Sunday, January 09, 2011

Key West Literary Seminar: Reflections on Session 1 Panels

Most of you know that I'm attending The Hungry Muse, a food literature-themed seminar in sunny, breezy, cool Key West. It's a beautiful time to be down here, with jasmine in the air and a bicyle with a basket. Even if I didn't make my living as a writer (lucky me), it would be a wonderful excuse to leave the confines of my coporate cubicle to spend a few days reading, writing and listening to the most wonderful writers right here in paradise.

So far, there have been many memorable moments. I'll never forget meeting Ruth Reichl, the unknowing genius and mentor behind any success I might have as a writer. I loved hearing Jonathan Gold try and wheedle his way out of an agist hornet's nest (the room was filled with over 100 60+ year old food/literary philanthropists and enthusiasts) when answering a miserly old man's question: "Why are restaurants so damned loud and the lighting so dim?"
Molly O'Neill and Ruth Reichl provide excellent counterpoint to Jason Epstein's elitism.
"The Good Ol' Boys" Calvin Trillin & Roy Blount, Jr. shooting the shit onstage.
I've loved Molly O'Neill's down-to-earth, grounded stories about her hometown Columbus, Ohio, and the perpetual test market. Would America be obese if she had given a thumbs-down to her first McDonald's french fry? Good question. Diana Abu-Jaber asked some lovely, well-crafted and poignant questions of Ruth Reichl at the Saturday afternoon session, which I really appreciated after the floundering many of the panelists have done, telling stories with little real meaning just because it's what they think the audience wants to hear instead of what the writers in the audience really want to hear.

Former New York Times food critic Frank Bruni.
All in all, the first session of the conference has been all at once eye-opening, interesting, emotional, inspiring, and just a little bit disappointing. I'm looking forward to the much younger panelists (Michael Ruhlman, Mark Kurlansky, Bich Minh Nguyen) and getting to know more about Molly O'Neill. Out of all the panelists so far, she's been a ray of light amongst, as Jonathan Gold put it, "the Olds."

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