Last weekend I attended the Literary Awards Celebration in Richmond. The annual event, which honors authors from around the Commonwealth, included Best Intentions for recognition. My (subversive) novel had been chosen as a finalist in the People’s Choice category!
(As a daughter of writers I was taught to revere members of this profession as keepers of civilization.) Being included was incredible.
Poor Keith, my handsome date, took a circuitous route getting to the gala. Over our four decades together we have learned each other’s travel-related idiosyncracies.
(Like the fact that he enjoys going places and I don’t.)
Also, Keith is uber-organzied in the packing department. He folds, rolls and uses checklists. I’ve been known to forget my Epi-pen, shoes and underpants. So it was no great surprise that I’d neglected to bring a hairbrush.
What was different this time was that after my spouse delivered his usual acerbic response when queried about the availability of his comb, he uncharacteristically freaked. He’d just discovered his tuxedo shirt was hanging in the closet. Back in Charlottesville. While part of me was doing an invisible nenenenebooboo dance, the other part realized that my long-time escort was going to be playing a game of black-tie-beat-the-clock in a foreign city while I would be attending the cocktail part of the festivities, alone. For those who don’t know me, I’d rather have a cavity packed with aluminum foil than make small talk. It’s the social equivalent of listening to a barbershop quartet sing polka.
Also, when people ask me what my book is about, I forget.
But I manned up and (slowly) tottered to the gala in spike heels while my spouse called a Lyft, reversed the slow crawl we’d just made into town (traffic was snarled by the motorcade of a visiting VP Pence) and went to Men’s Warehouse where a forewarned Bob had the right shirt waiting at the cash register, then Keith turned back around in the same hired car and somehow defied the (already suspect) distance/speed/time formula to make it to the library for a comfortably-nursed scotch before dinner.
(After getting his drink he found me in a real conversation with a warm and interesting couple who’d prevented me from ducking behind a bookshelf.)
Our table was a lot of fun, too. Larry, my seatmate, and I discovered a shared passion for John Irving and recited favorite lines from The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire.
(We both particularly love “sorrow floats.”)
The literary prizes were announced during dessert. The one that Best Intentions was up for went to the unbelievably gracious Brad Parks for Say Nothing. He acknowledged the other nominees in such a lovely way I wanted to go back and change my vote — from my book to his.
Adriana Trigiani and Susan Orlean both gave impassioned remarks in support of the written word — and the institutions that contain them. Though not mentioned overtly, there was a distinct current of unease (something John Irving would call ‘the under toad’) passing through the room.
President Trump’s ongoing assault on democracy and decency includes public libraries. He wants to slash funding for these community pillars — places where Americans go for free truth and literature and art and science. One of the speakers at the ceremony quoted the famous line, “Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too.”
To which I say: