- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

PEN/Faulkner’s annual dinner boasted fine food, crisp conversation and musings from writers of excellence.

George Plimpton would have adored it.

The acclaimed writer, editor and amateur sportsman was slated to emcee the gala event at the Folger Shakespeare Library Monday night, but he died suddenly last week at 76, leaving a gaping hole that was impossible to fill.

Instead, organizers carried on in his inimitable spirit. After all, the author was known for sublime parties as well as his remarkable mind.

Timothy Seldes, Mr. Plimpton’s literary agent and a longtime pal dating back to their days at Phillips Exeter Academy, joked of his friend’s need to sample all life had to offer.

He had “more lives in one person that one can possibly imagine,” Mr. Seldes said.

No one doubted Mr. Plimpton would have wanted the show to go on, and so it did, with a literary lineup featuring Russell Banks, Roy Blount Jr., Patricia Elam, Molly Giles, Julia Glass, Susan Isaacs, Victor La Valle, Kate Lehrer, Gita Mehta, Howard Norman, Roxanna Robinson, Robert Stone, Calvin Trillin #and Meg Wolitzer. No one lost sight of the fact that proceeds from the sold-out, $400-a-pop affair support the group’s educational outreach programs and writing awards.

Each author was asked to address the concept of “power,” twirling the topic around in their fertile minds to explore censorship, self-delusion and whether a certain commander in chief might be wielding a bit too much of it.

Mr. Banks slammed the current administration for canceling a poetry reading in which guests vowed to rain antiwar stanzas on the audience.

Others, such as Mr. Blount, couched partisan sniping in humor.

The country is run by the three “W’s: Wolfowitz, Wall Street and What Would Jesus Do?” the Decatur, Ga., native drawled to a bipartisan audience that included Sens. Max Baucus, Patrick J. Leahy, Thad Cochran and Mark Pryor; radio personality Diane Rehm; George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg; and PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer.

Before the readings, guests gathered in the library’s austere reading room for hors d’oeuvres and a book chat with the authors.

Ms. Giles confessed that her mind “went totally blank” when she heard about the power theme. Like any writer worth her salt, she repaired to her dictionary, where she found “38 different definitions” of the term.

Others, such as Mr. Leahy, thought writers were the perfect people to address the topic.

“Ultimately, an idea is the most powerful thing, so it couldn’t be better” for imaginative authors to address the theme, the Vermont Democrat said.

If the authors struggled with their assignment, they found it far easier to speak of their departed host.

“He was the emcee of choice,” Mr. Trillin said, recalling how Mr. Plimpton once spent an entire day volunteering for an East Harlem tutoring charity before heading up its gala that night.

Ms. Isaacs, who often saw Mr. Plimpton riding his bicycle on New York’s Upper East Side, reflected on Mr. Plimpton’s urbane wit and his “legendary” parties.

“He had a sense of real whimsy,” she said. “Not a lot of people have that anymore.”

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