Tuesday night in Manhattan
Inside Cipriani 42nd Street last night for the Horticultural Society of New York's Flowers & Design: Branching Out; Celebrating Green Branches. 7:05 PM. Photo: JH.

Last night was the annual PEN Literary Gala at the Pierre. This is the greatest annual literary gathering (that I know of) in New York. There were, among the more than five hundred guests (a record number this year), more than 108 writers, not to mention editors, publishers and agents.

Michael Roberts, Executive Director of the PEN American Center, opened the evening reporting that this year they raised a record $825,000 for the organization. Roberts was followed by Tina Brown, one of the benefit chairs — along with Laurence J. Kirschbaum and Virginia Mailman; Toni Goodale was Honorary chair — introduced Tom Brokaw, who was emcee for the evening.

Brokaw, after his opening remarks, introduced Salman Rushdie, the prize-winning author who recently became President of the PEN American Center. Rushdie recently married his beautiful longtime girlfriend Padma Lakshmi who, with Christine Schwarzman and Annette Tapert, was a Benefit co-chair of the evening.

Tom Brokaw recalled the time not so long ago when Salman Rushdie was the object of a fatwa declared by Ayatollah Khomeini because of Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses.” Brokaw recounted a breakfast he had in 1989 with the Iranian Foreign Minister in which he asked if the fatwa were indeed a fact. The foreign minister replied that “if he (Rushdie) were here today I would have no choice but to strangle and kill him with my own hands.”

Salman Rushdie, Padma Lakshmi, Bernard-Henri Levy, and Arielle Dombasle
The Iranian clerics didn’t like what Rushdie wrote and therefore felt he had no right to write it. Tom Brokaw pointed out that this attitude toward other’s writings exists in all societies today to varying degrees. He added, and I am paraphrasing, that not all of it was government inspired but could be found also among those who do the writing (such as journalism).

When Salman Rushdie took the podium, he further commented on Brokaw’s story about the fatwa. He said that PEN went to bat for him and helped protect him. He also observed: “Let’s point out, one of us is dead.”

Mr. Rushdie, who was born in India and speaks with a mild Anglo accent, said that he felt that his presidency of PEN is important right now. “This is a moment when America desperately needs to listen to the rest of the world.” Then he talked about PEN. The organization is a fellowship of writers, 80 years old, who work to promote literature and reading and to defend free expression around the world.

“ We are the only creatures who use story as a way of understanding themselves,” Rushdie said. “This is why freedom to write matters.” He also announced that PEN had received a gift of $750,000 to be used to promote translation of the world’s greatest literature into English, pointing out that there are only 300 books written in other languages that have been translated in America. Part of this is because the cost of translation is so high and sales are very often so low.

He pointed out that since 9/11, there has been a noticeable clampdown on what writers can say all over the world. Since then the number of persecuted writers has jumped by more than 50%. There are a lot of people in all countries, including this country, who believe that this is not so – that writers are not being suppressed. Their opinion is usually tied to the accompanying thought that there are a lot of things writers shouldn’t say, for a variety of reasons, religious, political and otherwise.

There are a lot of people who also believe that certain things should not be allowed to be published or even written. Believing that something shouldn’t be written for whatever reasons is the first step to suppression. This is human habit. It can be found in any family and is often at the source of dysfunction. Don’t talk about it. Don’t tell your father, your mother, your sister, your brother.

Many times the truth is suppressed (using family as an example) because it’s either embarrassing or makes someone look bad, destroys illusions (or delusions). Nobody wants to be embarrassed or look bad. Or wrong, the most dreaded issue of all. Many of us don’t mind depriving others of freedom of expression. It’s only when we’re personally deprived of our freedom of expression that we really mind. Many, if not most of us, that is.
James Goodale and Tom Brokaw
Toni Morrison
Stan and Sydney Shuman with a friend
Nevertheless, here in this country, that concept of freedom of speech is what motivates the forces behind PEN. Every year they give awards to writers, many of whom are incarcerated, to celebrate their freedom of speech. The Awards are granted by Barbara Goldsmith, the author and philanthropist, the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, which went to Naser Zarafshan of Iran and Le Chi Quang in Vietnam. Mr. Zarafshan is imprisoned in Iran for publishing information about assassinations carried out by the Iranian authorities. He is serving five years – two for disseminating state secrets and 3 for possession of firearms). He also got 70 lashes for possession of alcohol.

Mr. Le Chi Quang was arrested in Hanoi in 2002 for using the Internet to communicate “with overseas element.” He was charged with “acts of propaganda against the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam." The case against him was that he had written essays and distributed them over the Internet, both criminal matters as long as those in charge are concerned.

