By Chris Artis
NEW YORK: On Monday evening, more than a hundred publishing professionals gathered at the Diane Von Furstenberg Studio in New York City’s meat packing district for the sixth annual “Let It Bee,” a spelling bee fundraiser for the Council of Literary Magazines & Presses (CLMP), the 42-year-old nonprofit organization aiding small literary publishers (see our videos from the event here). Last year’s champion HarperCollins Publisher Jonathan Burnham was on hand to defend his “coveted aluminum foil crown” against the stinging competition of a dozen-and-a-half renowned writers and editors, including Nancy Franklin (The New Yorker), Rosalind Kilkenny McLymont (Africa: Strictly Business, The Steady March to Prosperity), and Sara Nelson (So Many Books, So Little Time).
The night began with the “Bubbles ‘n Bites, Buzzless Bidding Silent Auction” featuring designer clothing, hotel and spa weekends, and dinners at several Manhattan restaurants. Event sponsor Svedka Vodka ladled buzz-inducing, punchy concoctions, so sweet they could easily attract a swarm of bees. The mood of the crowded room was loose and lubricated. The white concrete floor of the gallery proved unforgiving to more than one glass dropped, and a Paul Stuart suit-wearing mannequin was accidentally toppled with a crash.
As the main event approached, Ken Davis, author of the Don’t Know Much About… series, was worried. “I was only recently asked to do this. I did try to brush up a bit last night. We’ll see.” (Davis was eliminated in the first round on “bumptiously”). James Frey, author of Bright Shining Morning, had an even dimmer outlook. “I have no chance,” he said. “The biggest word I use in my writing is ‘motherf**ker.’ I doubt I’ll get that.” Indeed, it was not on the list that night. Instead he was served up “blazonry” in the first round, which proved the author’s undoing.
“I’m only here for the cocktails,” one woman said prior the bee. “Really, who’s going to stick around to watch people spell?” It was a good question, one that Sterling Lord agent and CLMP co-president Ira Silverberg put to rest when he took the stage as emcee alongside Jesse Scheidlower, Editor-at-Large of the Oxford English Dictionary and the contest’s judge.
Throughout the event they kept the audience entertained, exchanging banter and barbs with the ‘spelling bees,’ each of whom gamely wore an oversized name tag and ersatz wire antennae tipped with sparkly balls. Michael Musto, author of La Dolce Musto, who had spent the better part of the evening looking as if he wished he were somewhere else, brought himself and the rest of the room to life in what may have been the evening’s most yuk-inducing exchange. “Michael, the next word seems made for you,” Silverberg said. Interrupting, Musto asked with glee, “is it PENIS!?” Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t. He was given “dirndl” and after missing the correct spelling by a single letter, Musto was sent packing.
While reigning champ Burnham didn’t make it out of the second round, a quartet of bees emerged as spelling stars. Alex Kuczynski (Beauty Junkies), Francine Prose (Anne Frank, The Book, the Life, The Afterlife), Sally Singer (of Vogue magazine), and Ben Greenman (Please Step Back) together played several end rounds at lightning speed. Given the nature of the event, no one would have guessed that the word “colophon” would prove so tricky. But it was for Kuczynski, Prose and Singer, who were each knocked out. The collective tension in the room was relieved when Greenman stepped to the mic and spelled it correctly. In the end he admitted the word had even vexed him but used the others’ missteps as a guide through his own process of elimination.
For the CLMP, the event was an unqualified success, especially during this rocky publishing climate. Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director of the group, said the evening brought in a little over $40,000, “the best bee by far for us and also quite a good amount for a relatively small organization like ours.”
Publishing Perspectives was honored to be a media sponsor for the event.
VISIT: The CLMP Web site.