I ran out of class as fast as I could, knowing full well I probably had work to be attending to. However I knew
that I had something exciting and unique awaiting me. After madly dashing to the cleaners, and then the train I was off to pick up my World Voice's festival press pass. I arrived at the oddly located 37 arts, a 4 story performance space, located about as far west as one can go in Midtown Manhattan, to realize I’d missed the first event I was meant to attend. So me, my Italian sub and lots of very professional type people milled about this lobby, completely void of seating for nearly an hour. Upon entering the theater, a rather small room, with 3 rows of ground level seating then a balcony. The first row was reserved for readers and guests so I grabbed the aisle seat in the second row, as they'd let me and other press members in early. The first thing I heard upon entering the hall was an alarmingly deep booming voice-- that of an author I'd later learn was Mr. Edgar Oliver as he sound checked, discussing the substance of his rather measly all be it unhealthy lunch, while making it sound like the most ominous thing known to man.
After that house music clicked on and the room began to fill. The format of the evening was different from readings which I’d attended in the past, the night began with a Mid-Eastern sounding sequence played by the resident Violinist, as the evenings mc Jonathan Ames introduced the concept of the Moth reading series, and the nights theme (home and away, the theme of this years festival), and its history started by a poet who moved to New York from the south, and was named for his memories of falling asleep as his family told stories on his porch--seeing moths fly around the light. (That does make me wonder about the quality of the told stories).
The first reader to speak was Pico Iyer, (couldn't find a good link for him). Who upon further research is a fascinating figure who I hope to land an interview with at some point for this space. He discussed a trip to Yemen, with vivid imagery, and delightful wit, managing rather impressively to bring in the 9/11 tie in with out killing the mood all together. After him Mr. Oliver took over the microphone and discussed his first trip back home, to Georgia, for the death of his mother. Neal Gaiman described it as a wonderful tail of southern gothic madness. and I couldn't dub it better myself. Mr. Aims told the tale of his learning of the birth of his child at age 23 then fast forwarding (yet managing to maintain coherency), to a Christmas eve spent doing coke with a black transsexual. Intermission saw a mass exodus to the lobby. I had the good fortune at this time of getting to speak briefly with a personal literary hero of mine-- Mr. Neil Gaiman, a wonderful author, and it turned out an even superior human being. While I gained a great respect for every author who I encountered that night. Many of them bore a certain air of superiority and/or smugness, Mr. Gaiman was true to form a class act and gentleman speaking warmly with fans during intermission, even a slightly crazed comic junky, then me a awkward bumbling college student. There went my professionalism for that moment but it was oh so worth it. The evening continued with a story by Laila Lalami
, a native of Morocco, who spoke of her childhood and then how she missed becoming a multimillionaire and was glad for it. The last reader of the night was the incomparable Neil Gaiman. Mr. Gaiman told a story about how his passport helped him survive a teenage antic involving lots of cigarettes, a trip to Germany and a girlfriend. The authors then set up shop on stage to sign however due to the impending nature of my train I had to run madly back to Penn Station, for which I ended up requiring a cab. Trips are never uneventfull, and this one doubley so. The crowd drawn by such events is a fascinating cross-section.
Not that its all that diverse—being 90 percent middle to upper class white folks, usually a bit older then myself though there were a fair deal of young professionals. The other Pen events tend to draw a more diverse (age wise) crowd, however I suspect in part due to the slightly steep price of attendance, the college aged segment of the audience had opted to shy away from the event. If nothing else I’d experienced something totally new, and beyond that, discovered some amazing authors. I had planned to attend two events today however due to flooding near my University I only managed to attend one, a mildly interesting discussion on the role of New York in literature, for which I missed20 minutes. Not that was entirely bad, it just didn’t really offer much insight that a resident who was involved in the arts wouldn’t think of.
ps: thanks to the commenters i've fixed my highly imbarrissing fopa--and thanks so much to Neil Gaiman (yes i got the name right now folks) for the link)