For that he is in a labor camp. He also suffers from serious kidney dysfunction and there is concern that he has not been allowed to receive an appropriate diagnosis of his condition and effective medical treatment. Quang’s arrest is part over a larger crackdown against its citizens by the Vietnamese government to discourage people from criticizing or speaking out against the government – despite constitutional guarantees of free speech.

The second award, the PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award was presented by A.E. Hotchner to Barbara Parsons Lane who is in prison in Connecticut for having killed her abusive husband in self-defense. In prison she’s participated in a writer’s workshop with Wally Lamb. She and four other women have published a book Couldn’t Keep It To Myself; Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters.

The publication of this book led to further attempts to punish the prisoner by the state of Connecticut. Publicity about those tactics have lessened the pressure on Mrs. Lane. Her son and daughter accepted the $25,000 check.

The PEN Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award went to Joesoef Isak of Indonesia. Mr. Isak is a working journalist who was an advocate of Sukarno’s Indonesian nationalism. When he was deposed by Suharto, intellectuals like Isak were targeted by Suharto who on taking control of the country instigated one of the bloodiest mass killings in modern history. Isak spent 1967 to 77 in prison. When he got out he started a publishing house. The government banned the first two books he published. (They were about Indonesian nationalism.)
As the guests sit down to dinner in The Pierre ballroom. 8:10 PM.
It was an evening that stirred a lot of thought, memories, discussions and concern. It was also an electric evening – the room filled with so many individuals of literary accomplishment or achievement of one kind or another, and joined by so many other members of the community who assist or accomplish achievements of their own. A very dynamic crowd and all very buoyed by the cause.

In the crowd: Bruce Addison, Joe Allen, Roger Altman, John Ashbery, Charles Askegard and Candice Bushnell, James Atlas, Paul Auster, Alana and Lewis Frumkes, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Arthur and Barbara Gelb, Wendy Gimble, Lynn Goldberg, Brad Gooch, all the Goodales – Jennifer, Ashley and Jim along with Toni; Betsy and Victor Gotbaum, Vartan and Clare Gregorian, John Guare and Adele Chatfield-Taylor, Hal Gurnee, Karl Wellner and Deborah Norville, Peter Rogers, Diahn McGrath, Christopher Mason, Ward Chamberlain, Joan Davidson, Pamela Gross and Jimmy Finkelstein, Kim Heirston, Anne Bass, Marife Hernandez and Joel Bell, Bill and Judith Moyers, Warren and Olivia Hoge, Sharon King Hoge, David Hirshey, David Horowitz, Holly, and Tim Hotchner, John and Joan Jakobson, Barbara Liberman, Peggy Siegal, Erica Jong, Barbara Kirschbaum, Bruce Kovner, Steve Kroft and Jenny Conant, David Kuhn, Elmore and Christine Leonard, Rose Styron, Bernard-Henri Levy, Sterling Lord, Christian Louboutin, Simone and Christopher Mailman, Thomas Mallon, Donald and Catie Marron, Robert K. Massie, Toni Morrison, Adam Moss, Lynn Nesbitt, Dick Nye and Francesca Stanfill, Harry Evans, Hannah Pakula, Princess Olga of Greece, Alan and Susan Patricof, Steve Ratner and Maureen White, Stan and Sydney Shuman, Nancy Ellison and Bill Rollnick, Stephanie and Peter Brant, Sarah Simms Rosenthal, Daryl Roth, Jeannette Watson Sanger, Andrew Sarris, Stephen Schiff, Steve Schwarzman, Lyn Sherr, Andrew Solomon, Ian Spiegelman, Joan Bingham, Patricia Bosworth, Dominick Dunne, David and Mary Boies, Valerie and Ron Chernow, Anderson Cooper, Lewis and Dorothy Cullman, Helen and Ed Doctorow, Stanley Crouch, Charles Stevenson and Alex Kuczynski, Monica Crowley, Rod Drake and Jackie Weld, Morgan Entrekin, Lee Elman, Alice Mayhew, Arthur Miller, Rick Moody, Sylvia and Edmund Morris, Frank McCourt, Grace Paley, Maer Roshan, Joanna Simon, Andrew Solomon, Hamilton South, Gay and Nan Talese, Calvin Trillin, Rosalind P. Walter, Wendy Wasserstein, her brother Bruce and his wife Claude Wasserstein, Edmund White, Diane von Furstenberg, Elizabeth and Jim Watson, Frances FitzGerald, Jonathan Franzen, Lewis Lapham .... I could go on and on – an amazing crowd for those who love writing, who love reading, who love the excitement that is unique to New York in the world, all under one roof for this most marvelous evening.
Annette Tapert and Tina Brown
Peter Rogers and Sharon Hoge
Ashley Goodale with her mother Toni Goodale
Dominick Dunne, Charles Askegaard, Candace Bushnell, and Kathy Sloane
Joel Bell, Jackie and Rod Drake, and Marife Hernandez
Diane von Furstenberg
Simone and Chris Mailman with Virginia Mailman
Leslie and Steve Brill
Joan Jakobson
Christie and Chinua Achebe
Rick Kot and DPC
Judith and Bill Moyers
Steve Kroft and Toni Goodale
Joanna Simon and Nan Talese
Barbara Liberman
Judy Collins and friend
Staffan Th. Ahrenberg and Kim Heirston
Adele Chatfield-Taylor and John Guare
Arthur Miller
Renne Khatami, John R. MacArthur, and Bernard-Henri Levy
Bernard-Henri Levy and Padma Lakshmi
Olivia Hoge and Sarah Rosenthal
Lewis and Alana Frumkes
Harry Evans and friend
Lynn Sherr
Deborah Norville and Karl Wellner
Peggy Siegal
Nancy Bass
Jennet Conant, Sir Howard Stringer, Steve Kroft, and Stephen and Christine Schwarzman
Steve Kroft and Guy Talese

