Category: Books

PEN/Beyond Margins Award

Monday, October 16th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events

PEN American Center is the largest of the 141 centers of International PEN, both the oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization in the world. Their Beyond Margins Award is awarded annually to five authors of color for outstanding book-length works published during the previous year. It is presented through the PEN Open Book Program, whose mission is to “encourage racial and ethnic diversity within the literary and publishing communities.” The program works to increase the literature by, for, and about African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean, Latin, and Native Americans, and to establish access for these groups to the publishing industry.

The 2006 winners were chosen by a jury of professional writers, editors and educators, out of a pool of more than 130 titles, submitted by nearly 60 publishers.

Richard Blanco for Directions to the Beach of the Dead
Andrew Lam for Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora
Ed Bok Lee for Real Karaoke People
Caryl Phillips for Dancing in the Dark
Jennifer Tseng for The Man With My Face

The event honoring the writers was held at the Donnell Library Center and titled “Something to Declare: Celebrating Writers of Color.” The last time I recall being in the auditorium, I was on stage, performing Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique. These days, I don’t think I’d get past the first few measures. I should try get back into playing the piano more – all those years of lessons!

After introductions by author Elizabeth Nunez (chair the PEN American Open Book committee) and poet Sonia Sanchez, special guests were brought in to read the writers’ works: lauded author Russell Banks (Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplitter, The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction — the last two of which were adapted into award winning films); poet, playwright, and screenwriter Jessica Hagedorn (Dogeaters); and actress Lili Taylor (of Factotum and Say Anything fame.)


Banks epitomized the older white-haired gentleman author in his tweed sportjacket, jeans and cowboy boots ensemble, so it was interesting to hear Andrew Lam’s Vietnamese immigrant youth experience recounted in his New England tones.

After the readings, three of the authors, Lam (Vietnamese), Lee (Korean) and Blanco (Cuban) participated in a lively panel discussion, moderated by Sanchez, about translating ideas and experiences between languages and cultures. A brief question and answer period followed, during which Sanchez posed questions that she had screened from handwritten cards submitted by audience members, eliminating the almost inevitable ridiculous questions.


[This has nothing to do with the event, but I remember one of the first presentations I had to make for work, years ago, to an audience of teachers and school administrators. After speaking for about 45 minutes, I opened the floor to questions, and was asked by one fellow: “So, are you… Chinese ?” Seriously. I could have used Sanchez’s pre-screening then.]

I would have liked to see some female representation — Tseng was unable to attend — but the men held their own, and seemed genuinely engaged with the audience.

There was a small reception afterwards, where the authors circulated gamely among the guests and the stacks of books. There’s something about libraries after hours — libraries and museums — that strikes me as very romantic.

About the Donnell…

The original Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Kanga are displayed in the library’s Children’s Room upstairs. Yes, Pooh was a real stuffed bear, given to Christopher Robin Milne — son of Pooh author A.A. Milne — as a present for his first birthday. Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, Roo (since lost) and Tigger were acquired in that order over the next several years. The stuffed toys have traveled in exhibits around the world, having been kept for many years at the offices of Milne’s publisher. In 1987, they were moved to a glass case at the Donnell Library where they remain on view to the public in their original well-loved condition.

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The Great Read in the Park

Sunday, October 15th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Eats, Events

SYB and I parted ways after the brunch adventure: he, off to support his friend, who would be performing at CultureFest 2006 in Battery Park; I, to attend the second annual Great Read in the Park, hosted by the New York Times. Last year’s inaugural event commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the New York Times Best-Seller list; the event was such a success, that the Times brought the “extraordinary literary celebration for book lovers of all ages” back to Bryant Park for another year.

Multi-colored tents and one main stage were set up inside the Park behind the New York Public Library for the simultaneously scheduled events, which included author book signings, themed panel discussions, interviews, readings and live music and dance performances. Over 120 authors had signed up to participate, catering to a wide range of interests: from food, to fiction, to business, to politics, to college admissions, to sports, to health and wellness…

The Great Read

Last year’s lineup featured more of the performances and authors I wanted to see. I remember: the Broadway cast of Wicked; Doubt’s Cherry Jones and Brian O’Byrne; Anthony Bourdain; Nicole Krauss; Jonathan Safran Foer; Mark Kurlansky; Rick Moody; Will Shortz… none of whom were making a return appearance this year.

The Great Read

Still, there was plenty on the slate of interest. I arrived just in time for the “New York Writers, New York Stories” panel taking place in the Green Tent. At least, I thought so. As it happened, by fifteen minutes before start time, the tent was already filled to capacity and security was not letting anyone inside past the velvet rope. There’s always a velvet rope in New York City. Who knew that Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams could draw such a crowd?

A determined few, similarly shut out of the main event, resorted to eavesdropping from the other side of the tent canvas.


Not I. I gave up and wandered into the Eve Ensler interview, taking place on the New York Times Stage. Here, Ms. Vagina Monologues herself discussing her new book, “Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World.” Part memoir, part criticism, her work explores how the pursuit of security in and of itself creates an environment of insecurity, isolating individuals and thwarting opportunities for dialogue, hope, and change.

Eve Ensler

In another part of the Park, Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Gloria Estefan (sans Miami Sound Machine) was reading from her children’s book “Noelle’s Treasure Tale”:

Gloria Estefan

Not wanting to be shut out twice, I went to stand on line for the panel I wanted most to see: “Food Writing: Cuisine with Personality,” featuring New York Times writers and brothers Matt Lee and Ted Lee (in glasses), and Gourmet magazine’s husband and wife columnists Jane and Michael Stern. Florence Fabricant (far right), food writer for The New York Times, moderated the panel for another capacity crowd.

