For the Love of …

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Looking from York Avenue toward East End Avenue, February 1st at 3 p.m. Photo: DPC.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021. It’s been snowing steadily for more than 26 hours as I write this, and I’m beginning to believe the forecasts that said it would snow into Tuesday. Of course Tuesday is only a couple hours away, and from my window: it’s still snowing out there, as if in a storm.

Looking north from my terrace on East End Avenue and 83rd Street.

I’ve been out in it twice – once to take the dogs (who loved it) and to go to the store, and also to get some snow shots since JH is in Palm Beach sitting this one out in the sun. What doesn’t look like much snow from afar or above, is a lot when you’re standing in it. And it’s beautiful.  And it requires that you slow down. Because Madam Snow says you can’t go fast weather you like it or not.

Down on the street …

Meanwhile, back to basics: Today, February 2nd marks the 98th birthday of late beloved friend, mentor and the patron saint of Literary Partners, Liz Smith. To celebrate her work in growing Literacy numbers, and raise funds for their mission, Literacy Partners is launching an auction — For the Love of Literacy — to benefit Literacy Partners and the Liz Smith Center for Adult & Family Literacy.

The For The Love of Literacy auction opens today, and will run through February 16th. It is offering an array of amazing experiences:

The great Liz Smith photographed by Harry Benson.

Jonathan Karp, CEO of Simon & Schuster, will edit your manuscript; A Zoom with Mike Steib, author of The Career Manifesto, a guide for young professionals seeking more purpose and joy in their work; A 15 minute Zoom with Whoopi GoldbergA virtual meeting with NBC’s Cynthia McFadden on How to have a career in Broadcasting; To be a character in Barbara Taylor Bradford’s upcoming book; A tour of CBS’ 60 MINUTES offices with Lesley Stahl; A one-hour Zoom with Lon JacobsMike Fricklas, and Paul Cappuccio — An Amazing Panel of Experts on Media, Moguls and Public Companies; A one hour consultation on your book’s pitch letter with Cynthia Cannell Literary AgencySusan Isaacs will name a character in her next book; A leather-bound First Edition of Fried Green Tomatoes, Inscribed to the Winner and Signed by Fannie Flagg; A one-hour Zoom Conversation with Emmy Award Winning Journalist Alina Cho; Zoom mentorship meetings, Zoom book clubs; and unique opportunities to connect with editors, agents, journalists, lawyers and authors.

Here is the LINK to bid.

Literacy Partners is New York City’s leading adult literacy program addressing both COVID-19 recovery as well as racial justice, with a focus on African Americans and recent immigrant families. The communities of color that Literacy Partners serves have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. Literacy Partners students now face skyrocketing rates of unemployment, and the least financial cushion to protect themselves.

Funds raised through the For the Love of Liz Auction will support the Liz Smith Center for Adult & Family Literacy at Literacy Partners and will educate 3,000 new students over the next five years — nearly doubling the reach of Literacy Partners — to honor the memory and extraordinary legacy of Liz.

A full house at Cipriani 42nd Street for Literacy Partner’s 2017 Evening of Readings.

I’ve attended the Literacy Partners galas for years. Its Evening of Readings are always full of fun and inspiration, cozy yet formal, bringing out a glamorous cross-section of literate New York. 

Literacy is an enormous and mainly overlooked problem in America today. It dogs our future whether you want to believe it or not. Aside from its implications about our national learning aptitudes, it reflects the chronic disappointment of the disadvantaged.

This was Liz Smith’s annual party. A glamorous New York social world get together, with lot of the guests have been supporting it for years. Many prominent/ accomplished/ wealthy/famous New Yorkers. But there was nothing stuffy about it. The “readings” brought everyone into reality, as well as a good dose of the serious, the joy of words and being able to read.

The Mistress of Ceremonies with Sheila Nevins, Joni Evans, and Billy Norwich.
With DPC, Elizabeth Peabody, and Jackie Weld.

Liz was the Mistress of Ceremonies. She could be kind of a wisecracker and she didn’t mind dotting an “i” or crossing a “t” when describing someone. It was the journalist in her. She always ended everything with a kiss, so it doesn’t matter.

Liz at the podium in 1993.

At one of the Evenings of Readings, I recall Liz saying in her opening remarks at that there were ONE MILLION New Yorkers who cannot read above the 5th grade level.  There are many many more who can’t even get that far. The lack of this ability affects the quality of people’s lives adversely in many ways. Hundreds of thousands of children go to bed every night without ever hearing a story or a fable read to them by parents who simply cannot read, promising a lifetime of another kind of malnutrition. 

One night I sat there listening to Liz, while recalling how as a child of four or five, before lights out, my mother would lie on my bed next to me, and read me stories from books by Thornton Burgess (who I later learned was a conservationist) who wrote stories about animals’ — like Peter Cottontail — lives in the woods and the Great Green Forest. 

In retrospect, I’m amazed that she had the energy to do this after a long day of working (at a job and as a housewife/mother/cook and gardener). She had had a high school education and was always with a book on her night table — usually something on self-improvement or diet — where she obviously found solace or wisdom or healthy ideas to lift her from her own burdens. For me, her nightly reading fostered a lifelong interest and thrill in books. Books are everything. Without them a life is full of large pockets of emptiness. Books rescue, revive, inspire, nurture and cultivate. There is no way to really move ahead in life without them.

The troika — Liz with Arnold and Parker in 2002 at an early Literacy Partners event.

As was the tradition at these evenings, Liz introduced two recent Literacy graduates who had completed the Literacy course, and had written their speeches and read them to us. 

Liz with Holland Taylor and Lesley Stahl at the 2008 Evening of Readings.

The personal stories of these graduating individuals are always different, but the feelings and the history of their experiences as non-readers is always similar — lifetimes of disappointment, of hiding, of personal sense of disappointment, embarrassment, even shame — and then: all transformed and transmogrified into self-confidence, aspiration, ambition and empowerment and discovery from having learned to read. 

For the audience listening to their speeches about personal growth and self-reliance, there also comes a certainty of our ability to make better lives for ourselves and for others. That was Liz’ gift to all of us.

Liz with her long-time partner in crime Denis Ferrara. Bid NOW!! 

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