Just like public schools and social services, a city's public library is only as good as its residents' collective tax bracket. So it should come as no surprise that the member-supported Newport Beach Public Library Foundation (NBPLF) enables its namesake to provide some of the best library services in the county, making Newport Beach a mainstay in every Orange County bibliophile's reading routine.

In addition to free wi-fi, an amazing collection of foreign films and CDs, and an enormous children's section, the NBPLF also supports the Martin W. Witte Distinguished Speakers Lecture Series. Throughout the year, this series brings an impressive lineup of journalists, artists, novelists, critics and other cultural luminaries through Newport's central branch. Last year, New York Times senior art critic Michael Kimmelman made a stop on his book tour promoting the highly acclaimed The Accidental Masterpiece. This year, the series has hosted photojournalist Ron Haviv, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and scholar/activist Robert Thurman.

And this Friday and Saturday, the NBPLF hosts the inimitable playwright Edward Albee. A three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Albee has been described as an innovator and major force in American drama. His prolific decades-long career has given American theater some of its most provocative, intelligent and frequently controversial plays, the most notable being Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In his two lectures, Albee will discuss the potential for art to act as a catalyst for change. "The job of the arts," he says, "is to hold a mirror up to us and say: 'Look, this is how you really are. If you don't like it, change.'"

Edward Albee at the Newport Beach Public Library, 1000 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 717-3800; Fri., 6:30 p.m.; Sat., 2 p.m. $25-$40.


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