Tuesday, February 07, 2006 posted by Jen at 2/07/2006 01:45:00 PM
Before the fun onstage got started at the Connecticut Forum, there was a dinner. I was seated with a table of very gracious sponsors who all had good questions about the writing life, my experiences in Hollywood and what it was like to grow up just down the road.
After dessert was served, and the audience of 2,700 was just starting to arrive at the Bushnell Theater for the event billed as “A Conversation With Our Favorite Writers,” the man to my left studied me, then looked at the program with Kurt Vonnegut's and Joyce Carol Oates' names and pictures, then at me again.
“You know what I think your job is tonight?” he whispered. “Comic relief.”
That, I whispered back, is so true.
I could have told him, if he’d hung around until the last question had been answered and the house lights came on, that being on stage with Joyce Carol Oates and Kurt Vonnegut felt a little bit like showing up for a baseball game with your bat and your mitt and discovering that one of your ostensible teammates has bought golf clubs and the other’s arrived with a fencing foil.
I was lucky enough to have Joyce Carol Oates as a professor back in the day. She's published more in the last decade than most writers will in a lifetime, she’s as smart as ten normal people put together, has an encyclopedic command of literature and a sly sense of humor. Plus, in the time it took you to read this paragraph, she’s written a book review, two short stories and a libretto.
At 83, Kurt Vonnegut’s written world-changing books, and he’s got his grumpy-old-man-at-the-end-of-the-world shtick down so pat that other people on stage were rendered extraneous annoyances. He could have just sat on the stage and quoted pages verbatim from A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY and his fans – some of whom who’d crossed the country to see him – would have lapped up every word.
Come to think of it, that was a lot of what he did. Not that I’m complaining. If, on the off chance there are still people willing to pay to hear me speak when I’m 83, I, too, will sit on a stage and quote from A MAN WITHOUT A COUNTRY . . . only I’ll be doing it between bites of the Boston Cream pie that my contract will require be provided.
It was an interesting night, a provocative night, an ever-so-slightly contentious night (Mr. Vonnegut didn't appear to have much use for authors who hadn't figured out a cogent philosophy of life, on par with his "just get off the planet" line -- and I would have paid good money for a snapshot of the high school students' faces when he informed them that human beings are a disease on the face of the planet and the best thing they can do is not reproduce and leave as quickly as possible. When he started plugging his son's book, I said, "Wait a minute, you had kids?" He shook his head, shrugged, and said, "My wife did." Huh).
It gave me a lot to think about in terms of the meaning of literature, politics in fiction, handling the book-to-film transition and to get readers to come all the way from California to hear me (note to self: put more drawings in books. Also billboards).
In any event, I hope I did my job as the evening’s designated comic relief.
My vote for the hardest-working man in showbiz goes to Colin McEnroe, a journalist and author in his own right, who had the unenviable task of mediating the talk between the three of us. He did an excellent job of keeping the conversation moving, actually listening to the responses and asking good follow-ups.
In other news, GOODNIGHT NOBODY will be published in paperback this spring (probably late April/early May). I’ll post the exact date and the tour dates when I’ve got them, but I can let you know I’m going to be in Salem, Oregon on March 16 at the Salem Library. More soon.
Welcome to A Moment of Jen, author Jennifer Weiner's constantly-updated take on books, baby, and news of the world. Email me at jen (a) jenniferweiner.com.