The Authors in the Round dinner tonight at War Memorial Auditorium promises not only an intimate evening of delightful conversation with friends but also a chance to meet the author you’re crushing on. It’s a seriously good evening.
This year’s co-chairs, Grace Awh and Laura Tidwell, are themselves seriously smart ladies. Grace is an all star community leader recently invited to participate in Leadership Nashville. Laura, named one of the YWCA’s Academy for Women of Achievement Honorees last year, is a rock star Vice President and General Counsel at NES. Laura and Grace co-chaired the Power of the Purse luncheon a few years back, and you can just feel the affection between them.
They were happy to answer a few questions for Bacon in advance of tonight’s dinner…
If I could only ask one question, I would ask this: What were your favorite books as a child?
Grace: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and all seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
Laura: As a child, I read anything and everything. As an adolescent, the Judy Blume books resonated with me. I remember being mortified, though, that boys in my class read those books, too.
As an adult, I often have reason to read to children. Today my favorite children’s book, hands down, is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. Every time I read it to a room of children, they’re engrossed and engaged. And the children really seem to get the message.
We all know it’s more fun to read than to do chores. But – if pressed – what household chore do you secretly enjoy?
Grace: Clearing clutter! Whenever our children come home, they know I will badger them to sort through their rooms to “keep, toss, or donate” items.
Laura: While I generally hate chores, I sometimes reach a point at which I am compelled to deep clean everything. When I get there, look out! But on a rainy Saturday, I’d way rather be reading a book than doing chores.
It’s a rainy Saturday. A strangely rainy Saturday on the desert island you’re stranded on, just you and some novels. Which novels?
Grace: I have a number of favorite Asian and Indian authors: Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-Rae Lee, Ha Jin, Rohinton Mistry, and Amy Tan. I’ve read just about everything they wrote. But to name my favorite books, I would have to say Jane Smiley’s novella The Age of Grief, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and my first edition copy of Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.
Laura: I think John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is the greatest modern novel; I love it more than any book I’ve ever read. Owen is such an unusual character and so memorable and I love Irving’s story-telling. I am also a classics nerd, so Jane Austen’s Emma, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice are novels I will read again and again. Austen’s women are always strong and always smart, and there’s always a happy ending, even if it isn’t the happy ending our heroine imagined.
Here’s one happy ending: your book club finds you and saves you from your solitary fate on the island (that is of course what book clubs sometimes do). Tell me about your book club…
Grace: I cherish my friendship with the women in my book club. We have great rapport and the conversation is always enlightening and satisfying. Our discussions are particularly special when we’ve had local authors, such as Adam Ross and Ann Shayne, give us insight into their works. Having the author present makes it truly a memorable night.
Laura: I pulled the book club together a few years ago, intending it to be a “one and done” gathering to read and discuss Irving’s Last Night in Twisted River. We had so much fun that we kept the club going. We read mostly fiction, deciding each meeting what we will read and discuss for the next time. And we always drink wine and eat good food. We’re even planning on taking a trip together in 2016!
Talking about things that make us happy, tell me about your pet(s)…
Grace: We have a sweet, old Labrador retriever, Canyon, who just turned 14, and a 2-year-old German shepherd, Barley. As an empty nester, I’ve channeled my mothering instincts into training Barley and she recently earned her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) title. However, after reading Kevin Crumbo’s Bacon recommendation, Chaser by John Pilley, I feel remiss for not getting Barley started on learning the first of those thousand words!
Laura: In 2010, I lost the dog who was my “soul mate” in a pet – Huckleberry Finn. He was a 120-pound Great Pyrenees. Like his namesake, he had it in him to be civilized; and yet sometimes the constraints of good behavior were simply too much to bear. The dog I have now – Barkleigh – may end up matching my fondness for Huckleberry. Barkleigh is a 95-pound Irish Wolfhound mix. She is thinking, feeling, devoted, sensitive and sometimes silly – qualities I appreciate in humans, too.
I appreciate all the time you’ve both spent planning this year’s Authors in the Round dinner, which so many authors and readers will enjoy. What have you enjoyed the most?
Grace: Getting to know the remarkable staff at Humanities Tennessee! Also, I love visiting with the AIR featured artist, Paul Harmon, in his very cool art studio. It was formerly a historical smokehouse. You feel transported to a different world when you’re surrounded by Paul’s vibrant, beautiful paintings.
Laura: AIR in 2014 was such a great event. Our author was Brett Anthony Johnston. He had written his first novel to some acclaim, and was a truly interesting character: he was the director of creative writing at Harvard University and a former professional skateboarder. Bret had amazing energy, and – when we was introduced to the crowd – he stood on his chair to accept accolades while our whole table stood, hooting and hollering.
Planning for AIR 2015 has been amazing, as well. It is a joy to work with my dear friend Grace Awh; I relish any opportunity to work with her. And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the Humanities Tennessee staff and the other volunteers working to make Authors in the Round a success.
Finally – the question I ask just about everyone I talk to. What are you reading now?
Laura: Right now, Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife is on my nightstand. I recently had the opportunity to hear her speak as a part of the Salon@615 series. She was delightful, and I’m really enjoying the book! Next up: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. I’m terrified, though, that it will ruin Atticus for me.
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Thanks ladies, and see you tonight!