It’s best not to bring reading materials to speed dating. Unless, of course, it’s Literary Speed Dating — in that case, bring all the books you can.
Literary Speed Dating, hosted Tuesday evening by the Windham-Campbell Literary Festival, was billed as a night of good conversation with this year’s prizewinners. Standard rules of speed dating applied: ten minutes at each table, groups move clockwise at the sound of the chime. There were eight stations, one for each writer. These included authors from Teju Cole to John Jeremiah Sullivan to Ivan Vladislavi. Of the nine recipients, playwright Debbie Tucker Green was the only one not in attendance.
The event took place in the President’s Room at Woolsey Hall, a space with an ornate ceiling and oil portraits lining the walls — the setting was appropriately literary. Cheese, crackers, olives and dried fruit adorned a platter in the center of the room. White linen covered every table. Writers and guests arrived in semi-formal attire, mingling briefly before taking seats at their respective stations.
This is the second year of Literary Speed Dating; last year, the program took place in the Beinecke Library, which is currently under renovation. Windham-Campbell Festival director Michael Kelleher said he’s enjoyed working with a committee of eight handpicked undergrads, most of whom were recruited through professor Richard Deming. The committee had preliminary meetings at the end of last spring, and met weekly this year to discuss planning and publicity.
A representative from the student committee was stationed at each table. Assigned a writer to study over the summer, these students came prepared with questions in case there was a lull in conversation. Student moderator Erica Wachs ’18, who studies drama, spent the evening at playwright Helen Edmundson’s table. Wachs, who attended Literary Speed Dating last year and became involved with the festival after taking Professor Deming’s English 123 class, said she likes the event because of the “amount of contact that it allows the writers to get with the undergrads.”
With roughly 40 attendees, the setting felt particularly intimate. Guests came from various backgrounds: My group of four included me and Sam Laing ’19, as well as two Connecticut residents. Laing commented that there were much fewer undergraduates than he expected.
Of course, this meant the conversations at each table were personal, and the chime — an actual chime, tapped lightly by a mallet — always came too soon. Edmund de Waal would be describing his habit of scribbling ideas on the walls of his pottery studio (a converted gum factory) and how at the end of each writing project, he whitewashes the walls and begins anew —
John Jeremiah Sullivan thinks about writing as discovering “little pockets of [his] own ignorance” and reflects on how important a sense of legitimacy was to his early development as a writer —
Teju Cole says photographers have an “infinity” of choices in the framing and selection of their sequences. *chime* Helen Edmundson discusses silences and pauses in her work. *chime* Ivan Vladislavić speaks about writing in response to works of visual art. *chime* Geoff Dyer gives insight into the film “Stalker.” *chime* Jackie Sibblies Drury ’03 remembers her experience as a Yale undergraduate. *chime* Helon Habila talks about being “seduced by language” —
Literary Speed Dating finished around 9 p.m., following a few concluding remarks by Mr. Kennelly. While the event didn’t seem to produce any budding romances, there was a lot of inspiration to be gleaned from the stories and anecdotes the writers shared. So, in that sense, maybe sparks did fly.