On The Avenue

Writers and Revelers at the Paris Review

by Ben Diamond Photographed by Matteo Mobilio
Friday, April 6, 2018

It was announced yesterday afternoon that Emily Nemens, the coeditor of The Southern Review, will become The Paris Review‘s new editor-in-chief. After previous editor Lorin Stein’s sudden resignation in December—one of the #metoo movement’s highest profile displacements—the decision to select a woman is filled with significance for both the magazine and for the literary world as a whole. Indeed, Nemens’ appointment has already received praise from a number of different publications.

If the Review‘s board had already made their decision on Tuesday night, though, they didn’t let it show. The mood at the Spring Revel, the magazine’s annual fundraising benefit, was significantly lighter than the recent events might suggest. Apart from a quick mention of “Lorin Stein’s resignation” in an otherwise unrelated toast to interim editor Nicole Rudick, there was hardly any acknowledgment of the magazine’s rocky last four months. Yes, to a certain extent, they hung over the proceedings—a number of insiders seemed dismayed by how quickly Stein’s guilt had been presumed. “Sure, he made passes at everyone—he made a pass at me!” one woman said. “That doesn’t mean he was a sex pest.”

But in its decades-long history, the Revel has never really been a night for editors. Patrons of the literary world are mostly writers themselves, after all (or at least the sort of people who desperately wish they were). All the honorees celebrated by “Monster of Ceremonies” John Waters—whose pencil mustache, incidentally, has remarkably transitioned from “creepy” to “distinguished”—were ones culled from the magazine’s pages.  

David Sedaris was honored with the Terry Southern Prize for humor. Sedaris is best known for his essay collections and for his appearances on television and radio, but is also, as of last year, a contributor to The Paris Review. Sedaris opened with a crude, hilarious joke that he had once told to the Art Institute of Chicago to boos and silence. “I’m going to tell that joke again someday,” he decided then, about the R-rated quip, “and it’s going to work.” Again, this is a family publication, so I can’t print the joke, but trust me—it was funny.

Writer Isabella Hammad was presented with the Plimpton Prize for fiction, for “Mr. Can’aan,” her short story about the Six-Day War and the years that followed. “Over the last few years, as I’ve been living in New York, the conversations in this country around the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and lives have definitely been changing,” Hammad said. And though the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gotten even worse, “At a time when it is often difficult to feel hopeful about the future, that a story about Palestinians could win a prize like this does help me to feel a bit of hope.”

Joy Williams was presented with the Hadada Award, the magazine’s highest honor, presented previously to writers like John Ashbery, Joan Didion and Philip Roth. Williams is no stranger to the Review— she was first published in its Winter 1968 issue, alongside stories by Celine and Richard Brautigan. Her work was also featured in the Winter 1981 issue, which Christo wrapped, Williams’ name “faintly visible, if you already knew it was there.”

It remains to be seen how Emily Nemens will fare in her new role, and whether the literary world’s sexist attitudes can ever really be changed. But one thing is clear: The Paris Review hasn’t lost its ability to throw a good party.

Also in attendance were Ellie Goulding, Tina Brown and Harold Evans, Don Delillo, Lewis Lapham, Morgan Entrekin, Stacey Hadash and Terry McDonnell, Ira Silverberg and Bob Morris, Steve Kroft, Jeffrey Eugenides and Walter Mosley.





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