’s Post. The upshot? To be a Senators fan back in the day, one had to have real guts. “In my childhood, the whole point of rooting for the Senators was to affirm one’s fortitude in the face of cellar-dwelling finishes. Show loyalty and optimism despite setbacks and disappointment. ‘We grew up not expecting much. That’s not a bad lesson for life,’ said Hank Thomas, 68, of Arlington, who cheered for the Senators as a child in the late 1950s,” McCartney writes.

And the first few seasons after the Montreal Expos moved here to become the Nationals were no picnic either. Remember when Nook Logan started in center field? It’s best not to.

If you can’t make it to the Archives, Fred and Phil will be live on YouTube.

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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September 23, 2014

A Plea to Reject ‘Brutal Imperial Arrogance’ in Wake of White House Breach


Recent security breaches shouldn't compromise basic civil rights, argues Philip Kennicott. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Recent security breaches shouldn’t compromise basic civil rights, argues Philip Kennicott. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One of the nation’s foremost architecture critics says Washington has already given up too much of its openness and beauty as a city and that the recent security lapse at the White House “is an institutional, organizational problem; it does not require an architectural solution.”

The argument that Philip Kennicott lays out in the Washington Post is not merely an aesthetic one, though. Rather, he notes that in cutting off access to the Supreme Court, the West Terrace of the Capitol and the White House in recent years, all in the name of security, the very pillars of representative democracy are being compromised. “The loss of public space and the intrusion of the security apparatus into daily life are not merely inconveniences. Among the most cherished symbols of democracy is openness, including direct access to our leaders. … It is not reasonable to ask a free people to continually submit to police control; doing so becomes ingrained, and when we freely submit to unreasonable searches, we lose the all-important reflexive distrust of authority that helps keep us free,” the Pulitzer Prize winning writer asserts.

Kennicott’s plea that the nation’s leaders think before stringing up barbed wire and more bollards is one that goes against the one-way trend of increasing levels of lockdown in the seat of government. Monday’s White House press briefing suggests the executive mansion’s staff is leaving things to the Secret Service, who were responsible for the breach in the first place, to decide. Kennicott reaches back to ancient Greece for his closing argument: “‘We throw open our city to the world,’ Pericles said in his Funeral Oration. We, alas, have become the descendants not of that fine and fundamental sentiment of democracy, but of the brutal imperial arrogance that corrupted the Athenian state in later years.”

If people, staffers, tourists, citizens alike, can’t literally see the beauty and good things around them in Washington, at the Supreme Court, at the Capitol, at the White House, should anyone be surprised there is distrust and disdain for the place?

Related Stories:

Congress Weighs in on White House Breach

Congress Takes Hands-Off Approach to Miriam Carey Shooting

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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September 11, 2014

‘Innovative State’ Builds Case for Acting Like Adults

In the middle of a political season, with members of Congress hunkering down amid the midterm election season, it’s refreshing to pick up a book — a policy book even! — that makes the case that it’s possible to work across party lines for the common good.

Aneesh Chopra, former chief technology officer for the United States and Virginia’s former secretary of technology, writes in his book “Innovative State” that the way to go beyond the management cliches of “working smarter” and “doing more with less” is to both keep in mind that innovation has defined basic human progress and good people usually come around to good ideas, whether it’s a non-spoils civil service or digital communication.

Another valuable lesson Chopra, a proud Democrat, offers is that it’s not necessary to trade in your party identification to work effectively across party lines. Ego is another thing, presenting perhaps the biggest challenge, but not an impossible one. As an example, he ends the book with anecdote about his talking to the Congressional Future Caucus at its inaugural event about one year ago. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., the co-chairs, prevail upon him to tell them more about “pragmatism and collaboration,” a sign that not everyone in Congress is interested in using their time in Washington to scorch the other side.

Another positive sign Chopra sees is that, despite some negative perceptions of government, the best and the brightest continue to want to work in public service. “Where it matters, on the recruiting front, I will say, it’s never been a better time to recruit people to try to solve the big problems. It’s an incredible group of people,” Chopra told CQ Roll Call, saying the quality of resumes you see for people lining up to work on Capitol Hill and the adminstration is an extremely hopeful sign and one of the first steps to having government “deliver world class service” to the people it represents.

