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The trouble with writing, as a career proposition, is that you don’t get paid until long after the work is done—unless you’re Michael Crichton. Even such Hollywood-adopted tales as The Color Purple, The World According to Garp, and The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love might have lingered unfinished in a deskdrawer but for the National Endowment for the Arts (which gave each author a well-timed grant). So, too, might A Confederacy of Dunces, which was rescued from oblivion by an NEA-funded small press. Participants in today’s Freely Espousing open reading, held to support federal arts funding, are requested to pick a five-minute passage from an NEA-supported author or publication, and bring it to the Willow Street Gallery, 6925 Willow St. NW, between 1 and 5 p.m. FREE. (202) 882-0740. (Bill Gifford)