Being There: The Cultural Season

Rob Spillman

As soon as a Trick or Treating ends, New York publishing seems to go into a frenzy. Everything has to be done by the New Year when anyone who deals with words goes into hibernation. Thus a million panels, parties, and benefits.

Here are some highlights from a ridiculously busy cultural season.

November 1st
7:00pm: PEN New Members/New Books party at PowerHouse Arena. Having been on the PEN Membership Committee for a many years, it is particularly gratifying to see a full house of energized PEN members, new and old. PEN continues to lead the fight for free expression around the world, including freeing last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

8:00pm: Esquire/Aspen Writers Festival party in the Dumbo Clock Tower. Luckily right next door to PowerHouse. But a world away. The over-the-top space boasts the most spectacular views of Manhattan and the bridges from atop Brooklyn. The glassed-in three story tower was host to a party led by Colum McCann, in honor of the Aspen festival’s ambitious Story Swap program, where school children exchange stories across geographical, cultural, racial, and religious lines.

November 12
Baltimore Writers Conference
Saying the Unsayable panel with Steve Almond and Elissa Schappell. Even though I moderated this, I have to say this panel kicked ass. Steve and Elissa dispensed with the niceties and went right for the heart of writing—why are you doing this? If you aren’t suffering, why bother?

Getting Published panel with Dan Cafaro (Atticus Books) and Richard Peabody (Gargoyle Magazine). Being on a panel with two pure indie publishers was a total delight. We had a great time. Hopefully the audience got something out of it. Bottom line: surprise us.

November 16-20
Minecon Convention, Las Vegas.
Why yes, I did used to make my living as a freelance writer. While the long flights let me catch up on Tin House manuscripts, once in Las Vegas I was totally immersed in the alternative reality that is the video game Minecraft. The results are here.

November 29
7:00pm: Moby Dick festival at McNally Jackson. The great SoHo indie bookstore hosted a very fun night of all things Moby Dick, including sea shanties and Whale Tail beer.

8:00pm: Sadly I couldn’t stay for the entire Moby event as I had to dash to Ira Silverberg’s farewell toast at the Standard. Ira is off to DC to be the head of the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Department. I couldn’t think of anyone better for the job, but he will be missed in New York. Ira was literally the first person I consulted when we started Tin House, and I will always be in his debt for taking me (literally by the hand) around Frankfurt my first time there.

November 30
8:00pm: Willie Mae Rock N’ Roll Camp for Girls benefit at the Gibson Guitar Studios. Rock N’ Roll Girl Camp in Portland, Oregon changed my daughter’s life, so I love being able to give back to New York’s off-shoot.

10:00pm: Permanent Wave benefit for Project Envision at Death By Audio in Williamsburg. Speaking of… my now sixteen year-old daughter’s new band, Claire’s Diary, played a benefit put on by the feminist group Permanent Wave for Project Envision, which works to educate young men about violence toward women. Frank Black’s definition of rock n’ roll: moving big black boxes in the middle of the night. For me: hauling snare and cymbals.

December 1
5:00pm: Brooklyn Book Festival first planning meeting for BBF 2012, at the Brooklyn Borough Hall. Nine months out might seem silly, but that’s what it takes to put on a show with 40,000 attendees and 250+ authors.

7:00pm: Archipelago Books Benefit Auction at the Gasser Grunert Gallery. Jill Schoolman has been heroically publishing international writers for years and it was an honor to be on the host committee to support her efforts.

December 3
Matt Kish, author of Moby Dick in Pictures; A Drawing For Every Page, at BookCourt. The Dayton librarian couldn’t be a nicer guy, and seeing his slide show of how he put together this amazing, ambitious project only made me want to root harder for him.

December 5
Center For Fiction First Novel Prize Reading and Fundraiser. Another organization fighting the good fight. $10,000 to the winner, $1,000 to the finalists. Nice job, people.

Sometimes publishing feels like a long, lonely slog, but at this time of year there is a collective spirit of, not exactly hope, but of determination to keep soldiering along with so many other comrades in the trenches.