Meanwhile, Gabbard and Schock are fast friends to this day. Another example to add to the list is a story from CQ Roll Call’s own Emma Dumain and Lauren Gardner, whose story in Thursday’s Roll Call details how Reps. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and David McKinley, R-W.Va., are working together on climate change, an issue that has cut along partisan lines for years. Along the Southern border, Reps. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and Steve Pearce, R-N.M., are working together, much to the chagrin of their leaders.

In the partisan garden, a few pragmatic weeds seem to be stubbornly clinging on.

Roll Call Book Club returns on Sept. 16 at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital with Aneesh Chopra to discuss his book. The free event starts at 6 p.m. at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE and includes a free book, beverages and snacks. To register, go to our spot on Eventbrite.

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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September 5, 2014

A Welcome Back Calendar

Short Cuts

The DC Shorts Film Festival starts on Sept. 11, showcasing an international slate of 150 short-length films in 90-minute blocks through Sept. 21. Close-in venues like the Atlas Performing Arts Center at 1333 H St. NE and Landmark’s E Street Theater at 555 11th St. NW will host shows, but so will further flung ones like the Angelika Film Center and Cafe Mosaic in Fairfax, Va., and the Anacostia Arts Center across the river from Capitol Hill. For a full run-down of films, go to

The (Ken) Russell Building

The Library of Congress is in the middle of screening a series of the late Ken Russell’s films, and it’s a great bunch focused on music, laced with Russell’s trademark kinkiness and bathed in the peculiarity of the 1970s. On Sept. 12, the library screens 1970’s “The Music Lovers,” the story of Tchaikovsky’s marriage. A chamber piece this is not, as it focuses on the composer’s attempt to distance himself from his homosexuality, only to have it backfire when he marries a nymphomaniac. It’s a rarely screened part of Russell’s body of work, showing at 7 p.m. at the Pickford Theater on the third floor of the library’s James Madison Building on Independence Avenue. On Sept. 19, the Pickford shows Russell’s 1975 “Tommy,” the filmmaker’s adaptation of The Who’s rock opera starring Roger Daltrey, Jack Nicholson, Ann Margaret, Elton John and just about anyone tripped out from the ’70s music scene.

An Innovative Discussion

Not to jump too far ahead, but Roll Call Book Club returns on Sept. 16 at Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital, where we’ll sit down with Aneesh Chopra to discuss his book “Innovative State: How New Technologies Can Transform Government.” Chopra, the first-ever chief technology officer of the United States, takes a tack most fear to these days: Extolling the good government can do in paving the way for new discoveries that can benefit everyone. From the Pony Express to the Internet, there’s a record. This free event starts at 6 p.m. at 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE and includes a free book, beverages and snacks. To register, go to our spot on Eventbrite.

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September 3, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘Dreamland’ by Charles Bowden and Alice Leora Briggs

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Bowden knew the border well. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Charles Bowden, the desert journalist who provided a view of America’s borderlands that was compelling, terrifying and beautiful, died on Aug. 30, leaving a legacy of dark visions and dark journeys that came together in vivid form in 2010’s “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez.”

The book, a collaboration of Bowden’s words and Alice Leora Briggs’ drawings, is a hybrid work of gonzo journalism, graphic expression and poetic violence that uses a harrowing incident in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico, that involved a U.S. Department of Homeland Security informant committing a brazen murder as a jumping off point to the upside down horror of the drug war in the city that shares a border with El Paso, Texas.

For Bowden, covering the border was a vocation. He submerged himself in it in a way that was uncomfortable to read, yet important and unique. His many books about the borderlands — “Desierto,” “Blood Orchid” and “Mezcal” to name a few — provided a view of the place few others were willing to go.

I met him once, having invited him in 1995 to speak at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff as part of a series related to a literary journal, “Thin Air,” that I worked on. He showed up looking like he had just arrived from the wilderness and explained that he had just found out a friend he worked with in Mexico had been murdered. Emotionally shattered, he still made the trip, and gave an incredible reading from material from his then-forthcoming book “Blood Orchid.”

