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Book mark: Dine with famous authors at BAM

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Want to help Pete Hamill write his next novel? Ask him a lot of questions.

Hamill, who is one of nine authors participating in this year’s popular “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, said he likes being at such events because a smart audience makes him a better writer.

“A question asked might suggest a question that has never occurred to me, and [then] forces me to ponder the answer,” Hamill told GO Brooklyn. “If not immediately, then later, in the dark, after midnight.”

Hamill — whose journalistic career includes editing stints at the Daily News, New York Post and Newsday, and whose less-creative pursuits include the memoir “A Drinking Life” and the novels “Snow in August” and “The Deadly Piece” — will headline the Jan. 25 event.

This is Hamill’s first appearance at the event, which allows bibliophilic gourmands to dine on fare prepared by BAMcafe’s culinary genius Coleman Foster while sipping varietals from California’s Pine Ridge Winery, listening to live acoustic music and, of course, hearing from the borough’s best and brightest.

A voracious reader and nurturer of the notion of a literary community, Hamill understands the appeal of the BAM series for readers and writers.

“[They] offer … a unique chance to ask those questions of writers that seldom get asked,” said Hamill, a Park Slope native. “How I wish I could have been in an audience — when young — where I could have asked questions of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, or such Brooklyn figures as Joe Heller or Daniel Fuchs, Mailer, Irwin Shaw, Capote, Marianne Moore, etc. ... Not simply as a would-be writer; but as a reader. To understand better what the writer is up to in those printed pages ... to make reading even richer: that’s the great thing about such events.”

The series ends with longtime Carroll Gardens resident Kurt Andersen on May 30. Along the way, Brooklynites can engage authors such as Francine Prose (“A Changed Man,” “Blue Angel”) on Jan. 11; Michael Cunningham (“The Hours,” “A Home At the End of the World”) on Feb. 15; Jonathan Franzen (“The Corrections”) on March 8; Cynthia Ozick (“Heir to the Glimmering World”) on April 5; Zadie Smith (“White Teeth”) on April 18; Sandra Cisneros (“The House on Mango Street”) on May 3; and Gary Shteyngart (“Absurdistan”) on May 17.

The sessions are moderated by Brigid Hughes, a former editor of the Paris Review and founding editor of the Brooklyn literary journal “Public Space”; and Jessica Hagedorn, author of the novels “The Gangster of Love,” “Dogeaters” and “Dream Jungle.”

Hamill, for one, can’t wait.

“When the writers deal with Brooklyn, they can help the oldest and newest Brooklynites understand the place better, its secret geographies, its myths, the sense of time that is its cement,” he observed. “Although the details might be different, I’ve learned from Jonathan Lethem in the same way that I’ve learned from Alfred Kazin.”

Andersen, a columnist for New York magazine and host of the radio show “Studio 360,” will discuss his upcoming novel, “Heyday,” on May 30. Andersen is also a veteran of the “Eat, Drink & Be Literary” series, having interviewed “Arthur and George” scribe Julian Barnes at one of last year’s events.

“I think [the series appeals] to authors and readers for the same reason: more than the standard, somewhat impersonal reading-and-signing, they’re intimate and relaxed and communal — everyone eating and drinking wine together,” Andersen said by e-mail last week.

“And for the audience, too, a probing conversation between a novelist and a smart interviewer (an interviewer who’s also a novelist her/himself) is apt to be lots more revealing than an author just reading and answering questions,” he added. “For (most) authors, the face-to-face encounter with readers is thrilling — after endless hours alone in a room making the stuff up, it’s great to see and hear a room full of one’s readers. I think it’s an absolutely reciprocally rewarding experience.”

“Eat, Drink & Be Literary” events take place from Jan. 11 through May 30 at 6:30 pm at the BAMcafe, Peter Jay Sharp Building (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene). Tickets must be purchased 48 hours prior to event at the BAM box office, through bam.org or by calling (718) 636-4100. Tickets are $45 and cover the price of that night’s talk, dinner, wine, tax and tip. For a complete schedule, visit www.bam.org.
Updated 4:26 pm, July 9, 2018
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