In 2005, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez strikes an unlikely friendship with Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless musician with schizophrenia who slept each night on one of skid row’s most dangerous streets.
Lopez learned Ayers had been a promising violinist, and that he had left the prestigious music program at the Juilliard School because of his struggle with mental illness. The journalist chronicled Ayers' struggle in several columns at the Los Angeles Times, inspiring readers to send instruments to Ayers through Lopez.
The friendship that Lopez formed with Ayers eventually helped the musician get off the street, settle into an apartment and find help for his schizophrenia.
This story since has inspired newspaper columns, a book titled “The Soloist” and a movie of the same name starring Robert Downey Jr. as Lopez and Jamie Foxx as Ayers.
Lopez will share his discovery of Ayers and how their relationship left a profound impact on the writer’s life at 7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 29 in the Dunn Center at Austin Peay State University. The talk is free and open to the public. A book signing will follow his talk.
Lopez joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times in May 2001 after four years at Time Inc., where he wrote for Time, Sports Illustrated, Life and Entertainment Weekly.
Prior to Time Inc., Lopez was a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Jose Mercury News and the Oakland Tribune. His work has won numerous national journalism awards for column writing and magazine reporting. In addition to “The Soloist,” Lopez is the author of three novels.
Lopez’s book and Sept. 29 appearance are part of a reading initiative at APSU called The Peay Read, designed to provide a unifying experience and contribute to the academic experiences for freshmen students. However, the reading program also offers opportunities for sophomore, junior and senior students.
A committee reviewed several books and chose “The Soloist” as The Peay Read’s common reading book, with homelessness as the theme. Committee members also have worked with other academic departments to plan activities culminating in Lopez’s keynote address, all supporting the current theme of homelessness. For instance, student organizations have been encouraged to plan and implement campus-wide, theme-based programs related to homelessness. In addition, piggy banks have been distributed to all APSU 1000 First-Year Experience classes to raise money for organizations that support Clarksville’s homelessness population.
Other examples of The Peay Read student activities and memorabilia include the following:
-- T-shirts with “The Soloist” printed on them and given to freshmen students enrolled in the APSU 1000 First-Year Experience program, which is including the book in its classroom discussions.
-- Bookmarks with book quotations, which will be used in student discussion groups focused on those quotations.
-- Faculty-student class discussions, including how to help the homeless population and the issues that affect them.
-- Student book reviews, with authors of the “best 10” essays invited to a dinner with Lopez.
-- A showing of the movie “The Soloist.”
A mobile app detailing all events and activities associated with The Peay Read has been developed and can be downloaded via Apple’s iTunes.
For more details about this year’s book reading selection or The Peay Read, visit http://www.apsu.edu/Read/ or visit Peay Read on Facebook.
For more information about Lopez’s upcoming talk, contact Dr. Dixie Dennis, chair of The Peay Read committee at APSU, by telephone at 931-221-7415 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Melony Shemberger