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Howe’s Brooklyn: When written word turns to music: A night at BAM

Alice McDermott. Photo by Jamie Schoenberger

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A friend who recently divorced now has evenings free and has been hoping to try an experiment. That is, to pay tribute to Brooklyn’s extraordinary BAM by dropping by every night, believing that SOMETHING interesting or inspiring will be offered. Said friend sent the following notes on BAM’s popular “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” series.

Wednesday night, BAMcafé was packed with hundreds of gentle, intelligent patrons, seated at tables to enjoy their buffet dinners and the massive supply of red and white wine from Pine Ridge Vineyards, donated by Diane and Joe Steinberg. Conversation flowed at each table, quietly enough not to block out the background music by Josh Rutner and Red Wierenga.

Anticipation was high for the main speaker, novelist Alice McDermott, a National Book Award winner, New Yorker contributor and three-time Pulitzer finalist.

McDermott was introduced and made a few comments before reading from her latest novel, “Someone.”

Here it should be said that BAM’s literary series, now in its tenth year, is such a brilliant catalyst: the food (more on that later), the high-ceiling setting, almost a cathedral, to honor the artists and patrons, and the dramatic lighting with great sound.  All of this so we can enjoy the greatest treat of all: hearing a writer of note read their own words.

In the case of Alice McDermott, the word flow IS musical, literally evoking thoughts and images that go far beyond the simple notes or single words telling the story. She epitomizes the adage that there are no dull subjects if placed in the hands of a great writer.  (And, here let us add that ‘great writer’ is not a phrase to be tossed casually. McDermott was charming and funny when speaking extemporaneously. But when reading from her crafted work, it turned to music.)

Brooklyn Eagle readers need not suffer through my description of McDermott’s novel; just go get it and turn off your electronic devices when you jump in.

A couple of final endearing notes about the writer, from her extemporaneous talk: She grew up in a paternalistic household where, she remembers, the last thing she would have been encouraged to do was become a writer. To pursue her literary dreams, she was told to learn short-hand, work for a publishing house and maybe write on the weekends. “At the dinner table, I was not allowed to finish sentences,” she said, “but I kept a notebook, and I would finish my sentences there.”

She also confessed that she sometimes works on two novels at once. “I love being able to indulge in procrastination,” she said, “so I can procrastinate on one project and get something done on the other.”  To this observer it seemed fitting that such a talent as McDermott would find a way to create a little venue for self-indulgence as a healthy outlet….but not too much.  She cannot reject the work ethic of her female, Irish Catholic heritage, where dealing with the other gender can be a marathon of forbearance.  

In closing, let me again say how much I love BAM.  ‘Great Performances’, BAM’s caterers for “Eat, Drink & Be Literary”, turned me into a food critic (just for one night). I want to sing praises for the vegetarian bean stew. It was meant to go with pieces of pita bread. Instead, I doused my salad with it and made one of the healthiest courses I’ve had in a while. GO BAM!


February 13, 2014 - 3:45pm


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