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Ling to speak of travels and work experiences

After journalist Laura Ling was arrested and imprisoned by the North Koreans in 2009 while filming a documentary along the North Korea-China border, her sister, TV journalist Lisa Ling, received a startling phone call.

“Li, I have confessed to some very serious crimes,” Laura told her. “My only hope is that there can be some kind of diplomatic action.”

That seemingly impossible request and details of Laura’s captivity and Lisa’s successful fight to get her back to the United States were revealed in the sisters’ book, “Somewhere Inside” (William Morrow, $26.99, 336 pages).

Since then, Lisa Ling has hosted “Our America” for the Oprah Winfrey Network, traveling the country to conduct interviews.

The Carmichael native will be in Sacramento this week to give a presentation as part of the Sacramento Speakers Series.

Ling lives in Los Angeles but visits family in Sacramento when her hectic schedule allows. She is a longtime board member of the Sacramento-based California Museum.

Visit her at

The mission of “Our America” is to bring to light “the lives of everyday Americans.”

Yes, and I’m constantly surprised by how we are able to find these powerful stories, and how willing people are to share things with us that they may not share even with their closest friends and family. It’s because they trust us and know we are not going to exploit them or sensationalize their stories.

How do you find these people?

I have the most incredible team of producers and researchers who are on top of things.

You travel a lot for the show.

I’m in Tampa right now; I fly to Louisville tomorrow; then to Mobile, Ala.; then to New Orleans.

Do any recent “Our America” stories stand out?

My life has been quite diverse. I spent a day in Alabama with a woman whose father is going to be executed for a crime he may not have committed. It was very difficult. Her life is going to be changed forever.

I spent time inside a cloistered convent in Terra Haute, Ind., which was fascinating. Shortly after that I went to four swingers’ parties in Palm Beach.

Do you see Oprah often?

Not as often as I’d like, because she has an even more rigorous travel schedule than I do.

How’s your sister, Laura, doing?

Fantastic. She’s the mother of an angel child, and doing specials for the E! network. We’ve been very fortunate.

What’s your plan for Tuesday’s program at the Community Center Theater?

I’ll share some stories I’ve reported throughout my career and talk about how they’ve profoundly affected me.

Sometimes we (in the media) go into things with a preconceived set of ideas. But once you hit the ground and engage people face to face, very often you find the story is not so simple.

KVIE profiles two giants

For 26 years, the PBS series “American Masters” has presented distinguished biographies of actors, writers and artists whose contributions to our culture have been immeasurable.

Now come a pair of aces: “Margaret Mitchell: American Rebel” (“Gone With the Wind”) and “Harper Lee: Hey, Boo” (“To Kill a Mockingbird”). An exploration of their lives beyond their art includes commentary by Tom Brokaw, Rosanne Cash, Anna Quindlen, Scott Turow and Oprah Winfrey.

Catch them Monday on KVIE Channel 6: “Margaret Mitchell” at 9 p.m., followed by “Harper Lee” at 10 p.m.

Good poet laureate timing

The timing was great: On March 21, Juan Felipe Herrera was named poet laureate of California by Gov. Jerry Brown.

And today is the start of National Poetry Month (

Herrera, 63, has written 28 books of poetry and teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside.

“Poetry is a place where we can play and free ourselves, where we can regain our aspirations and inspirations,” he said on the phone. “When we go there, we can begin to untangle the major questions in our lives – our identities, families, the future. Poetry helps us heal.”

National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and is celebrated nationwide in April. It “unites publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets in a celebration of poetry and its vital place in American culture,” said an AMP spokeswoman.

The Sacramento Central Library and its 26 branches will host special poetry- related events this month. For details: (916) 264-2920,

For information about other California cities’ involvement in National Poetry Month, go to

One of the fun parts of all this is Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 26). Choose a poem, put it in your pocket and share it with everyone in person or on Twitter at #pocketpoem.

Plus, here are three award-winning titles of novels written in verse, specifically for young-adult readers (all from Random House):

• “May B” by Caroline Starr Rose.

• “Sisters of Glass” by Stephanie Hemphill.

• “Orchards” by Holly Thompson.

California Book Awards

Literary awards are a signpost to what’s (usually) worth reading. Here are some of the finalists for the California Book Awards, sponsored since 1931 by the Commonwealth Club of California. Winners will be announced the week of April 23. For the complete list, go to www.common


• “Why We Broke Up” by Daniel Handler

• “The Apothecary” by Maile Meloy

• “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs

• “Wonderstruck” by Brian Selznick

• “Dragons of Silk” by Laurence Yep


• “The Bravest Woman in America” by Marissa Moss

• “Heart and Soul” by Kadir Nelson

• “Lucky for Good” by Susan Patron

• “One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street” by Joanne Rocklin

• “Breaking Stalin’s Nose” by Eugene Yelchin


• “Power Ballads” by Will Boast

• “Turn of Mind” by Alice LaPlante

• “The Oracle of Stamboul” by Michael David Lukas


• “The Great Night” by Chris Adrian

• “Love and Shame and Love” by Peter Orner

• “You Are Free” by Danzy Senna

• “The Barbarian Nurseries” by Héctor Tobar

• “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace


• “Chasing Aphrodite” by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

• “The Ecstasy of Influence” by Jonathan Lethem

• “Railroaded” by Richard White

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