The New Yorker Festival 2007

Here is what has run through my head at the start of every October for the past five years:
"Ok, Steve's birthday present, check, what else... OH SHIT I FORGOT TO BUY TICKETS TO THE NEW YORKER FESTIVAL."

This year, promising not to miss the boat again, I sat at my parents' kitchen table in mid-September and counted down the seconds until the tickets went on sale. In my left hand, I wielded a phone with ticketmaster on speed dial. In my right hand, the ticketmaster website on a laptop computer. And after a furious 4-minutes of double-teaming ticketmaster from both ends, I emerged, triumphant, with tickets to three events. And holy gorgeous event-spaces, were they worth it:

*Friday night: Reading by Daniel Alarcon and Zadie Smith

You know those authors who read in that monotone voice, only slightly lifting their tone at the end of a paragraph? As if using something other than flatness would ruin their hipness and their art? Daniel Alarcon is one of those. And the thing is that everyone fell asleep. Because he was reading some passage about a man who decides to leave his wife and baby and it was literally like sitting in church and zoning out because the melody of the psalms are always the same. Boring.

Then Zadie Smith came to the front of the synagogue. My first thought was "wait, Zadie Smith is black!?!" and then immediately "wait, Zadie Smith is British?!?" This just goes to show that I made it through the hefty On Beauty without so much as taking a glance at the inside back cover. Other than her charming accent, Zadie Smith also impressed by reading the first two chapters of her yet-to-be-published book. I have nothing more to say than her writing was beautiful and stylized, original and nuanced. I even waited on line afterwards to shake her hand and to tell her that she is lovely.

*Friday night, George Saunders and Jonathan Safran Foer, conversation about the "Incredible"

I wanted Jonathan Safran Foer to be adorable and witty; instead he was adorable in a "I-look-like-Harry-Potter-at-age-30-without-the-scar" and not as witty as he was intense. Especially in comparison with George Saunders, who was so lovable and funny and comfortable with himself. One of the most interesting comments of the evening was when someone asked JSF if he and Nicole Krauss (his wife) sit around talking about their plot lines and eating donuts in bed. (This is, of course, what many of us imagine to be true when two young, dynamic authors are married). Unfortunately, JSF confided that he leaves the house to write (he did not specify where- a park bench? a synagogue? the Park Slope YMCA?) and his wife writes in the house. When he comes back after a long day of work, he does not discuss his book and sticks to an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. I gotta say, it might be true, but it sure does lose its fiction magic to hear that. I like my writers toiling with their work and tortured by characters that plague their consciousnesses. What JSF described might very well be true but it just feels so anti-artist and, how shall I put it... soccer mom.

*Sunday morning:
Robert Hass and Katha Pollitt poetry class
I wish I could start every Sunday morning in a poetry class led by these two. They shared poems that have inspired them (Milton's "On Blindness", Wallace Steven's "Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird") and then spoke a bit about how they come to the page. I loved that Robert Hass keeps a folder of scraps of paper and envelopes and post-its with words or phrases on each one. When he wants to start a new poem he opens the folder and pulls something out and goes from there. Makes you dream of the possibilities for the back of your Con Ed bill, non?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was very jealous when I met you on sunday after the class and you mentioned the readings you went to. I wanted to attend so badly but as you didn't plan ahead the years before, i failed to plan as well.

Hearing Mr. Hass describe his process was really interesting for me. It was reassuring that he sometimes needs a spark from past notes or things he randomly jotted down. I was afraid he would respond to that question by saying, "Well, I simply sit at my desk and switch into poetry mode, not standing until I have completed at least two pages of perfectly measured blank verse."

Next year I'll take a page from your book and do everything extra early. see ya there!