The winner of the first National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry
Update: 2:25 p.m. Monday: A video of John Ashbery’s entertaining talk has been posted on the NBCC blog.
You might expect an anniversary party for a literary-critics’ organization to resemble a wake now that so many book-review sections have folded or shrunk. But the mood was lively at the festivities that marked the 35th year of the National Book Critics Circle last night at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in downtown Manhattan.
I spoke at the event along with the poet John Ashbery, the novelist E. L. Doctorow and dozens of current and former NBCC board members. Ashbery, born nearly a half century before the critics’ organization was founded, received the first NBCC Award for poetry in 1975 for his Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, which also won a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. And he set the tone of the anniversary celebration when he said: “It’s great to be back here. Actually, it’s great to be anywhere.”
Ashbery praised the Rain Taxi Review of Books and offered it as partial evidence that serious criticism of poetry and other art forms exists amid the meltdown at newspapers. The NBCC has posted a brief news report on his speech on its blog. You’ll find excerpts from other speakers’ comments, including mine, in a separate post there. The full text of all the speeches is scheduled to appear soon the NBCC site.
One way to get teenagers into libraries: Have a party and invite the kids to come as their favorite character in the bestselling “Twilight” series of vampire romance novels. You might show the movie “Twilight” and play trivia games, as the Fairhope Public Library in Fairhope, Alabama, did.
What I did last weekend, or how I celebrated Mardi Gras in Fairhope, Alabama, where I’m a writer-in-residence:
- Went to the Mystic Mutts of Revelry Saturday-afternoon dog parade, where the canine marshal-equivalent wore a collar made of empty cans of Bud.
- Caught a lacy purple thong tied to red beads that a masked man tossed to me from a float in an evening parade. The thong is imprinted with yellow comedy and tragedy masks and the words “The Original Mardi Gras” (because Alabamians think their celebrations preceded those in Louisiana).
- Ate two Mini Moon Pies (banana-flavored and squashed by hitting the sidewalk) tossed by another masked man.
You, serious reader, are of course not interested in anything as base and low-culture as purple thongs and came to this site only for my reviews of War and Peace and Middlemarch. That’s why I’m posting further details instead on my Twitter feed www.twitter.com/janiceharayda. When you click on the Mystic Mutts link above, you will see cute dogs and hear “Second Line,” the Mardi Gras theme song, if you’re patient.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.