oday on my front steps I found a peanut. One peanut in its shell. And, of course, I started singing, “Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a pea ee nut just now. Just now I found a peanut, found a peanut just now.”
Well, I believe I found Godot! Just for a moment, but still. Where was this miraculous sighting, you might ask? And was Elvis involved? Alas, no Elvis. But at the Center for Fiction in Brooklyn, NY, we gathered to hear 7 debut writers introduce themselves, and then we were treated to actors reading from each of their works. Before I tell you where I spotted Godot, let me introduce these writers to you, writers you may have read about.
And in fact, many of them have already won prizes for the publication of their books. And “debut” is somewhat misleading since short stories and memoires have already come forth from these writers. But before I introduce the writers, we have an important question.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION
Where (and what) is the Center for Fiction? I was thinking church basement type of thing, or a group that rented out a bookshop for the night in NYC. You know, the cousin of a friend’s brother-in-law had an in someplace and got a good deal for the night. Dear Reader, do you see the low state of esteem with which I think literature is held? A church basement? The cousin of a friend’s brother-in-law?
CENTER FOR FICTION
Here it is!
Real architects designed this building and what is it for? It is for fiction. It is dedicated to the art of storytelling, all 17,500 feet.
Not only a beautiful modern building, not only a gazillion books for sale or for borrowing, not only a storied past as the former Mercantile Library, founded in 1820, but also known for its programming to support writers. And do they know how to throw a party!
The invite came in the email, and how they found me I don’t know. It’s a bit like the boy in Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot,” who comes upon our two gentlemen, Vladimir and Estragon. The boy is bearing a message from Godot, twice, in fact. Twice! I mean, such an abundance of contact they had with the man, well, subcontracted out contact, but still.
So the email invite came with, first of all, the list of writers. And, man, were these writers good to go. Seven had made the short-list. And each one I’d read about someplace, or had heard about a previous work. And the best part was the combination. It really was a celebration of diversity. China, India and Vietnam were celebrated. Also a writer referencing W.E.B. Du Bois (whose name, he said had the “oi” as in “voice) as she writes about small town Georgia. We’ve got a brood of chickens in Minnesota, and a book about the Internet, deemed, “the portal.” And, finally, a book about an Hispanic family in New Mexico, where the Dad celebrates Christmas as the part of Jesus in the parade. And, well, will he be tested.
As if this line-up weren’t enough! But let’s first have the lineup.
The City of Good Death
Swimming Back to Trout River
Linda Rui Feng
(Simon & Schuster)
Build Your House Around My Body
(Penguin Random House / Random House)
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
(HarperCollins / Harper)
No One Is Talking About This
(Penguin Random House / Riverhead Books)
(Penguin Random House / Doubleday)
The Five Wounds
Kirstin Valdez Quade
(W. W. Norton & Company)
BACK TO THE EMAIL
Not only these authors reading, but cocktails. Cocktails, Dear Reader? We are not talking cheap-o wine, but actual cocktails. And food: little plastic glasses with humus and pretzels and carrots. Little cupcakes. Awwwww. And then, wait for it, a tarot reading for writers.
That’s my card. It’s from the major arcana and it looks very prepossessing, at least the deck that the obliging “Amber” was using. It’s the high priest who represents commitment according to some. Amber looked solemnly at me and said these wise words:
“A friend told me this and I have never forgotten it. A writer sits alone in her room.” She paused and looked at me meaningfully. Joni Mitchell used to say, “If you need me, I’ll be in the bar.” Would that count as a room? I guess not.
WAITING FOR THE TAROT READER
These beautiful words did not come easy. We had to wait and wait, and, you guessed it, wait in line for this reading. I decided to pass the time and run around looking for items on a list for a scavenger hunt. Ulysses S Grant. (Seriously? What is he doing in a literary venue?) Not in uniform, mind you. And Gary Somebody, whom I only found thanks to the man in line behind me who happened to point to a portrait of this Gary Somebody and say, “That’s Gary Somebody.” And Virginia Woolf. I love this photo, how she appears to be floating in the stairwell.
In exchange for a completed scavenger hunt, each of us received two tickets, making us eligible for a long list of prizes, ranging from books to wine, from yoga classes to a consult with a literary agent, which I nearly won, except I was one number off.
NOW, WHERE WAS GODOT?
I’m not sure, but I think I saw him turn just past the portrait of Ulysses S Grant and then vanish into the crowd. But like his emissary, the boy who brought messages to the vagabonds, Godot left many emissaries behind at the Center for Fiction: all the benefactors and the organizers and the writers and the patrons. Traces of Godot everywhere. You remember that song, “Love is all arou-ond; it’s everywhere I go.” Ah, bliss.
Now it is true that when the boy finds the vagabonds, it is not all sweetness and light. The boy was afraid of Lucky and Pozzo and Pozzo’s whip, so he did not approach. We learn that he likes his life herding goats and he is not beaten, although his brother, whose job is herding the sheep, is indeed beaten. What to make of all that? Perhaps that the messenger partakes of the struggles of the characters and not so much the loftiness of the lofty Godot. But more than that, the boy lets us know that Godot is real. Who is Godot? Ah, that is the question.
Tune in next week to hear the famous actor Ian McKellen tell it like it is! And time to visit Paris, don’t you think? And who won the contest? Take a guess and see if you’re right.
I have just created a business account on Instagram called writing4godot. The purpose of this is to create a platform so I can say to an agent, “I have a thousand faithful fans.”
I have five times as many followers as the day I started. That day saw five intrepid souls sign up. Today it’s up to 25! Hooray. Only 975 to go! If you are so inclined, if you would follow me on Instagram, it would be much appreciated.
See you next week!