Food Panelists

It was interesting to hear how the two teams approach their food discoveries differently. The Lee bothers admitted to a decidedly NYC-centric view, and they talked about the “heat-seeking culture” of the New York Times. They and Fabricant commiserated about the constant pressure to find the Next Great Thing, or the super-secret source, which by virtue of their writing about it becomes not-so-secret anymore. The Sterns, by contrast, consider themselves more food preservationists, traveling around the country, shining their spotlight on chefs and dishes that would perhaps otherwise fade away without notice or fanfare.

Matt Lee told a funny story of how in Summer 2000 he wrote a piece for the New York Times (which made its way to a National Public Radio feature) about Hamburg Inn No. 2 in Iowa City. At the time, he waxed poetic about the “secret” menu item of the otherwise unremarkable diner: the pie shake — a slice of crusty fruit pie blended into a milkshake. Pie! In a shake! Brilliant. (His favorite combination: strawberry rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream.) Perhaps obscene, but ultimately “a triumph of design and flavor — a pie à la mode smoothie — and evidence of the heartland’s inspired practicality.”

Lee’s piece created such a sensation – in Iowa City! – that the Inn was unable to keep up with the demand. Rather than do what any diner in New York City would have done, i.e., start charging $10 a shake, so that only a manageable few would continue to order it, the Hamburg Inn flat out refused to fulfill any more orders for the pie shake — which had never been on the menu to begin with. Diners who made the trek and request for a pie shake after the owner’s edict came down were told firmly that no such item existed. And so the pie shake disappeared into legend, a victim of its own runaway success. Naturally, other diners attempted to mimic the seemingly simple menu item — and don’t think I’m not going to try this at home! — but could never recapture that initial pie shake magic.

An alternate view of the Empire State Building, as seen from the north side of Bryant Park:

ESB Reflection

And on the way home, another street fair. This one along Sixth Avenue beginning at the Library, and extending uptown, past Radio City Music Hall for as far as I could see.

From Wikipedia:

Although [Sixth] Avenue’s official name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in 1945 by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, New Yorkers seldom use this term and calling the avenue by that name has even become a cliché of sorts for something a tourist in the city might do but not a resident New Yorker (such as mispronouncing “Houston Street”).

Sixth Avenue Street Fair

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Playing hooky

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events, Film, Friends

SC, CS and I played hooky today, calling into our respective offices, for a much needed day off. And what better way to spend a girls day out than shopping?

At New York Magazine’s Best Bets event at The Metropolitan Pavilion at The Altman Building. The landmarked building was constructed in 1896 as the carriage house for (defunct since 1989) B. Altman’s Department Store. The space was restored in 1998 to its original grandeur with 17-foot vaulted arch brick ceilings and original Corinthian columns. It now serves as a venue for events like this, and the annual Chocolate Show (scheduled in 2006 for November 10-12.)

Our trio arrived just as doors opened at 11:00AM, queuing up behind the other (almost exclusively) women, who apparently weren’t expected to be in the office that sunny morning either.

The Altman Building

Alternate covers for New York Magazine‘s current Fall Design issue. The magazine features a photo spread of “Legends at Home,” including one of James Dean in his fifth floor apartment on my block. Dean called that place home for two years in the mid-1950s, during which he also did a photo shoot on the street in front, from which emerged one of his iconic images.

Design Issues

Jewelry, accessories, apparel, shoes, beauty products and home design objects… We wandered among the colorful, tempting stands, but only SC ended up buying anything (and that not even for herself.) Still, the fun is in the journey. And a percentage of the ticket sale proceeds went to the Fund for Public Schools.

Best Bets Shopping

We picked up our bright orange gift bags and set off for a leisurely lunch at tiny Tartine, my erstwhile Sunday brunch spot. From our sidewalk-side table facing the leafy green West Village block, the afternoon sun was bright and unseasonably warm on our faces, enhancing the lazy day feel.

West Village Dog

More shopping, and then SC left us to attend to some B-school business. CS and I took in some more sun on a stroll uptown and caught “The Last Kiss” at our neighborhood theater. I had read precious little about the film prior to seeing it — the screening time just happened to mesh with our schedules — and I probably will not be the only one to observe that the movie may as well have been titled “Garden State 2: Electric Boogaloo.” I was slightly surprised to note that the screenplay was written by Paul Haggis (and not in collaboration with Zach Braff), the same scribe that gave us “Crash” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Disaffected, emotionally-stunted protagonist pondering life’s direction and purpose, while being drawn to a petite, perky brunette, and supported by a cadre of quirky friends. Even the soundtrack was interchangeable: Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Remy Zero, Aimee Mann, Coldplay, Imogen Heap.

I do like the ethereal “Hide and Seek,” though I feel that the song has been overused of late.

Later in the evening, I attended a launch party at The W New York for Food Network‘s Dave Lieberman, whose second cookbook “Dave’s Dinners: A Fresh Approach to Home-Cooked Meals” was released this month by Hyperion. Philadelphia-native Lieberman began his television career as the star of his own public access cooking show, Campus Cuisine, while a student at Yale. He was named one of People magazine’s “50 Hottest Bachelors” in 2005. (Well, he is a man who can cook.)

W New York Lounge

No cooking demonstration, but Lieberman was there, signing copies of his new book. Though I’m not actually sure what this inscription says…

From Dave

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