Last night, Poets & Writers hosted its annual benefit dinner in honor of Farrar, Straus and Giroux publisher Jonathan Galassi, poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and authors John Grisham and Elizabeth Nunez. The gala was held in Capitale, the Chinatown enclave. In an upper room, removed from the hubbub downstairs, where hundreds milled about in the grand columned hall waiting for dinner, emcee Paul Rudnick hobnobbed with Mr. Galassi. Was he nervous about hosting? “There are some dinners where everybody talks and nobody listens–this seems like a classier crowd. I can make some book jokes. At least, I can try!”
The Observer asked the prolific New Yorker humorist and screenwriter if, as a host, he was more James Franco or Anne Hathaway. “I am their child,” he quipped, then seemed puzzled. “Now I’m going to be thinking about this.” Mr. Galassi wasn’t so troubled as he looked forward to an acceptance speech. “I’ll wing it! I’m better that way.”
Susan Isaacs, chair of Poets & Writers, seemed particularly excited about meeting John Grisham, who’s rarely in New York. “He’s part of a good tradition of Southern writers–with a streak of Southern decency, like Harper Lee. And he has good manners, and he’s cute!”
Erica Jong–whom The Observer overheard telling a publisher, “James Patterson and Danielle Steele: I’m glad they keep you guys in business, but it’s not for me”–was less favorable to male writers, broadly. “Certain male writers are madly overpraised. If they were females, people would be picking out their blackheads.” Ms. Jong’s enjoying her freedom–she’s preparing an essay collection of female writers on sex. Her daughter contributed an essay on sex. Was that horrifying, The Observer wondered, for a mother to read? No way! “Her essay is called ‘They Had Sex So We Don’t Have To.'”
As Ms. Jong recounted some criticism she’d faced, Jane Friedman came along. The former HarperCollins and current Open Road CEO burst out: “Don’t tell him that!” She instructed The Observer, “This is a perfect woman.” The night was about books, after all–so had the women read anything great last year? Ms. Jong: “To the End of the Land, by David Grossman.” Ms. Friedman: “This is a re-read: To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The evening was winding down upstairs: Mr. Grisham was overheard to ask a young female associate, “How long do we have before we have to get down there?” Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg wandered in with several female associates. What was her favorite book from last year? “The Tyrannicide Brief,” she told The Observer, chuckling inscrutably and backing away. “By… Geoffrey Robertson.” She disappeared into her phalanx. The Observer was sent downstairs as Ms. Schlossberg examined the room, where the hall was elbow-to-elbow packed. Table host (among a rank that also included Bill Clegg, Jonathan Franzen, and Sapphire) Carol Higgins Clark sat by the bar. What was her favorite book last year? “My mother [Mary Higgins Clark] and I joke that we should just say each other’s!” She also liked The Shack.
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