An Evening With the Literary Set
Last Saturday (March 26) I went to a literary reading at Le Poisson Rouge, a classy nightclub on Bleecker Street. Normally I don’t attend events that cost $10, but my friend Rachel invited me, and I thought I should be daring. (Most everything I go to is free.)
There is much secret information in the literary world. Standing on line, awaiting Rachel, I learned — from the woman in front of me — that "Louise Glück" is pronounced "Louise Glick." Soon after the event began, I discovered the disturbing fact that J. D. McClatchy, editor of the Yale Review, is universally called "Sandy." The Yale Review‘s centenary was being honored.
After gentle, dissonant music, and an extremely pretty French waitress wandering through the room taking drink orders, the founder of the Writers Studio, a cultlike school organizing the event, spoke. His name was Philip Schultz, and he referred to his 18 year writer’s block. (When he wrote new poems, he sent them to the Yale Review!)
"Sandy" McClatchy told us that his magazine was founded in 1819, and its original name was The Christian Observer (a much better title than its present one, if you ask me). We were celebrating the centenary of some vague reorganization of the magazine, launching it onto the world stage, or something. J. D. read the e-mail from Lorrie Moore, from his iPhone, explaining her lingering illness — the reason why she could not attend. In her place would be the renowned Michael Cunningham.
All of the readers teach at Yale!
The first was Caryl Phillips, who was also the only actual human being reading. The others were Big Famous Writers, who no longer go to the laundromat and watch their clothes spin around, while idly lusting after a thin woman in a raincoat. Caryl was born on St. Kitts, an island in the Caribbean, and grew up in England. He read a memoir about the books he enjoyed in youth. By the end, I had tears in my eyes.
Next came Louise Glück, who narrated a five-part dreamlike poem from her new book, A Village Life. It was great! She read in a solemn, incantatory tone, and though I couldn’t exactly follow the events in the poem, I felt like a door was opening in the ceiling and egrets were flying down from the second floor.
After this was an intermission, where eventually I visited the highly-designed bathroom, with its Orwellian trough-like sink (which slightly resembles a British urinal).
Edmund White, the biographer of Jean Genet, read next: a humorous upcoming novel set in the 70s, about a gay guy and a straight guy who are friends. Edmund was the biggest hit, because New Yorkers like to laugh, and he is actually funny.
Next came Michael Cunningham, the notable author of The Hours, also reading an upcoming novel, but his was melodramatic, heterosexual, and set on the roof of a Brooklyn apartment building. Cunningham read with immense intensity, like an actor. He is very good-looking, and probably handsome people should not be writers. They lack the long, friendless hours one needs to compose decent fiction.
No one I spoke to, in the audience, had any criticism of these writers. Literary event-goers apparently enjoy anything thrust their way, like prisoners gobbling down greasy hamburgers.
[the photo is Louise glück