On The Avenue

A Bookish Bash for Literacy Partners

by Michael Gross Photographed by Samantha Nandez/BFA.com
Thursday, March 15, 2018

“Look at all of you,” the elegant 60 Minutes star Lesley Stahl was saying last night at Literacy Partners’ 2018 Gala at Cipriani Wall Street.  “This is one of the best, most joyous nights of the year.”

Stahl was presenting a Lizzie Award, named for the late gossip columnist, gal-about-town, and Literacy Partners co-founder Liz Smith, to the former publisher and later, literary agent, Joni Evans. Stahl said Evans’ career proves “you don’t have to be a prick–or have one–to get to the top,” then reminded the crowd that Evans is “the one you can blame for Art of the Deal by you know who. “

“I just know I’m going to disappoint you after that,” Evans followed.  But she didn’t, as a crowd that included Smith bosom buddies William Norwich and Elizabeth Peabody, as well as Martha Stewart, Sheila Nevins, David Schiff, Alina Cho, David Kleinberg, Nona Hendryx, Aaron Latham, Duane Hampton, Paige Peterson, Liz Perl, John Castle, Susan Magrino, Samantha Yanks, and Les Hinton demonstrated with their applause. 

Though the annual Evening of Readings & Gala Dinner Dance started on a somber note–Literacy Partners co-founders Smith and Parker Ladd died within days of each last year, and the evening included a tribute to them and co-founder Arnold Scaasi, the dressmaker–it soon turned celebratory as it raised funds to further the group’s mission to end illiteracy. Auctioneer Hugh Hildesley did that in a spirited call for donations starting at $15,000.  Peabody was the first to make a pledge at that level, followed by three other guests.  When Hildesley dropped his price to $10,000 however, there was a moment of silence.  

“Nobody? Not a plethora?” he wheedled.  But he found seven takers, or rather givers, at $5,000 by promising that at that level, “the IRS will not audit; it costs more than five to audit.”  At $1,00 many more jumped into the giver pool.  “twelve, thirteen, fourteen sixteen,” Hildesley reported.  “Oh brother, we need 25. Now contain your excitement….I knowyou want to drink more but you can also do $250…anything you like…steal a pen from your table providing you fill out a card.  Take a pen without giving a gift and you can rot in Hades.”  As far as could be ascertained, no one headed further south than Wall Street despite that threat.  

The evening, emceed by NBC News reporter Cynthia McFadden included readings from New York Times Bestselling Author and Pulitzer Prize Winner Junot Díaz, and actress Sarah Paulson, a moving speech by one of the group’s beneficiaries, Moravet Espinoza, who came onstage with her three children, and a tribute to Smith, by her lifelong friend, actress Holland Taylor, and also honored Randy Falco, President & CEO of Univision Communications Inc., 

The gala’s honorary Co-Chairs were Jackie Weld Drake and Peter Brown and it was co-chaired by McFadden, Katharine Raymond Hinton, Mike Steib, Alan Schwartz, Tonia O’Connor, Courtney L. Corleto, Hope Pingree, Sharon Rodriguez and Charles Williamson.   

After dinner and energetic dancing, guests were offeresd goodie bags containing the paperback of Donna Tartt’s soon-to-be-major-motion-picture novel, The Goldfinch.  But many in the literary crowd refused the freebies.  “Been there, read that,” one said en route home.  


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