“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.”
— Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice” (1923)
So wrote Robert Frost in 1923, eerily prescient in his choice of imagery of this past Monday night. For inside the walls of City Winery NYC, as temperatures outside dipped into the low 20s, the House of SpeakEasy’s opening gala night turned out to be a sizzling-hot celebration of writers and their art. For Page Six, the evening marked the coming-together of “a pride of literary lions”. For the House of SpeakEasy team, it marked the successful start of a series of Seriously Entertaining shows to come in the months ahead.
Playing emcee for the night was comedian Andy Borowitz, creator of The Borowitz Report. In the words of Vogue:
[The show] opened with writer and host Andy Borowitz regaling-slash-horrifying the legions of literary-minded folk in attendance with a tale of being asked to live-tweet the Oscars last year by an unnamed newspaper owned by “an Australian man” and turned the offer down once informed it was for no actual fee. “They said they would mention my website,” he dryly quipped.
Borowitz’s elliptical anecdote laid bare one of the House of SpeakEasy’s principle missions: to protect the professional status of writers in an age of free content.
As the near four hundred guests tucked into their starters, Borowitz was joined onstage by New Yorker writers Adam Gopnik and Susan Orlean, who each told stories relating to the gala’s theme, “Plays With Matches” (videos coming soon!).
To round out the first act, actress Uma Thurman took to the stage to introduce “The Tip of My Tongue”, a literary quiz that had guests plunging into their inner Bartlett’s to identify fiery passages from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Robert Frost poem that opened this blog post. The sharpest guests may have picked up a clue to the third passage from Andy Borowitz’s opening monologue; in a series of haikus abridging famous works, he took on a book by a certain H. Melville: “Call me Ishmael. / Hundreds of pages later: / ‘Holy crap, a whale!'”
After an intermission, House of SpeakEasy founder Amanda Foreman explained the guiding principle behind the organisation:
We looked into the future […] The first possibility is a future with no bookstores … and writers can no longer earn a living through quality writing. Or there’s a vibrant community of quality writing and great ideas. This is the future we want to ensure happens.
As the main courses were cleared, British-born historian Simon Winchester regaled guests with a grisly but hilarious tale of his gap-year work in a morgue in early-1960s England. The final performer, Dar Williams, rounded off the festivities with songs from her long and successful career on the American folk scene, including fan favourite “When I Was A Boy”.
As for the winner of “The Tip of My Tongue”? None other than author Salman Rushdie!
You can see further coverage of the House of SpeakEasy’s opening gala in the Wall Street Journal here and here, the Mail Online, the Huffington Post, and London’s Evening Standard.
COMING SOON… see all of our speakers in videos from “Plays With Matches” … blog posts in support of our February line-up … and even more pictures from our gala celebration!