I went out with friend and client Emily Smith to PEN's 2018 New Members New Books party at the Sean Kelly Gallery. It was pretty fun! Everyone wore name tags, and the biggest name I spotted was Jennifer Egan. Below is a shot of the crowd from the hors d'ouevres table.
I vowed to network and make connections at this party, and not dance it up, as I did last year. That vow sort of succeeded, in that I did make small talk with a kind PEN staffer and her boyfriend, a car salesman, aspiring real estate agent and Rutgers Business School attendee. It also succeeded in that since no one was allowed to dance, I didn't dance. Apparently there were concerns about the safety of the art (it's held in an art gallery.)
There was a projector screen onto which flashed all the 2018 debuts with pictures of their covers and authors. Emily and I were standing next to the author of the amazingly titled Finding Mr. Rightstein (which seems to have actually come out in 2016). The author pointed when her cover flashed on the screen, and I'm happy to report Mr. Rightstein was standing next to her and appropriately lit up when her book came on screen.
In the middle of the party, there were some speeches by writers who had been helped by PEN, which has an admirable mission of promoting free speech. They were very touching. It was interesting to note, there was definitely a calmer atmosphere at this year's party as opposed to last year's immediately-after-Trump extravaganza. However, though it was calmer, in a way it was more sobering as the dangers the writers were describing did feel that much closer (mainly about the crackdown on immigration.)
Incidentally, I've been reading Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner, which has made me think a lot about immigration and the international economic systems. I thought about The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon, and the strange way plantations always seem to be lurking in the background of Jane Austen novels. Although Telex from Cuba got off to a slow start, it's picking up and I'm enjoying learning about Cuba which I know next to nothing about. The book speaks matter of factly about how insurrections are funded by the U.S. and arms dealers. It also is pretty good when dealing with racism. I feel like we start out learning that these things happened in history and now they're OVER, but as you get older, instead it seems more like a continuum and in this case the companies in Cuba importing workers from Jamaica and Haiti don't seem that far from slavery.
The hors d'ouevres were pretty good, and although they only had one cocktail offering as opposed to last year's several, it was the sweet one, the Daisy Miller. Emily and I lingered for awhile, then decamped to Friedman's, a hipster place across the street where I had a glass of wine and sweet potato fries. It was warm out, so no need to take an Uber home. I feel like I said a lot of truths that night, and they kept coming back to me in fragments over the next few days.