If you're planning to attend this year's edition of The Magic Barrel, the annual literary event that aims to battle hunger in the mid-valley, Karen Karbo has some advice:

Bring along a little extra dough.

That's because Karbo, the Portland writer who's serving as the emcee of this year's event, scheduled for Friday night at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis, has something extra planned this year:

She plans to auction off the naming rights to a character in an upcoming novel.

And not just some minor character, either, Karbo said in an interview this week with The E: This is a heroine, a main character in the work, she promised.

"The person who buys the rights can name her," Karbo said. "It can be your name or the name of a loved one."

Other similar naming auctions have netted big bucks for good causes, and Karbo hopes to do the same with Friday's auction. All of the money donated will go to Linn Benton Food Share. (Friday marks the 23rd annual go-round for The Magic Barrel.)

In that time, said Gregg Kleiner, a member of the committee that organizes the event, The Magic Barrel (the name comes from a short story by Bernard Malamud, who taught at Oregon State University) has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Food Share. Last year's event netted nearly $8,000.

If organizers sell out the Whiteside Theater this year, Kleiner said, the tally could approach $10,000.

And it's a cause that Karbo, who's the author of the Kick-Ass Women book series, finds appealing. 

"All fun and good times aside," she said, "it really is a pretty sobering and wonderful benefit. ... It's really sort of appalling that the state of Oregon has as much hunger as we do."

So when the organizers asked Karbo, who read at last year's Magic Barrel, to emcee this year's event, she readily accepted. "It's a fantastic event," she said. "I had such a good time last year."

She does have a challenge in that she's following last year's emcee, Corvallis writer and Oregon State University creative writing teacher Elena Passarello, who brought her considerable performance experience to the task. 

But Karbo is hoping that the auction energizes the audience — and hinted that another author on Friday's bill might be planning a similar stunt. 

The committee that organizes each year's Magic Barrel event aims for a blend of writers, so each year features fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The writers each get seven minutes to read and can only read once every five years, to keep each year's lineup fresh.

Still, Kleiner said, "there's no shortage of writers in Oregon," and added that those writers increasingly are interested in appearing at The Magic Barrel.

"This is a great place to read," he said of the event's new home, the Whiteside Theatre, "and for a really good cause."

And getting a chance to read to an audience that numbers in the hundreds is an unusual opportunity for writers: Karbo noted that writing, by its nature, is a solitary occupation, and a reading even at a big bookstore might draw 50 or so people.

So standing on the stage at the Whiteside and gazing out at a packed house of hundreds is something special, Karbo said: "It's not just a bunch of folding chairs in the rec room."

Kleiner said Magic Barrel organizers occasionally hear suggestions about how they should raise the $10 admission fee: After all, the argument goes, a higher ticket price could net more money for Food Share.

But organizers want to keep the event accessible to a wide population: "At $10 apiece, you can bring friends and family. Keeping the entrance fee low welcomes the wider community."

And it might leave you with some extra cash in your wallet. Just in case you wanted to buy your way into Karen Karbo's novel. 


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