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Chatty Writers Go to the State Theater

April 26, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT

PEN Literary Gala New York State Theater at Lincoln Center Monday, 04.23.01, 7 PM onward
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When you spot Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine and ABC anchor Peter Jennings before you even get in the door, you can expect to find a gaggle of media types inside. And the PEN Literary Gala didn't disappoint in the writers-and-media-people-spotting department. Just getting to the bar required shimmying through the crowd past Steven Brill, Dominick Dunne, Grace Paley and Calvin Trillin. (PEN American Center's work promoting literature and fighting censorship draws a well-published crowd to this annual benefit and awards presentation.)

With all those writers standing around talking, the New York State Theater's mezzanine-level got a bit warm during the cocktail hour, but it was the first spring-like weekday of the year, and no one seemed to mind. (And the coat check staff looked bored.)

The chatty crowd ignored numerous dimmings of the lights and took its time walking upstairs to the grand promenade, where dinner was served. The space, with its high ceilings and wall of windows, combined the talents of two Philips: legendary architect Philip Johnson, who designed the clean, modern theater, and event designer Philip Baloun, who brought in elegant decor touched with pinks and purples. Each of the tall centerpieces was covered in greenery and roses and topped with a metal candle holder with more than a dozen votive candles.

After the more than 500 guests entered the promenade, they mingled around the tables--still chattering--for at least another 20 minutes, before finally taking their seats, and the wait staff started to serve the meal. Glorious Food's menu included grilled shrimp on a bed of arugula, breast of capon with morels, steamed.phparagus tips with hazelnut butter and potato and carrot puree with caramelized onions.

As a nice touch for the event (which was planned by freelance event producer Lynn McCary), each table had an author serving as a “literary host.” George Plimpton, Gay Talese and Wendy Wasserstein were among the writers who served this role, adding a bit of celebrity and a conversation starter to each table. (Although no one seemed to require encouragement to talk, and many tables had several famous names.) This feature probably didn't help quiet the chatter much, though, and most of the awards presenters and recipients were forced to talk over the murmuring crowd.

--Chad Kaydo

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