May 03, 2012
The Moth, a New York–based storytelling nonprofit, has had a lot of practice when it comes to throwing a good party. But May 8 marks the company’s biggest affair of the year: The Moth Ball, which is set to take place at Capitale in New York. The organization hosts several informal events each month all over the country, and its StorySlams, which allow volunteers from the audience to tell a story (five minutes tops, the tale must be true, no notes allowed), sell out from Brooklyn to Louisville. The Moth’s Mainstage events, which occur a handful of times a year, often feature noteworthy storytellers like Jonathan Ames, Malcolm Gladwell and Garrison Keillor.
Similarly boldface names highlight the gala, with Simon Doonan hosting; big-band leader and musician Vince Giordano (a favorite of Woody Allen) playing live music; and writer Adam Gopnik presenting the 2012 Moth Award (which honors the art of the raconteur) to Martin Scorsese. There will be dinner, dancing and, of course, stories from The Moth all-stars. The event will also feature a silent auction, where guests can bid on items like lunch with David Chang at his eatery Mà Pêche, a week in the south of France or dinner at farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill with Gopnik himself—all rich fodder for new stories. At Capitale, 130 Bowery; tickets, from $195; May 8; themoth.org.
May 04, 2012
The literati has descended upon Manhattan for a week of readings, performances and panels at the PEN World Voices Festival, which will gather 100 writers from 25 different countries to celebrate the power of the written word around the world. Poet Tracy K. Smith, who was recently awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her latest collection, Life on Mars, will speak on the Memory in Harlem panel (515 Malcolm X Blvd.). Departures sat down with Smith to talk about the festival and her recent work. Memory on Harlem panel on May 5 at 5 p.m.; pen.org.
Q: Congratulations on winning the Pulitzer! What does this mean for you and for your work?
A: It’s gratifying and humbling at the same time, in large part because it feels like my poems have been invited into a more public conversation with the poems and poets who have always inspired me as a writer and a person. It’s also a profound honor to join the four other African-American poets to have received the Pulitzer since the prize’s inception: Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa and Natasha Trethewey.
Q: What poets have influenced your work?
A: That list is constantly changing. I return again and again to Elizabeth Bishop, whose poems are just so perfectly made. I love Lucille Clifton’s moral and social conscience and the spare, poignant impact of her lines. I love the largeness of vision of Jack Gilbert, whose poems, to me, feel a lot like Platonic philosophy.
Q: Life on Mars is pretty wide-ranging thematically. Did you have a sense of how you wanted the poems to cohere in the reader’s mind?
A: I always put a lot of thought into the architecture of a collection of poems. I want each of the individual poems to play an important role, but I also want the reader to move through the book with the sense of being taken on a journey. With that goal in mind, I look at the ways poems seem to speak to one another, and I use arrangement to heighten that sense of conversation.
Q: Why do you look forward to the PEN Festival?
A: I have such respect for PEN’s commitment to literature and freedom. As a writer, I don’t know what is more important than the kinds of questions that literature teaches us to ask, and the freedom to go in pursuit of their answers.
Q: What festival events are you planning to attend?
A: This is a situation where I wish I could be in more than one place at once! I’m very interested in the Doon Arbus, Michael Cunningham, Francine Prose and Diane Arbus event, because the relationship between photography and poetry has been important to me for such a long time. I’m also quite curious about the Writing from the Domestic Workers United workshop. It’s going to be an amazing weekend.