What, you thought Tom Wolfe was the only literary lion we roll with?
Last night, The Norman Mailer Center and Writers Colony held its fifth annual gala at the New York Public Library; B+B was there along with the Mailer family, a long list of well-respected writers, and some pleasant surprises like John Waters, Tony Bennett, and Coco Rocha. (For better or worse Courtney Love, who was supposed to be Steven Klein’s date, was a no-show.)
For those who aren’t aware, Dick Cavett is incredible. When Mr. Cavett recounted the episode of The Dick Cavett Show in which Mailer famously showed up inebriated (a.k.a. wasted) and got into a ridiculous fight with Gore Vidal, Janet Flanner and Cavett, he became even more incredible. The argument played during Cavett’s speech, and created one of those moments when the world appears to have come full circle and all present, or at least one Bedford + Bowery reporter, thinks to themselves, “I can die happy now.” Cavett’s time on stage ended when renowned writer, style icon, and Honorary Gala Chairman, Gay Talese, made a cameo and the two exited the platform together.
The most moving speech of the night was given by Elise Jordan. Accepting the Emerging Journalist Award on behalf of her late husband Michael Hastings, who died in a motor vehicle accident this past June, she shared personal details about coping with her husband’s death. “He was so sad, I wondered if he’d ever be whole again,” she said about the first time they met, which was shortly after the death of his former fiancé.
“I don’t know if one ever fully recovers from losing their great love, but I saw that pain taught Michael to live and love deeply. That is his lasting gift to me, his love and his example, that there is so much to live for and hope for in a world that can be unfair and undeniably hopeful.” Not all of Jordan’s speech was heartbreaking; she also commended the Norman Mailer Center, of which Hastings was a former participant, and made several jokes.
Will Dana, managing editor at Rolling Stone, presented the award and recalled a time when Hastings came to them with a plan to infiltrate General Stanley McChrystal’s group. “It seemed a little preposterous, that this guy who we’d never heard of, was going to be getting into the inner circle of the war and exposing all the lies of the general,” he said. “But a few days later, he called to say the general’s people loved the idea. And this was at a time when we’d been negotiating for nearly six months to arrange an interview with Lady Gaga.”Dana continued by praising the brave reporter: “What I remember from that first meeting, is how much I immediately liked Michael. Getting to know guys like him is one of the things I love about what I do . . . and, as I was writing this, our Head of Researchers looked in on my screen and she said, ‘Be sure to talk about how nice he was to factcheckers.’”
While Jordan and Dana delivered intimate, heartfelt speeches, Junot Diaz did just the opposite and delivered pretty much nothing, not bothering with a speech. Maya Angelou, on the other hand, seemed incredibly appreciative to have accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award. The influential poet came out looking livelier than ever, singing the Kitty Wells number “God Put A Rainbow in the Clouds,” and received a standing ovation. As she bounced between tales of pain from Martin Luther King, Jr. being assassinated on her birthday, to praising her editor at Random House, Angelou’s speech read like a beautiful poem.The author talked about how she initially turned down her editor’s request to write a memoir. After several failed attempts to convince her, he finally said, “Ms. Angelou, it’s probably just as well that you don’t try to write an autobiography, because writing an autobiography . . . is almost impossible.” She paused and a giant smirk swept across her face, “…and surely he talked to James Baldwin who said, ‘If you want to get Maya Angelou to do something, tell her she can’t do it.’” When speaking of Mailer, Dr. Angelou said, “I have loved Norman Mailer’s writing. We have been at odds. Yes, we are at odds. I’m still at odds with Mr. Mailer, however, he writes so well.”
Shortly after Maya Angelou’s remarkable speech Joyce Carol Oates, recipient of last year’s NMC Lifetime Achievement Prize, introduced the winner of the National Middle and High School Teacher Non-Fiction Award. Oates painted a picture of Mailer that made the audience feel as though they knew him (actually, many in the audience did in fact know him). “Norman was audacious, he was reckless; he was immeasurably imaginative and inventive; he was passionate; he was very, very generous,” said Oates.
“He was actually a visionary,” she went on. “He believed in many, many things, but most of all, and this is what really divides Norman Mailer from most people, he was not afraid to make a fool of himself.”