Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Evening of Readings

The view from The Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. 10:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Rainy days in New York. The leaves on the trees are especially green when wet. A beautiful day with temperatures in the 60s.

Last night I went over to Jazz@Lincoln Center for the Literacy Partners gala evening – the 29th annual. Black tie. You’ve read about it here before. Liz Smith, Arnold Scaasi, Parker Ladd, and a group of founding supporters started this 39 years ago. It’s for reading. Teaching people to read. A simple matter that is not so simple anymore, in this complicated society of ours.

Most people I know don’t read much. They get everything the old fashioned way: someone tells them – usually it’s the TV or the radio. We don’t think much about it because they can. Although – you know people who can’t read but they conceal it. In New York there are more than two million who cannot read above a Fifth Grade Level, and many can’t read at all. There are sophomores in college who can’t read. It’s not a new problem, obviously. Not being able to read, in certain parts of town, means a lot of other things too. Like poverty.
Bill Maher and Liz Smith.
Sally Bedell Smith, Liz Smith, Bill Maher, Doris Diaz, and Charlene Harper.
I never knew any of this, or never thought about any of this until I was introduced to Literacy Partners. Their annual gala always has Literacy students read from something they’ve written themselves.

It’s one of those evenings that could only happen in New York. Liz is the emcee, and as you may have read here before, she’s a master at it, and very funny with her comments. The program starts in the theater. It draws a stellar cast of supporters. Last night they raised about a million, and during the dinner Hugh Hildesley of Sotheby’s raised an additional $100,000 in donations which was matched by a grant from the Wall Street Journal. The money all goes to the teaching program. Many thousands of students over the past almost forty years.
Jackie Weld Drake with David and Lisa Schiff.
Bob Bradford and Ellery Gordon. Gillian and Sylvester Miniter.
Elizabeth Peabody, Bob Perkins, Joni Evans, and Marjorie Reed Gordon.
Will and Debbie Bancroft. Alfred and Judy Taubman.
Sharon Hoge and Grace Meigher.
Jamee and Peter Gregory. Danielle Hirsch and DPC.
There are guest readers. Last night it was Bill Maher, Jeffrey Toobin and Sally Bedell Smith. Maher has a new book out. “The NEW New Rules.” Maybe you know about the first one. He read several pages (jokes) from the book.

Jeffrey Toobin read from the manuscript that will be published in the fall on the Presidential Oath and Obama’s time with it. Some may remember he had to re-take the oath because of a mix-up.  The Presidential Oath is no small matter and it is given a lot of thought by the Supreme Court Justice who swears in the new President. Toobin’s got a great story in there with Obama’s.

Then Sally Bedell Smith read from her new book “Elizabeth the Queen, The Life of a Modern Monarch.” This is an excellent book and it’s very popular. Sally has what seems like an effortless scholarliness in her writing, and reading her, you feel like you do too. Her portraits are woven with that scholarliness and it’s all very relatable and entirely satisfying. Her subject is a fascinating woman and inarguably the greatest national leader on the planet today.
Iris Love with Bill and Stephanie Joseph.
Michael Carlisle, Iris Love, Sally Peterson, Liz Smith, and DPC.
Teacher of the Year Steven Clarke. Jane Friedman and Susan Magrino.
After her reading, Liz introduced the two student readers, Doris Diaz and Charlene Harper. The program requires them to read something they’ve written about themselves and Literacy partners. Both Doris Diaz and Charlene Harper told us how Literacy provided them with the tools to change their lives.

They tell us what it’s like when you can’t read. Life’s not the same. Opportunities that are ordinary are not there for those who can’t read. The circumstances vary but the result is the same: reading means freedom.
Bill Maher.
Jeffrey Toobin.
Also on the program last night, Harold McGraw III, Chairman, President and CEO of McGraw-Hill was saluted for his assistance and generosity with Literacy Partners. Peter Brown presented Liz with the inaugural “Lizzie” Award; and Jeff Sharp presented the Face of Literacy Award to Tate Taylor, director of the film “The Help.”

This is always a wonderful evening. There’s a nobility in the room, and a courage, and a level of consciousness that produces a vibe that runs through the whole evening. The only problem with the program is that they are not equipped financially or physically to help as many people as need help. But this is the best of us operating. Living proof. This is what Liz, Arnold and Parker and friends wrought. Blessings for them.
Click above to listen to student readers Doris Diaz (right) and Charlene Harper (left) at last night's Literacy Partners Evening of Readings.
After the readings, the crowd moved to the Allen Room amphitheatre style, overlooking Columbus Circle – with its nighttime view of the streaming red and white lights of the cars on Central Park South all slick and shiny from the rain. There was a delicious dinner of either beef or salmon and a steamed vegetable salad provided by Great Performances.

I was seated between Jamee Gregory and Sally Bedell Smith. We talked about her book. She’s booked through November giving talks all around the country about the book. She’s a fascinating lecturer because, like her books, she makes her knowledge accessible and relatable.

Bob Hardwick and his orchestra kept the music playing throughout dinner. So there we were in this beautiful room, grand yet cozy, with Manhattan Serenade view of the avenue before us, and the lights and the towers in the distance. The mood was up and comfortable. After ten, people started getting up and dancing (to the rock and roll).  By ten-thirty, seeing the rain across the wall of windows overlooking the Circle, guests began departing. It was a lovely night. It was a good thing.
The Allen Room, looking east.
And north.
The centerpiece.
The appetizer course.
The dessert.
Alina Cho.
Lesley Stahl, Sheila Nevins, and Elizabeth Peabody. Marie Brenner is in the background.
Bill Bartholomay and Louise Grunwald.
Joe Armstrong, Toni Goodale, and Christopher Meigher.
Valerie Smith and Peg Breen.
Sally Peterson and JH.
Charlene Harper singing with the Bob Hardwick Sound.

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