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Eat, Drink & Be Literary

A night at BAMcafé Live’s Eat, Drink & Be Literary series is an event worth donning your nerd glasses and most elegant pair of heels for. Inaugurated in 2005, the series has attracted everyone from Paul Auster to Joyce Carol Oates to Junot Díaz (up next, on April 3). BAM Humanities Director Violaine Huisman talked with us about working with some of today’s greatest literary minds.

How did the idea for Eat, Drink & Be Literary come about?

BAM had been thinking about new programs that would work in our BAMcafé space. Our president Karen Brooks Hopkins had seen a brochure about the National Book Awards, and we reached out to them about working with us on a series. It came together beautifully.

How do you choose authors?

We program our season with passion as our initial guiding principle. Over the years, the series has built a strong enough reputation that many writers seem excited to join us, too. As a programmer, nothing could be more gratifying. We try to balance our events to achieve diversity in our programming, so we’ll host big names like Martin Amis and Jamaica Kincaid, and rising literary stars like Nell Freudenberger and Keith Gessen.

Who has been the most surprising reader so far?

Edward Albee joined us in May 2011. He wasn’t interested in dining or drinking. He asked to spend the hour he had before in a private room, with a glass of water, going over his notes. He received a standing ovation as soon as he appeared on stage. I secretly believed that his leather jacket (worthy of Javier Bardem’s in the latest James Bond film) did more than a little to galvanize the audience. He read from an unpublished work that he described as not a play nor a story, but a “sit-around”—something you share in a gathering. I remember it made my hair stand on end.

How do you keep people, especially young people, interested in literature today?

Exposure is the first step towards interest: You have to know it’s out there to be interested. Our goal, at a basic level, is to make people aware of great literature. We keep our events affordable, and make sure they come with a sense of accessibility. Anyone is welcome, and it’s fine if you’ve never read the author. Ideally there’s an element of discovery for some people in the audience.

Do you think writers can still have star power?

Even the most famous writers hardly ever get stopped on the street. What they do is not about self-image—they’re not movie stars—but there are still plenty of famous writers with fans who find it phenomenal to be in their presence. Our curatorial mandate is to present great writers. So far, it seems to get attention.

Eat, Drink & Be Literary is hosted on a monthly basis at BAMcafé, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, $55 ticket includes dinner, dessert, and wine.