Of his many books, “Dreamland” is certainly one of the strangest, its surreal images matched by surreal text. It’s a perfect tribute to an incredible writer.

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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August 28, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘Soul Food’ by Adrian Miller

(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

Former White House aide Adrian Miller started writing his book “Soul Food, The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time,” in humble circumstances, but it wasn’t long before the James Beard Foundation Book Award winner took it to another level. “We should have soul food in space,” he said of a sit-down he’d had with folks about NASA.

Many forms of soul food do indeed taste heavenly, and whether they are bound for space travel any time soon is a topic that could be posed in person to Miller, who’s in town in Washington as part of the 2014 National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown. The one-time aide for President Bill Clinton, who worked as part of 42’s Initiative for One America before heading to Colorado to work for the Bell Policy Center and later as a senior policy aide for Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, decided to write the book almost on a lark.

At the end of Ritter’s term of office, Miller said to himself, “You know, I’m just going to go for it,” and cashed in his retirement to buy himself time and resources to research and write about his passion: a truly American food that is itself a melting pot story, a misunderstood part of our culture and a vanishing tradition. “I’m a risk averse person. It probably wasn’t the best financial decision, but I’ve never been happier,” he said.

The Beard award was “totally unexpected,” he said, and has given him and his work a level of appreciation that many books published by university presses (in this case The University of North Carolina Press) don’t enjoy. It’s an important topic as well, as it touches on issues ranging from nutrition, race and disappearing culture. Driving home the point about soul food’s endangered status, two of the local D.C. establishments I wanted to recommend to Miller for his trip to the capital city — The Rib Pit and Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish — are no longer around, and it hadn’t been too long since I’d visited each.

Miller, who is now executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches, speaks as part of the Culinary Arts pavilion from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. on Saturday at the convention center. He’ll be signing copies of “Soul Food” from 11 a.m. to noon.

August 6, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘Watergate’ by Thomas Mallon

Drink in this rich fictional history of Watergate. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

Drink in this rich fictional history of Watergate. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

“Watergate,” a novel by Thomas Mallon, is a hoot, a fictional interpretation of the political saga that ended the presidency of Richard M. Nixon and irrevocably altered the lives of those around him, not to mention the American political system.

Mallon, who can see the infamous office and residential complex easily from his perch as director of the George Washington University creative writing program in Foggy Bottom, has a boatload of honors and credits to his career as a novelist, essayist and academic. In “Watergate,” though, he takes it all to another level in giving voice to everyone from Nixon to first lady Pat to break-in perps E. Howard Hunt, Committee to Re-Elect the President chiefs John Mitchell and Fred LaRue to forgotten ghosts of Washington’s past like Alice Roosevelt Longworth.

Witness Pat Nixon desperately avoiding a drunk Martha Mitchell at a Hollywood fundraiser, or the president groaning in his sleep in Moscow, freaking out the eavesdropping KGB agents, or Hunt’s aggrieved anxiety in the aftermath of a botched black bag job he wanted no part of but nevertheless went through with anyway.

It’s those individuals, and Mallon’s ability to make us empathize with each and every one of them, that gives this novel a unique place in the canon of Watergate history. With the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s Aug. 9 resignation almost upon us, this is a critically acclaimed book worth adding to the reading list.

July 30, 2014

Roll Call After Dark Book of the Week: ‘The Final Days’ by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

(Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

If “All The President’s Men” is about the chase, the follow-up by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, “The Final Days” is about the long, slow, bleeding out and death of the hunted. A denser, complicated, multi-layered, sad descent into resignation, both literal and figurative, the recounting of the last few months of President Richard M. Nixon’s presidency is a master telling of the slog of a White House staff who knows that time is running out.

“[Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler] was exasperated. He only wanted the President to understand how dire things were, to recognize the hard choices fast closing in on him. But the President would not even accept the meaning of the words on the tapes and refused to believe that his lawyers were acting in his interest,” they write.

It’s just one of scores of examples of the sclerotic intransigence that gripped the Nixon White House in its final days. At the center of it is White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, the man in charge of the sinking ship, and White House special counsels for Watergate James D. St. Clair and J. Fred Buzhardt.

It’s a fascinating read, and an important, if quirky and somewhat neglected, part of the Watergate canon.


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