Burnham, Baby, Burnham: Harper Honcho Falls at Literary Bee

Village Voice columnist Michael Musto, Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham, artist Maira Kalman, author James Frey, Vogue editor Sally Singer and others gathered at Diane von Furstenberg’s studio beneath the High Line on Monday, Oct. 26, for a spelling bee to support the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and independent publishing.

“I’m so damn, D-A-M-N, nervous,” Ms. Kalman told the judge, Jesse Sheidlower, the soft-spoken editor at large for the Oxford English Dictionary.

“If you look at the National Spelling Bee, all of the words are something nobody cares about” Mr. Sheidlower said. “We’re concerned with words everyone knows, but no one can spell.”

The contestants wore sparkly bee antennae and big name tags that hung around their necks. Literary agent Ira Silverberg was the master of ceremonies.

Mr. Burnham—the returning champion—was up first, nailing “leopardess.”

Kenneth Davis—who started the popular “Don’t Know Much About…” series—was knocked out first, stumbling on “bumptiously.”

“Don’t know much about spelling,” Mr. Silverberg said.

“Do these antennae make my butt look big?” asked New Yorker TV critic Nancy Franklin.

Mr. Frey—who hasn’t made it to the second round for the past two years he’s played—continued his losing streak with “blazonry.”

Then, scandal: Tayari Jones, author of The Untelling, revealed she was using her BlackBerry.

“You were Twittering!” Mr. Silverberg exclaimed, demanding she give up the phone.

“Tweeting,” Ms. Jones said, and handed it over.

“Spell ‘whirlybird!’” Mr. Silverberg yelled. She complied, correctly.

Mr. Musto was not so lucky, putting an “e” in place of the “i” in “dirndl.”

The finalists were authors Ben Greenman, Francine Prose, Ms. Singer and Observer alum Alex Kuczynski. The words came thick and fast: lackadaisical, domiciliary, gazpacho, vilification, brigantine.

“I’d really like to win this award for my newborn baby!” Ms. Kuczynski said frantically. “Oh God! Give it to me!”

But it was Mr. Greenman who prevailed, with an industry term: “colophon.”

  Burnham, Baby, Burnham: Harper Honcho Falls at Literary Bee