Hundreds Gathered to ‘Eat, Drink & Be Literary’
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
"It’s great to be here, back in Brooklyn," Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides told a jam-packed room at the BAMCafé Wednesday night. Eugenides, a former Brooklynite, was the featured speaker at "Eat, Drink & Be Literary," an extraordinary reading series organized by BAM and the National Book Awards that invites literary folk to wine and dine alongside their favorite writers. He discussed his writing through humorous conversation with moderator Ben Greenman, contributing writer at The New Yorker and author of several books, including “Superbad” and “The Slippage.”
Now in its 10th season, "Eat, Drink & Be Literary" has featured an impressive assortment of today's most influential writers, among them Salman Rushdie, Junot Díaz and Jennifer Egan. Before the readings — nearly all of which sell out each season — audience members unwind over a delicious buffet dinner catered by Great Performances and a steady supply of wine from Pine Ridge Vineyards, donated by Diane and Joe Steinberg.
On Wednesday, while introducing the event, BAM President Karen Brooks Hopkins announced that Eugenides’ reading marked the first event in BAM’s new Hellenic Humanities series, co-presented with Onassis Cultural Center New York. Eugenides, whose Greek-American upbringing has figured prominently in some of his writings, spoke candidly and comically about his background. “I eat and drink a lot but I’m often not literary,” he joked before reading from his short story “Find the Bad Guy,” published in The New Yorker this past November.
Well known for his novels which have pleased the public and critics alike — "The Virgin Suicides," which was published in 1993 and made into a 1999 film directed by Sofia Coppola; "Middlesex" (2002), which received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; and, most recently, “The Marriage Plot” (2011) — Eugenides delighted the audience, delivering an animated reading of his short story in a variety of appropriate accents.
The excerpt featured a lonely character who remains connected to his daughter almost exclusively through Words With Friends games. Following the reading, Eugenides spoke of his interest in modern technology as it “connects people who are far away from each other [creating] a palpable sensation of being with people who are not present.”
Shifting the conversation to the author’s path to becoming a writer, Greenman asked Eugenides a series of questions about his literary tastes and his trajectory. Eugenides revealed that James Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which he read in 1976 when he was in high school, was the book that made him want to become a writer. When he went to college and read “Ulysses,” he was further inspired.
Eugenides said that had he not been a writer, he might have become a doctor. While his desire to write was never thwarted, there were times he worried about relying on writing as a career. “I really liked my doctor,” he said, but when he mentioned to his mother that he might consider medical school, she burst out laughing. “I thought, that’s a bad sign,” he laughed.
Eugenides revealed to the roomful of fans what he’s up to now: in addition to writing a book of short stories, he’s just finished working on the film adaptation of “The Marriage Plot.” He also offered his take on the process of authoring fiction, emphasizing the importance of flexibility. “You don’t have it all in your head at once,” he said. “You watch what’s happening in the story and let it direct you.”