Wednesday evening, Alison Eighteen played host to 50 guests, hungry for Alison’s cuisine, full wine glasses and the readings from two authors, Kurt Andersen and Meg Wolitzer. It was the first installment of The Pen and The Plate.
The Pen and The Plate is a collaboration by Woodstock Writers Festival and Alison Eighteen, who aimed to create a literary salon series that brings best-selling authors to mingle with fans and read excerpts from their works during a three-course meal.
Martha Frankel, executive director of Woodstock Writers, said the idea to pair books with food came to her after learning that Alison Eighteen was opening a restaurant on 18th Street (after the close of her first restaurant on Dominic Street).
Six white-draped tables seated the guests, with an empty chair placed at each to accommodate the roving authors as they rotated from one table to the next. Feasting and conversation among guests was only broken between courses, when Mr. Andersen and Ms. Wolitzer sauntered to the front of the room to read aloud five-minute excerpts from their published works.
The Observer seated itself at the “popular table,” so deemed by Ms. Frankel. While other guests dined in the company of Bill Keller of The New York Times and Bharati Mukherjee, another well-known writer, with her husband in tow, The Observer dined with a unique guest list. To our right, chatty talk show host Leonard Lopate of the Leonard Lopate Show harangued us before moving on to his next victim, a chef to our left who seemed all too familiar with the talk show host’s biting humor (he was a former guest of the Mr. Lopate’s show). Some of the few people spared from Mr. Lopate’s witty remarks were writer and TED curator Julianne Wurm and Sarah Chianese, daughter of Dominic Chianese Jr., who plays Corrado Soprano in the HBO series The Sopranos.
Luckily, the timed interludes between courses provided a silent hiatus from Mr. Lopates’s banter and the ability to enjoy Mr. Andersen’s and Ms. Wolitzer’s readings. Mr. Andersen read from his recently published novel, True Believers, which pokes fun at different eras from a 1960s viewpoint.
Ms. Wolitzer, on the other hand, chose to read from several works and as each reading concluded she was met with a wide-eyed audience, begging her to continue her emotive performance of her characters. But the intensity also could’ve also stemmed from the plot of her first reading, which focused on an epidemic that robbed middle-aged women of their libidos.
When Ms. Wolitzer finally made her way to the “popular table” for dessert, the fellow diners offered quick applause before demanding autographs and bombarding her with questions on writing technique.
After dinner, we met up with Ms. Wolitzer to do a little probing of our own, asking how she chose the night’s excerpts.
“I believe that what you remember from books–I’ve heard this line before–is the character more than the story,” Ms. Wolitzer told us. “It’s true for me when I think about books that I love, so I try to make sure there’s a real sense of character even in a brief scene.”
We chatted with Mr. Andersen just before he slipped back to the mob of guests toting recently purchased books to be signed.
“It’s the ideal version of what people want when they see authors read,” he told us. “And that’s sitting in a big living room with a few other people and getting your book signed.”
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