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Bergdorf Goodman and Assouline celebrated the launch of Diane Von Furstenberg: The Wrap
L. to r.: Robert Burke, Diane von Furstenberg, and Andre Leon Talley; Andre Leon Talley, Diane von Furstenberg, and Barry Diller; Liz Pogue.
Last week, there was cocktail reception at Bergdorf’s to celebrate the book launch of Diane Von Furstenberg: The Wrap, published by Assouline with foreword by André Leon Talley. The book examines the history of the “wrap dress” phenomenon and its pop culture impact, from its revolutionary early days to its ever-popular present.

Diane Von Furstenberg and her first husband Prince Egon von Furstenberg were the party couple of the moment in the late 1960s in New York, as defined by New York Magazine. For a few moments they were the style-setters in the New York party world, without peer to anyone I can think of today. And, people were really partying in those just-discovered sex, drugs (pot, pills and cocaine), and rock and roll.

The von Furstenbergs were young, attractive, rich (Egon’s mother was an Agnelli) and everywhere. And with everybody. It was in that New York Magazine article that the prince shocked most (very square then) New Yorkers by intimating, if not outright coming out and saying, that he was bisexual. That was a first amongst the celebrated, the social, the Beautiful People and show business. No one admitted or even alluded to such inclinations in those pre-Stonewall days.
Anh Duong and Candy Price
Alex and Diane von Furstenberg
Adam Nelson and Bettina Zilkha
Then, seemingly out of nowhere in this champagne-and-caviar (and whatever else) existence, Diane von Furstenberg launched herself as a fashion designer with her “wrap” dress. It was a phenomenon, beyond anything we see in fashion these days. Because every woman in New York, it seemed, was wearing it, and all the time. You could walk Madison, Fifth, Park or Lex day or night and spot hundreds of women all wearing the same dress (it came in a couple of different prints and colors). And they all looked great. Suddenly Diane became a fashion force to reckon with, ka-ching ka-ching.

By 1976, Diane von Furstenberg, by then often referred to as DVF (the name of her perfume fragrance), had sold more than 5 million of her signature wrap dresses. The public relations spin now is that her dress had come to symbolize female power and liberation to an entire generation. What they really came to symbolize was Woman as Tycoon.

After a long hiatus, 20 years later, von Furstenberg re-emerged on the New York fashion scene with her signature wrap modified for a new generation of young women. Although it did not have an impact in any way comparable to its initial launch, its design proves the timelessness of the original wrap, and the dress continues to be enthusiastically adopted by today's trendsetters, celebrities and chic women worldwide.

Attending the Assouline party at Bergdorf’s, the lady herself Diane von Furstenberg, with her husband – another tycoon, Barry Diller, Ann Dexter Jones, Anh Duong, Douglas Hannant, Kalliope Karella, Kenny Lane, Anne McNally, Candy Pratts Price, Andrew Saffir and Daniel Benedict, Tim Schifter, Andre Leon Talley, Alexander von Furstenberg, and Bettina Zilkha.
Suzy Korb and Jennifer Talbot
Kenneth Lane and Robert Burke
Diane von Furstenberg and Anne Jones
L. to r.: Allison, Lulu, and Adam Nelson; Andrew Saffir and Daniel Benedict; Joshua Green.
L. to r.: Melanie Dunea; Kalliope Karella, Diane von Furstenberg, and Anne McNally; Melissa and Deborah Hughes.
Rick Brochetti, Tracy Stern, and Daniel Benedict
Judy Gordon and Diane de la Begassiere
Andrea Greeven
Belinda Becker
Candy and Chuck Price
Cody Foster and Liz Pogue

April 21, 2004, Volume IV, Number 66
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/NYSD.com (Pen) & Jimi Celeste/PMc (The Wrap)


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com