Tuesday, April 30, 2019. Sunny but chilly yesterday in New York, with temps in the mid- to low-50s. But the beauty of Springtime is making itself known all over the city. Down on the block from me, Carl Schurz Park by the East River is festooning, and it’s just begun.
Also festooning from now through the beginning of June are the annual galas that raise millions for many important charities. Just to remind: coming up in three weeks, on Sunday, May 19th, is the 2019 – “Through the Kitchen” – one of the most favorite annual dining events in New York. Lauren Veronis and her friends launched this unique experience 35 years ago to raise funds for the Irvington Institute which merged with the Cancer Research Institute in 2007. It’s now a happy custom.
Since its inception, it’s held in the Grille Room and the Pool Room of the former Four Seasons Restaurant. It’s a “can’t resist” dinner where anything and everything you’ve always loved is served. (And you can have as much as you want!). And there is so much to choose from. Not a few go back for “seconds” – the things they didn’t have room for on their plate the first time.
It evening begins with the two hundred or more guests enjoying the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres (and company) in the Grille Room. When it’s time for dinner, the Grille Room swinging doors to the kitchen open up, and the line begins to form.
On entering, the guests are provided with special apron and a large dinner plate, and slowly (and eagerly) they begin to move along the fantastic buffet tables. Completely heaping their dinner plates with everything they love, guests move into the Pool Room where the tables are waiting.
There’s an amusing theme to the evening that is expressed by the table décor. It’s like a holiday festivity. It always reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner at the Four Seasons that I used to share with David and Helen Gurley Brown.
There’s a comfortable hominess about the room that is contagious. It’s a Sunday night dinner. Mrs. Veronis or her daughter Perri Peltz would welcome the guests/supporters and Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, Ph.D. of CRI would share some details about the great progress they are making in the field of Immunotherapy. The mood is festive and guests at table are clearly enjoying the atmosphere as well as the menu.
More of that Atmosphere. The Paris Review Revel was held last month (April 2nd) at Cipriani 42nd Street. With several hundred guests attending, many writers obviously, it has its own atmosphere as a gala that bears a striking resemblance to a class reunion (college, of course). All grownups but of all ages, and reverence for the written word quite naturally abounds.
The Paris Review, if you didn’t know by now, is a quarterly literary magazine that was brought to life 66 years ago in Paris by George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen and Harold Humes. It was a magazine that embraced the literary, actually popularizing it. Its founders became famous as well – although not because of the magazine.
William Styron wrote the “editorial statement” in the inaugural issue:
The Paris Review hopes to emphasize creative work – fiction and poetry – not to the exclusion of criticism, but with the aim in mind of merely removing criticism from the dominating place it holds in most literary magazines […] I think The Paris Review should welcome these people into its pages: the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and the non-axe-grinders. So long as they’re good.
In the first five years of its existence they published many prominent writers, as well as rising stars, works by Jack Kerouac, Philip Larkin, V. S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Terry Southern, Adirenne Rich, Italo Calvino, Samuel Beckett, Nadine Gordimer, Jean Genet and Robert Bly. Headliners on a shoe-string.
20 years later, in 1973, Plimpton moved it to New York where he made his literary headquarters, always attracting some of the best writers nationally and internationally. He turned the first floor and basement of his house into its offices/workspace. It was never a shiny, glossy, mainstream publication. It had its own mystique of a kind of intellectual mom and pop operation. It continued on as “editorial statement” as it does today.
In time there was a board of directors, or something like that, whose intent was keeping the Review alive. Which they did. However, after George Plimpton died 16 years ago, its saviors took over and found ways to raise money to continue operating. I don’t know how they achieved it, but Jim Goodale – whom I was a guest of – told me that it now has several million in the bank, running most definitely in the black.
The Paris Review is therefore in a position of flourishing. And it is one of those rare cases where the editors have all been people who are/were attuned to the “editorial statement.” It’s amazing.
That Tuesday night’s Revel last month had a full house in Cipriani 42nd Street. I think they may have raised a million. One of the biggest parties I’ve ever been to there – and I’ve seen a lot of them. Jammed with guests, celebrants, fans, writers. Like the publication, it’s an evening of words. Talk. It’s so down-to-earth, it kinda feels like that college stuff, but grownup of course. And it’s fun. Although some of the speakers fell prey to the tendency to go on too long.
The writers “hosts” (at their table) were: Hilton Als, Emma Cline, Saskia Hamilton, Isavella Hammad, Cathy Park Hong, Mitchell S. Jackson, Sam Lipsyte, Wayetu Moore, Benjamin Nugent, Sigrid Nunez, Wallace Shawn, Diane Williams.
Gabriela and Austin Hearst were the benefit chairs, and opened the evening. Emily Nemens, the Review’s editor welcomed the guests and introduced Richard Ford who presented the Plimpton Prize for fiction to Kelli Jo Ford. Then Susannah Hunnewell, the Review’s publisher, introduced Elif Batuman who presented. Eventually, Fran Lebowitz came to the podium (I can’t remember who introduced her) to present The Hadada Award to Deborah Eisenberg.
Lebowitz’s presence always spices up the room because she’s the literary wit of our age. And she delivers her insights in a common sense style. And she can be very funny. On this night she was following instructions to keep it short; and so she said something like “I’m presenting Deborah Eisenberg with the Hadada Award,” and she left the stage.
Jill Krementz was there taking it all end with her camera; a great New York evening, relaxed, informal, a good dinner and a lot of personalities that define our culture and our time. The Revel would have amazed George Plimpton, although maybe in his dreams, he saw it this way. Their audience has now moved into the seven figures and internationally, thanks to the internet.