Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Soiree with the Authors

There are American writers who write about Paris. There are Parisian writers who write about America. There are writers who have simply been inspired by Paris. The list of award-winning authors falling into all these categories is long and impressive.

So it is wild -- almost unfathomable to me -- to imagine having dinner with about ten of them in one night. But in less than two weeks, on May 27th, that's just what I'm going to do.

At its annual fundraiser, the American Library in Paris invites a renowned author to speak. This year, the all-hailed Prince of Paris, none other than Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon, will return to Paris to be the featured guest speaker. But the organizers of the Gala came up with a 'novel' spin on the always sparkling event: this year they have also invited a group of literary luminaries to create an unprecedented event in recent Paris literary history. It is a Francophile bibliophile's dream come true.

Warning: name dropping ahead!

In addition to the hallowed Mr. Gopnik as honored guest, also in attendance at the soirée will be authors Diane Johnson, C.K. Williams, Jake Lamar, Alan Riding, John Baxter, Alice Kaplan, Lily Tuck, and the doyenne of American literary Paris, Mavis Gallant. And, none other than BHL himself, Bernard-Henri Lévy and his luminous wife Arielle Dombasle.

I admit, I'm sometimes tongue-tied when around famous people. So I'm nervous about the nature of idle chit-chat or intense conversations with these acclaimed authors as we swill our champagne or tuck into our four-course dinners. Gushing "I loved your book" is such a -- cliché. To avoid the brainless banalities, I'm trying to think up a few 'impromptu' conversation topics.

Any ideas? Please chime in! If you have a question you'd like me to ask, let me know, because I'm spending the whole evening with these glitterati, from hors d'oeuvres to après-diner chocolates. Now is your chance, so please send me any questions you'd like to ask these literary greats. I'll report back on all the answers, I promise! And photos, too.

But, wait! Are you jealous? No need to be. Here's the good news: you can come, too. If you're going to be in Paris on May 27, it's not too late to don your best evening attire and attend the dinner. I called the American Library today, and the staff said that they can actually take reservations -- if fully paid -- through next Tuesday, May 20. They are expecting an intimate, sold-out crowd of about 200 for cocktails and dinner at the elegant and private Cercle de l'Union Interalliée on the Faubourg St. Honoré.

It is a fundraiser, of course, so the price for a swish evening with the authors is €300 per person, and all proceeds benefit this most venerable of American non-profits in Paris. Call me star-struck, but I like to think of it this way: 300€ divided by 10 authors equals about 30€ each. In my book, that's mere peanuts for spending an evening in the company of so many fascinating people you might never have the chance to have meaningful conversation with otherwise.

And companies such as Air France, Chanel, the International Herald Tribune and the fabulous Hotel Pont Royal -- the literary hotel of Paris -- all think it's a cause worthy of their support.

Who am I to say no? But ... what am I going to wear?

For more information, contact 01 53 59 12 67


Victoria said...

oh wow that is so cool!
try to take pictures if you are allowed.

Going Like Sixty said...

Well that's pretty awesome.
What writer wouldn't like to hear "I loved your book?"
Then hit on them - men and women. You may get lucky!

amy said...

Wow, what an incredible opportunity! I'm sure I'd be tongue-tied as well...

I think authors hate to hear "I love our book," because it's so easy to say, it could just be idle flattery. Try rereading a couple of their books, so you can make really specific references. I can't imagine a writer who wouldn't love to hear, "your chapter on XXX changed my whole perspective on the matter!" Then follow up with a relevant question.

maitresse said...

would love to go, too bad it's such a helluva lotta money. I'll have to wait til I'm a guest of honor :) (allow me my delusions of grandeur will you??)

Anonymous said...

Whatever you wear, whatever you say, you will be the enchantress of all Time.

Unknown said...

that's AMAZING!! as a francophile AND (franco) bibliophile i'm SO jealous!!

can't wait to hear all about it!! :)

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Sixty, A brilliant idea, but for the most part, ahem, I think these authors are spoken for. (The gents, anyway. But thanks for looking out for my interests!)

Maitresse, I have no doubt that soon you'll be among the creme de la creme of famous Paris authors!

Cher Chouteau,
*I blush* merci...

And to all, I promise to update with photos and anecdotes. I've been reading as fast as I can all of their as-yet-unread-by-me tomes, and have thought of some good questions to ask, but still readily welcome any input.

Questions? Comments?

Unknown said...

Yes, I am jealous.

For one thing, a year ago we were at the ALP every day checking our e-mail. Nothing was scheduled while we were in town except kid's stuff. We were staying a block away and it would have been such fun to go to something like this.

I am familiar with many of the authors who will be there.

Give them my best!


Hi Polly,

Ask each what sorts of changes they think a President Barack Obama will on French-American relationships. I'm sure this question will generate enough chatter for a few glasses of whatever you're drinking.


Petrea Burchard said...

It sounds lovely, Polly. I like Matthew's idea, or something like it.

You might put yourself in their shoes: no matter how popular you get, you still like to receive compliments about your work, right? I think it's okay to tell them you admire what they do. But then move on. No fawning, or you become a fan as opposed to an equal.

In my work I sometimes meet well-known actors. If/when there's time for chatting, having the confidence to be yourself with them makes them more comfortable. You're interesting, you can trust that.

If you find yourself babbling, just ask them a question. People like to talk about themselves, and when they get to do that, they find you very intriguing. If you talk too much about yourself, they don't.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Matthew Rose,
Excellent idea! Perfect.

Thanks -- great advice. Yeah, babbling was actually a concern: my mind usually starts racing and I wonder if they get bored with questions about specific works. Maybe I'll try some of the Paris Review-type questions for authors. Oh, or my own Real Americans in Paris questions!

Petrea Burchard said...

Parfait, Polly-Vous!

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