Author Marjorie Hart celebrated National Reading Group Month this past weekend in LA and sent in this great report from the day. Her memoir, Summer at Tiffany, which tells the story of the magical summer of 1945 when she and a friend moved to NYC to work at the famed jeweler sounds like it was a hit on the other coast as well!
It was a marvelous Saturday morning at the Women’s National Book Association in Los Angeles! To be surrounded by book lovers and book professionals is an exceptional experience and to meet at the splendid Maple Room of the Beverly Hilton Hotel was the incomparable icing on the cake. Michelle Gilstrap, the charming president, warmly greeted us, with introductions to the officers and members of this outstanding organization.Over coffee and delicious pastries, I met the two authors joining me on the panel: the scholarly Alan Brennert, an Emmy Award- winning screenwriter and well-known Molokai, with his new novel, Honolulu, and the lovely Tatjana Soli and her first novel, The Lotus Eaters. The Book Soup Store was the sponsor of the event. We were there to celebrate National Reading Group Month Program, which occurs every October.
I was fascinated to learn that Women's National Book Association was organized in 1917 by women who had been excluded from membership in the all-male Bookseller’s League! (Doesn’t that sound familiar!) They bring together professional women and men who promote books and reading, support UNICEF and the Afghanistan Education Alliance to improve literacy and education for women and girls. So noteworthy an organization, I wanted to join immediately.
Michelle Gilstrap, the moderator of our panel, had outlined an interesting detailed three-hour program. Her opening question concerned the heroine in our books. That answer was easy for me--my college roommate, Marty, who convinced me to run-off to New York City in 1945 instead of facing another humdrum summer at the University of Iowa and led me into the most prestigious store in the city-- Tiffany & Co. If it hadn’t been for Marty, there would never have been Summer at Tiffany!
The heroine in Alan Brennert’s Honolulu, is a “picture bride” from Korea, taken to Hawaii the early years of this century, ostensibly for an education, with the history researched meticulously. Tatjana Soli’s heroine in The Lotus Eaters is an American photographer with her struggles and triumphs during the horror of wartime Vietnam. All of the heroines had something in common; strong independent women in their passion, duty and ambition. Similar also was the historical focus of each book: the depiction of Hawaii in Honolulu spans decades from the early 20th century to the impact of WWII, the war-torn lives of Vietnam in The Lotus Eaters to the Saigon streets of the American evacuation, and in Summer at Tiffany, the last months of WWII ending at Times Square to celebrate V-Day. Michelle Gilstrap ably led insightful comments and questions that morning, then our readings, followed by perceptive questions from the membership.
During the event, there was a break and a great opportunity for the three of us to share our writing processes: how and where we gathered our research, the untold number of rewrites and the years it takes to accomplish a book. Alan described how he kept a box labeled “scraps” to save rewrites, in case they might be needed later. I made a note of that, as my husband has accused me of at least wasting a forest of trees. |
Knowing that the meeting would begin at nine in the morning and I lived hours away to travel those interminable LA freeways—my daughter, who graciously accompanied me, decided we should arrive Friday and enjoy the ambiance of the hotel. It did not disappoint. The walls of the Beverly Hilton are lined with stunning black-and-white portrait photographs of Hollywood stars and their memorabilia— a step back to the Forties. Two of them caused me to linger: a sculpture that had belonged to Judy Garland and a glamorous photograph of Marlene Dietrich, her exquisite face framed against fragile feathers. It swept me back to Tiffany’s, when I saw Judy hold hands with Vincente Minelli, and her laughter filled the first floor, and the regal entrance of Marlene Dietrich through the 5th Avenue revolving door, wearing her regulation wartime USO uniform with stocky laced-up shoes, a far cry from the sexy siren shots admired in the movie magazines.
As we drove away on Saturday I remembered another nostalgic moment. Sitting by the legendary pool the evening before outside of Trader Vic’s—enjoying celeb sightings with the signature Mai Tai!