On Saturday night, at the Brooklyn Book Festival’s Gala Mingle, literary stars from Francine Prose to Colson Whitehead sipped white wine and chatted politely with one another about each other’s work, under the harsh glare of flourescent lights.
Indeed, where past years’ galas have been held in elegant digs at the historic Dime Savings Bank and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, Saturday’s festivities took place in a large hall and an adjacent cafeteria downstairs at St. Francis College, a block away from Borough Hall. The venue’s very thorough lighting made certain that most things were illuminated.
The room’s unforgiving visibility did not escape the notice of literary revelers. “This is terrible,” said a young editor. “I think everyone is just gritting their teeth.”
The impression of a high-school dance attended solely by shy, bookish types was only reinforced when JT Leroy hoax perpetrator Laura Albert began dancing slitheringly with her escort, Gary Lippman, to the jazz band. No one else joined in.
Still, most luminaries were too polite to respond to criticism of the venue.
Feeling a bit like you’re under the lights? “Well, yeah,” said Aleksandar Hemon, on hand to receive St. Francis College’s $50,000 literary prize (but not to read at the festival—the Sarajevo-born Chicagoan stopped off in Brooklyn on his way home from Berlin).
“I’m sure it was always way better than it is right now,” Ben Marcus said sarcastically.
Partygoers were more forthcoming on their plans to attend the festival the next day. “My two year old has a hot date with Mo Willems at 10:30 in the morning, that’s our priority,” said Jonathan Lethem.
Ms. Albert, wearing a black flapper dress and elaborate feathered hat (“I made it in shop,” Albert explained), was looking forward to one event in particular: “My own.” But she conceded that with so many world-class authors on hand, it would be hard to choose a second-best. “It’s like being a kid in a candy store. The only thing that would make me more wet is, like, if the Willy Wonka movie came to life.”