Brooklyn BookBeat: Lit Lovers Invited to Wine and Dine with Famed Authors
By Samantha Samel
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Celebrating its 10th season, Eat, Drink & Be Literary — the enormously popular series created by Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the National Book Awards — returns this year on Jan. 29 with literary giant Salman Rushdie. While there’s no shortage of literary events in Brooklyn, the ‘Eat, Drink’ series has no doubt become one of the borough’s hottest programs; though the events continue through May 28, featuring a fine selection of today’s most influential authors, nearly all of them sold out within the first week of tickets going on sale.
Since its inception in 2005, the ‘Eat, Drink’ program has invited bookworms to dine alongside their favorite writers, who read from and discuss their work with a moderator, after which they answer audience questions and sign books. The casual intimacy of the readings, which inspire in-depth discussions over a buffet dinner and wine at the BAMcafé, has distinguished the ‘Eat, Drink’ series from others in the New York area — and this year’s program promises to be as stimulating as in years past.
Beginning Jan. 29 with Rushdie, a Booker Prize honoree, the 2014 series will feature Alice McDermott, Jeffrey Eugenides, NoViolet Bulawayo, Chang-rae Lee, Daniel Alarcón, Alison Bechdel and Meg Wolitzer. The discussions will be moderated by Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at The New Yorker; and Ben Greenman, an editor and contributing writer at The New Yorker.
Violaine Huisman, director of humanities & education at BAM, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that the series has developed “a very strong following and an audience of devotees that keep coming back.” Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that nearly all of this year’s events have already sold out. “Salman Rushdie sold out before our box office even opened, on the first day of online sales,” Huisman said.
The idea for Eat, Drink & Be Literary originated with BAM’s president, Karen Brooks Hopkins; she spoke to Joe Melillo, BAM’s executive producer, about a possible collaboration with the National Book Foundation (now the National Book Awards), and the two organizations joined forces. Since the first events in 2005, the series has featured 12 Pulitzer Prize winners, two Booker Prize winners, 25 PEN Awards recipients, seven National Book Award winners, 12 MacArthur “Genius” Fellows, and one Tony Award winner — and has grown to highlight an increasing number of international authors.
“Every year, we’ve been able to get more renowned and recognizable authors,” said Huisman, who, each season, meets with Leslie Shipman, director of programs at the National Book Foundation, to discuss prospective authors for the upcoming program. “Leslie and I sit down together to think through what we’ve read lately, which authors we see coming up with a new book or a book that came out recently that we were interested in…and which authors have always been on our radar that haven’t joined the series yet,” Huisman told the Eagle.
Whereas most literary events — including those in Unbound, a series that BAM co-hosts with Greenlight Bookstore — are focused around a book launch, Huisman explained that Eat, Drink & Be Literary is actually designed to celebrate an author, rather than a specific book. Authors often participate during an “off year,” when they haven’t just published a new work, so that they aren’t overwhelmed while in the midst of promoting a particular book.
“The emphasis of the series [is to] celebrate an author’s work at large and their career; even for younger writers it’s not tied to a launch. It’s for readers and audience members to discover who we think is representative of this generation and who we think is worthwhile,” Huisman said.
Indeed, this year’s lineup presents an eclectic mix of writers who have carved a space for themselves in contemporary literature. Rushdie, a Manhattanite who has published 11 novels, including “The Enchantress of Florence,” “The Satanic Verses” and “Midnight’s Children,” which won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker, is the president of the PEN World Voices International Literary Festival. Alice McDermott, who will speak on Feb. 12, is a National Book Award-winner and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist who has published, most recently, “Someone,” among other novels and short stories.
Jeffrey Eugenides, featured on Feb. 26, is the acclaimed author of “Middlesex,” which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award; “The Virgin Suicides,” and, most recently, “The Marriage Plot.” The following speaker, NoViolet Bulawayo, has more recently established her place in the lit scene, selected in 2013 as one of “5 under 35” by the National Book Awards. Bulawayo, who will appear at BAM on March 19, hails from Zimbabwe and is the author of “We Need New Names,” which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
On April 9, Korean American author Chang-rae Lee will speak about his recent novel, “On Such a Full Sea.” Lee has also written “Native Speaker,” which won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction, and “The Surrendered,” which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, among other novels. On April 23, Daniel Alarcón, whose most recent book is “At Night We Walk in Circles,” will speak about his writing. Alarcón is a co-founder of Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language storytelling podcast, and has been named one of The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” and one of Granta’s "Best Young American Novelists."
On May 14, graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel will speak about her work. Her bestselling graphic memoirs are “Are You My Mother?” and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” which won an Eisner Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bechdel also wrote and drew the popular comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” The final speaker in the series, Meg Wolitzer, will appear at BAM on May 28. Wolitzer has authored nine novels, including “The Wife,” “The Position,” “The Ten-Year Nap” and, most recently, “The Interestings.”
“In this year’s lineup, what I’m really most excited about is the diversity of voices that we are able to present in the series,” Huisman told the Eagle. This year’s program includes “very different writing styles, writers at different points in their careers, a range of ages, nationalities, ethnicities and gender identifications... if you look at the series as a whole and the cohesion, it’s really as diverse as it could possibly be.”
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Doors to each event open at 6 p.m. and the events begin at 6:30 p.m. with live music, wine, and a buffet dinner presented by restaurateur Great Performances. Following the readings and Q&A sessions, Greenlight Bookstore at BAM kiosk will provide books for purchase as featured authors sign books.
Tickets for Eat, Drink & Be Literary are $55, which includes admission to the reading, dinner, wine, tax, and tip.
Tickets can be purchased by calling BAM Ticket Services at 718.636.4100 or by visiting BAM.org. Tickets also may be purchased in person at the BAM Box Office, Peter Jay Sharp Building, 30 Lafayette Avenue from 12 noon—6 p.m. Monday—Friday; 12 noon—6 p.m. on Saturday; and 12 noon—4 p.m. on Sundays with scheduled performances in the Howard Gilman Opera House.