At around 7:45 p.m. on Monday, April 28, writer Carl Bernstein was mingling at the cocktail hour before the PEN Literary Awards at the Museum of Natural History, Coca Cola in hand, looking very healthy. “I ride a bike and listen to a lot of music,” he said. “I mostly listen to classical but also rock. I just listened to the new R.E.M.” His younger son Max is a rock musician and blogs about it on The Huffington Post. “Everyone should go check it out.”
“I’m not a blog man,” said Irish author Frank McCourt, in his melodious brogue. “I’ve read two in my life. I really don’t like to be sequestered in a room with a screen. I’d rather sit in a bar and listen to some guy uttering platitudes. You need time to think for yourself; I can’t absorb it all anymore. A book is enough, and a bar.” He gulped some more red wine.
Then the writer Gay Talese and his wife, Nan, an editor at Doubleday, swept in. Mr. Talese professed some weariness with PEN. “It’s very quick to judge lack of candor in other countries,” he said, with a mischievous, contented look on his face. “Like this Don DeLillo thing about signing petitions against China… Oh man, don’t get me started.”
But the Transom had and there would be no stopping him.
“I so will not sign that little circular letter under the auspices of PEN and with the distinguished Don DeLillo showing us the way, uh-uh, leave me off. I want China to have a wonderful Olympics!”
And another thing: “Believe me, if tonight someone says, ‘Now in memory of Norman Mailer, our former president, I’m going to get a glass and throw it in the air!” He said that in neglecting Mr. Mailer for too long, the organization had lost the right to celebrate his legacy.
Writer Michael Cunningham scoffed at Mr. Talese’s criticism. “The PEN awards will be at Gay Talese’s funeral,” he said. “I can’t imagine an era when writers are so disregarded as to be coming out against any attempt to recognize any writer under any circumstances. And Norman Mailer could write rings around Gay Talese.” Oh, snap. “Don’t quote me on that.” Oops!
Playwright Tony Kushner was gabbing away merrily with a clutch of bookish-looking women. He said he is currently reading The Rest Is Noise, by New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, and lots of stuff on Abraham Lincoln, for the screenplay he’s writing.
“When you’ve got a play that’s getting in trouble with some right-wing asshole group in Illinois, you can call on PEN and they’ll write a letter,” he said.
Co-chair Tina Brown, looking glamorous in a black blouse with a plunging neckline (hello, boys!), began the ceremony with a tribute to Mr. Mailer, crediting him for, among other things, founding this party. Mr. Talese elected to pump his fist rather than hurl his glass.
The evening, which honored author Toni Morrison, was emceed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Plastic surgery expert Alex Kuczynski left early to see her newborn son, Maxime, named after her grandfather. The big blond bouncing boy had just been born 11 days earlier, via surrogate.