Until 2001, University Park had the peculiar distinction of being the nation's largest city without its own public library. Until then, residents had been able to use the Highland Park Library without charge. When that changed, an energetic group of volunteers called Friends of the University Park Public Library held book sales and other fund-raisers, allowing the new library to open in a bank building. Last year, librarian Lee Schuey, a veteran of 30 years with the Dallas Public Library, was hired. Now, according to Friends President Carol Ann Luby, the library boasts more than 50,000 books, videos, CDs and audio books. "We offer evening lecture programs in the fall and spring and have just completed a kids summer reading program," Luby says. "And our catalog is going online at www.uplibrary.org." Best of all, there is no University Park residency requirement, so all are welcome. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

For the past nine years, this writing and illustration competition has been making a difference in the lives of students at this mostly minority school in East Dallas by matching them with professionals who mentor them through a semester-long project. The mentors and young writers and artists usually meet for about an hour each week during the fall, and the work is assembled into a glossy booklet distributed at the program banquet in April. According to KWC founder Larry Estes, "Working with adult professionals helps our young writers develop skills and discipline that they just can't get from normal class work. Moreover, since many KWC participants come from homes where English is not spoken, this program gives them confidence in their abilities. Nearly 100 percent of our winners [three prizes are awarded in both the writing and illustration categories] go on to Talented and Gifted DISD schools. Since most of the mentors return year after year, it's obviously rewarding for them as well." Estes says there's always room for more mentors and those interested should give him a call.

America loves an underdog, the saying goes. And we do, too. While it's consistent in the quality of the exhibits it organizes, Photographs Do Not Bend doesn't get the shower of praise some one-hit-a-season wonders do. PDNB represents artists working in a wide range of photographic styles and also owns a specialized archive of pictures. No matter what the exhibit is--themed collection from the archives, semi-famous contemporary photographer--it's worth driving down Routh Street and looking for this little house.

The best public sculpture is something that doesn't blend into the background of everyday life. No matter how many times--every day, once a week, once a year--that it's seen, it never ceases to attract attention. Meet "Harrow," a steel sculpture in Lubben Plaza Park. It always amazes us. A giant rust-brown cone that resembles a household screw enlarged to the size of a child revolves around a sand-covered track, making a complete circle once a day and creating rings in the sand. Artist Linnea Glatt designed it to move slowly and effortlessly, so you never actually see it making its revolution. But pass by it a few hours later, and you'll notice its progress and the concentric circles. And you'll keep noticing [email protected]:Pegasus - Atop the Magnolia Hotel 1401 Commerce St.

Don't get us wrong. We like UFO stuff and The Lost City of Atlantis and health supplements and crop circles and magnetic shoe arches and secret government experiments. This is the stuff of life, the fruit of the twisted imagination. We just have a difficult time taking it in its raw, unadulterated form. When filtered through the monthly debunking machine of this sharply edited newsletter, though, it's perfect. We get our Face on Mars cake and a list of the bizarre ingredients, too. It's like reading Hollywood gossip crunched and analyzed by The New York Times. Brought to you by the fine minds of the North Texas Skeptics club, the newsletter features short items and long essays written by an array of local physicians, scientists and academics. Of course, you have to join to get it or, like us, pretend you are a member of the Fourth Estate. For details, visit their Web site at www.ntskeptics.org.

We're looking forward to the day when someone clones Mayor Laura Miller. That woman is so busy busting nicotine addicts and one-legged beggars--and fixing to drive the Dallas Cowboys away--that we're certain she does the work of two Laura Millers. And wouldn't a second Laura Miller be a treat for Mr. Laura Miller! This year, however, Dr. Zech Dameron's cute little longhorn clones are the best in the barnyard. The good doctor had three of them--exact copies of his monster longhorn Starlight--but he sold one late last year to an exceedingly wealthy individual from Houston. With the endless march of scientific progress, the Observer is looking forward to making this an annual "best of" category. If you clone someone or something--livestock, reptiles, city officials, whatever--please drop us a line, and we'll put your clone to the test.

Dallas' big Soviet-style downtown projects--the stalled and poorly named Victory development, for one--get all the ink and ire. The city center's real victories have been won where someone has thought small: the Jeroboam restaurant, the Umlaut bar and a host of others that are just getting out of the blocks. This year, Stone Street Gardens, in the heart of the grid, added itself to the list, and it's a consumer hit. A handful of restaurants, including local chains Campisi's and Izmir and the stand-alone Metropolitan, have sprung up on the block-long walkway, and they're frequently packed. The city center's first news/coffee/bagel stand--and it's not a Starbucks--halfway down the pedestrian thoroughfare adds a touch of urban sophistication. Although they did it with a chunk of city money, they did it without a grand, 10-block, five-year plan.

She booked out of Dallas right after graduating from Walden Prep School at 16 and worked her way through New York's Hunter College as a stripper at a Manhattan joint called The Doll House. Got your attention? OK, skip to the present, when 37-year-old Victoria Alexander, now living in SoHo, is the highly praised author of two novels: Smoking Hopes, which was published in '96 and deals with life in an Upper East Side Japanese hostess club, and her most recent, Naked Singularity, which addresses the subject of euthanasia. Publishers Weekly calls the latter "gut-wrenching and eloquently written." Nothing is ordinary about this rebellious and gifted writer who says the reason she left Dallas for New York was because "it's easier for a nerd to fit in up here."

It's our annual fave, and the other local comics shops should not take offense; when you've experienced the prosecutorial hell Keith's Comics has been through of late ("Comic Appeal," August 14), you deserve at least honorable mention and then some. But Jeremy Shorr's place on Bachman Lake, twixt a dollar store and a karate classroom, rings up this annual accolade because it's a pure comics shop--back issues that go way back to the Golden Age take up most of the space, ringed by walls of new stuff from the majors (DC and Marvel) and the minors and dang near every indie this side of Hoboken. Shorr, aided by a knowledgeable and friendly staff, has also taken to carrying an estimable library of comic-book histories, in addition to boxes full of old mags about comics; it's a history lesson in here, as well as a sneak peek at the bright future of a once-accursed medium that now provides the movies with endless source material.

How does this college theater do it? Using student actors and non-pros cast from open auditions, Quad C consistently offers professional-level productions that outshine Equity-heavy downtown stages. In three acting spaces, including the 350-seat John Anthony Theatre, Quad C produces enormous, spectacularly designed shows. Last fall's elegant and disturbing A Clockwork Orange featured a huge cast of promising young actors, particularly Plano native Brian J. Smith, now off to complete his acting studies at Juilliard. Quad C's dynamic artistic director, Brad Baker, has earned a national rep as a teacher, director and writer (he penned the Clockwork script). For the donation of a new stuffed animal (gathered at the box office for a local charity), tickets to most Quad C shows are free. Quad C's new season starts out with a bang October 2 with Assassins, the controversial Stephen Sondheim musical. Also on the season lineup are a trilogy of Horton Foote plays and a production of Neil Labute's latest, The Shape of Things[email protected]:Contemporary Theatre of Dallas - 5601 Sears St. 214-828-0094

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