Monday, April 9, 2018

Spring Revel

Pink Azaleas and runner in pink.  Photo: JH.
Monday, April 9, 2018. A bright sunny Sunday, yesterday in New York; and sunny Saturday too, but chilly enough to make you wonder when .... However, the weatherman says we’re in for a warmer week coming up.
 Saucer Magnolia Tree in Central Park.
Chionodoxa in Central Park.
Daffodils in Central Park..
Witch Hazel in Central Park.
Last week, the big event was the annual Paris Review Spring Revel at Cipriani 42nd Street. The “revel” in the name is nostalgically alluring because despite the size of the Cipriani room — its tables filled hold the hundreds of guests, and so there’s little dancing, and as far as a the drinking goes, well ... a glass of wine or two; you know how it goes these days. However, there is an attitude that’s compatible with a revel. When a lot of writers and editors (and agents, let’s not forget the agents) get together for what is basically a fundraiser for a good (literary) cause, it’s far from dull. Loud and laughter come along with it.

The Paris Review's current issue.
This year’s revel was even more of a revel than in the past. Which was surprising considering the energy out there in this big bad world of ours. However, there is something about the Paris Review to revel about. Created 55 years ago in Paris by George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen and Harold Humes as a quarterly English language literary magazine, it has published works by many major writers and poets including Philip Roth, V. S. Naipaul, Jack Keroac, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Nadine Gordimer, Philip Larkin, Terry Southern, Adrienne Rich, Italo Calvino and many many others of that ilk.

That was at a romantic literary moment
, post-World War II, with Paris the perfect spot as Europe had begun to breathe again after the catastrophe. Things were finally looking up. Plimpton (and his partners), as history now records, was a very enterprising, even entrepreneurial writer, loaded with the American can-do energy.  He was the editor, along with Matthiessen and Hume, amongst his other personal literary pursuits that made him famous to Americans.

Interestingly, years later in an interview, Peter Matthiessen claimed that he “founded” the magazine as a cover for the CIA for whom he was working.  If so, it’s an example of CIA activity that would be to the benefit of all (who can read).

Nevertheless, the creation was solid and a boon for writers of all persuasions. In 1973, Plimpton moved the offices from Paris to New York, where they were in the basement under his apartment on 72nd Street and the East River. If there were such a thing as a “salon” – which there is not anymore – in New York at the time, it could be said George Plimpton and his wives were hosts to the literary set of authors, actors, writers and such, were present.
Nicole Rudick, the interim editor of the magazine after the exit this year of Loren Stein. Ms. Rudick has been working for The Paris Review since she got out of college and remains in awe of the work. In her speech about working at The Paris Review, she brought a kind of joy to the process that enhances its mystique to the reader. She set the tone of distinction to the evening.
More than a half century later, the Review is doing astoundingly well for its kind. They sell out every edition and the circulation numbers are higher than ever before, and their web site gets more than a million page views every month. It is read all over the world. Last Tuesday night, this success was reflected by the generosity of its supporters and fans: they raised almost $1 million. It was a revel, but it was also reverent.

The evening began with publisher Susannah Hunnewell greeting the guests and marking the passing of Drue Heinz at 103, on March 30th in Scotland. Mrs. Heinz, who was the widow of HJ (Jack) Heinz Jr., was a major supporter of the Paris Review and had become head of the board in 1993 (when she was 78) until 2007 (when she was 93!). Mrs. Heinz was a most interesting woman of her time and place in the 20th century, and among her major philanthropies was her notable support for the written word. But that’s another Diary.
John Waters.
After Ms. Hunnewell finished, she brought forth John Waters, the film director. Mr. Waters is also a screen writer, author, actor and stand-up comedian. Irreverent is one way of putting it that covers a lot of territory. He can say the un-sayable and have you laughing. That energy charged the room for the night. Anything and everything; be prepared. 

What followed was hardly hard to follow, and irreverent in the most natural way. There was the Terry Southern Prize for humor presented to David Sedaris (by Patricia Marks). If you’ve ever read Sedaris, and if you are a fan of Sedaris, so what’s irreverent? So there was laughter.
Joy Williams.
Mr. Waters also presented the George Plimpton Award (Plimpton died at 76 in 2003)  called the Hadada Award to Joy Williams. It was named after the Hadada ibis, a bird found in sub-Saharan Africa who has an extremely loud and distinctive "haa-haa-haa-de-dah" call. The award is presented annually “to a distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.”

It was one of those evenings that was a good time for all, no matter the place or the name. There was a very impressive list of authors/writers et al in the room, along with their acolytes, supporters, fans (and agents). There was no pressure to impress anyone although those who took the stage did it brilliantly, And it seemed to come naturally. And here and there with a dash of irreverence.
Novelist David Gates presented this year's Plimpton Prize to Isabella Hammad, for her story "Mr. Can'aan."
Among the crowd: Don DeLillo, Jeffrey Eugenides, Mona Simpson, John Waters, David Sedaris, Patricia Marx, Tina Brown, Sir Harry Evans, Morgan Entrekin, Steve Kroft and Jenny Conant, Lewis Lapham, Isabella Hammad, Joy Williams, Radhika Jones, Marya Spence, Hailey Gates, Dana Spiotta, Ellie Goulding, Jessica Iclisoy, Henry Finder, Emma Cline, James Barron and his wife Dr. Jane Farhi, Amanda Benchley, Ashley Goodale, Lynn Nesbit, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Finder, Henry Wessel, Lynn Sherr,  Tony and Jim Goodale, Shelley Wanger and David Mortimer, John Guare and Adele Chatfield-Taylor, Marie Monique von Steckel, Amor Towles, Toni Bentley, Michael Cunningham, Katie Roiphe, Gay and Nan Talese,  Zadie Smith, Martha Kramer, Roxana Robinson, Virginia and Peter Duchin.

Duchin, a younger man himself in those days, was a close friend of George Plimpton in Paris, and for a time shared rooms with him (and others, no doubt) when the world was at their feet and they were willing to meet it all. It occurred to me while taking it all in that all of the Paris Review history was part of Peter’s history growing up in the new world. It had to be a view from the bridge, and a rich one in reverie. That was also the nature of the evening for me, the vibe, of something more than timely. A great evening for all.
Terry McDonell and Steve Kroft.

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