At The Paris Review’s Spring Revel on Monday night, April 13, at Cipriani 42nd Street, someone mentioned in passing that Philip Gourevitch, the editor of the literary magazine, is a real guy’s guy.
He does kind of resemble the actor Vince Vaughn! And he did look pretty beefy under his suit, though that might have been the result of his speaking style, which a lot of the time makes him sound like he’s about to punch you in the face.
“I mean, obviously, this isn’t the easiest year to ask people to support anything except themselves,” Mr. Gourevitch said as he dutifully greeted arriving guests in the front hall. “We worried like everybody else, would it work? Would people come out for us in the same way that they have in the past?”
He called the magazine “a lifeline for literature,” because it publishes unknown talent from the slush pile alongside established literary giants. “It’s obvious why that’s exciting for a young writer,” Mr. Gourevitch said, “but it’s also important for the great masters not to feel like they’re museum pieces, but that they’re right there where it’s happening.”
Poet John Ashbery, 81, was the recipient of The Review’s hallowed Hadada Prize that evening.
(The award is named after the sound of the African Hadada bird, which two-time National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen was called onstage to demonstrate, however reluctantly: “This is absurd. I don’t know what I’m doing up here! Its cry is not very melodious,” said Mr. Matthiessen, feeling a bit silly approaching the podium. “Ha-Da-Da!” he barked, uttering a sound somewhere in between a clearing of the throat and a violent shudder. And then, even louder: “HA-DA-DA!”)
“It’s always been a good place to publish poetry,” said Mr. Ashbery, picking up an artichoke from a tray of hors d’oeuvres and asking if, by any chance, the waiter could bring him a drink. (He couldn’t.) “In other literary magazines, the poetry is maybe just an afternoon mint,” the poet continued, “but The Review always has a dozen or so poems by one poet and a lot of other individual poems.”
Until last year, Mr. Ashbery presided over some poetically inclined youngsters as a professor at Bard College.
How are the aspiring poets of the 21st century?
“They are certainly more sophisticated than in my era,” Mr. Ashbery said. “I guess people grow up very fast now. I was still a child in my teens and my early poems were embarrassingly childish. Now, they’re certainly more hip, and worldly-wise and occasionally good.”
English novelist Zadie Smith was wearing a white flower-print gown that made it impossible, if you were looking at it, to think about anything but the coming of springtime. She spent most of the cocktail hour talking to the writer Gary Shteyngart.
Later in the evening, Ms. Smith would go up onstage and praise the stories of South African fiction writer Alistair Morgan, the recipient of The Review’s 2009 Plimpton Prize, for his uncommon dedication to plot: “stories that are actually stories, full of event and surprise.”
Over a dinner of fleshy fried fish, green beans and an impeccably sculpted polenta sponge, former Washington Post editor Benjamin Bradlee took the stage with his wife, Sally Quinn, and delivered some cheerful remarks about his ascent in the world of letters. “I enjoyed every minute of it,” said the 87-year-old. “Every minute of it. And I miss it. But I’m still having a fabulous time.”
Mr. Bradlee is, of course, an old friend of George Plimpton’s. “I was in Paris in the ’50s when this magazine started,” he told Pub Crawl. “I’ve played tennis with George all over the world!”
Mr. Bradlee’s 17-year-old grandson, Marshall, was also present with his friend, Jason. Both were very handsome boys with deep brown eyes and skinny ties that would have qualified them for tambourine duties in The Jonas Brothers. Both said they love The Paris Review. According to the young Mr. Bradlee, “they do a great job.”
One of The Review’s newest board members, filmmaker Stephen Gaghan, who wrote Traffic and Syriana and is married to the socialite Minnie Mortimer, reminisced about his days as an intern at the magazine during the 1990s, when he was in charge of sorting through the mountainous submissions pile.
“We would all read our number of stories and then have a pizza party and discuss them,” said Mr. Gaghan. “Then, we’d try to find something we loved and convince the editors it was something they should run.”
Was the dream back then to be published in The Review? “Of course! I still have my rejection slips all stacked up somewhere. Especially the ones that have the little notes of encouragement, like, ‘Don’t kill yourself yet, kid!’”