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JUST ASKING -- DEBORA OTT

that's what Debora Ott has built over the past 23 years as founder and executive director of Just Buffalo Literary Center, 2495 Main St.

It all began at the old Allentown Community Center as a series of readings -- and culminated with the appearance of writers like Lucille Clifton, Hettie Jones, Jim Carroll -- and Nobel-Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison, in collaboration with the University at Buffalo's Distinguished Speaker Series.

Just Buffalo has survived federal budget cuts, with the slogan "something write for everyone." And now at the close of her tenure and after landing the 1997 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, Ms. Ott reflects on more than just Buffalo with "Just Asking." She will continue in a consulting position for the literary center from her new home in Atlanta.

You're originally from New York, tell us about your impressions of Buffalo over the years.

Buffalo is a hard-working, resourceful town. There's a sense of community in the arts here that does not exist in a lot of different cities. People are supportive of one another. I don't see that changing. With the proper nurturance -- by that I mean funding and attendance by the public -- the future is bright.

We hear you have some eclectic reading habits.

I like reading just about everything -- quite a bit of non-fiction as well. I tend to read six books at once usually, they're really very different. One could be on Eastern religions, another on healing, another could be poetry, and they all end up connecting somehow. I've been collecting an absolutely wonderful library, one of things I hope is to have more time to read what I have.

Have you ever been burned by some difficult visiting author?

We haven't had any prima-donna extravaganzas. We've been really lucky I think. We always approach the writers with respect, and we bring them into an environment where they're cared for, so they can do their work. I know that there are other reading series around in other cities where the writer lands at the airport, finds the way to the hotel, and gets picked up whenever to do their gig. From beginning to end, we really manage the writer's stay with a lot of grace and hospitality, and that has created a lot of good will.

Who are some of your favorite writers?

I think Toni Morrison is brilliant. I enjoy Gloria Naylor's work. This is tough for me, let's see ... I've enjoyed Peter Matthiessen's work. Poets -- Adrienne Rich. Robert Creeley remains a favorite, I don't know anybody else who can say as much in so few words.

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