How it’s New York: Ruda Beresford Dauphin, the Director of Pen, Paper and Palate, and some of the panelists live here.
How it’s Irish: The moderator was Irish author and broadcaster, Frank Delaney; the musical entertainment was provided by Irish violin soloist, Gregory Harrington; and it was produced by the Irish Arts Center.
Often the academics of the writing world, biographers burrow into their research for years in an attempt to understand the essence of someone, and are not always the most exciting speakers. In spite of this, Frank Delaney hosted an entertaining evening at the 6th Pen, Paper and Palate on Thursday at The Half King in Chelsea, in which he deftly moderated a panel of five big names in the world of biographies.
The evening began somewhat wanly with the first few panelists giving dry responses, which sounded like prepared statements from their book tours, but things warmed up substantially with Bruce Springsteen’s biographer, Marc Dolan, who proved that he could start a fire, and injected energy into his words.
He chose Springsteen as his subject after observing the visceral reaction of an audience to the song, 41 Shots (American Skin) about the 1999 Amadou Diallo killing, at a concert he attended many years earlier. He hadn’t intended that the book be so political and jovially mentioned his countertransference issues when writing, to which Delaney quipped that only a New York audience would understand the reference.
‘because he [Fosse] slept with everyone’.
The resulting outburst of laughter and applause from the audience spurred him on – ‘so it was aspirational’ he continued, ‘and I’m staying at the Chelsea Hotel’.
The dapper Delaney, author of Ireland and Tipperary, lived up to his description by NPR as ‘the most eloquent man alive’ and appeared genuinely interested in what people had to say, gently coaxing answers out of them in a style reminiscent of fellow broadcaster and Irish contemporary Gay Byrne.
One of the quietest panelists, Laurence Bergreen, author of “Columbus: The Four Voyages” and “Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu” (soon to be made into a movie with Matt Damon), looked like he would rather be home digging into a good piece of historical work, though was sharp and amusing when he did speak.
The only resemblance Winston Groom, creator of the fictional Forrest Gump, had to his character, was a southern drawl. I found myself drifting off to a happier place in my mind during his somewhat long winded responses. His tongue-in-cheek response as to how to stop his books being bootlegged in China was to have the executed perpetrator’s heads sent to him. This didn’t seem too far off the mark as to what an acceptable punishment would be to him. Life, it seems, is not like a box of chocolates to Groom.
Appropriately seated next to him was the sole female panelist, Hannah Pakula, biographer of Madame Chiang Kai-shek in “The Last Empress.” Delighted that her book was on sale in both China and Taiwan, she said that her novel was worth reading if you wanted to understand the Chinese psyche, which she said is more concerned with how things appear on the surface than the truth of things.
The evening’s entertainment began and ended with the beautiful and haunting sounds of Harrington.