Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hero Worship: "There Might Have Been Something To Enjoy in Swallowing that Color"

Diane Williams at Housing Works on Twitpic
That subtitle above?  Diane Williams wrote that.

Last night,  I sped into the night (well, it was still light) on my bike to catch one of my all-time fave contemporary literary heros, Diane Williams.  I used to carry her first collection fiction (short, slanted stories that gave me permission to construct askew sentences and leave oddly shaped gaps between them) around like a tome of scripture that I'd consult with great reverence and awe.  I've been taking this book around from place to place for the past 22 years, so the fact that it had taken me this long to see its author was a little unnerving.

The reading was in one of my favorite spaces (to write and eat) in downtown Manhattan--a bookstore cafe which generates cash for people living with HIV/AIDS.  All the books/food are donated.  The entire staff is volunteer.  They host weddings there, and I would totally have a wedding there if I weren't already married.

The reading was sponsored by McSweeney's.  Diane went on last.  She read about six flash fiction pieces from her new book to often uncomfortable silence.  It was hard to interpret the silence, actually, was it uncomfortable?  Or just stunned?

From the back row, I rose and took her photo with my phone.

She was a good reader, confident and clear.  She is 66.
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Afterwards, I went up to the little table at the front and fondled the books stacked upon it.  I opened one of them and read.  I decided I had to have it.  You would have decided that, too.

Some older woman with overwhelming hair and obtrusive energy, arms around a stack of books,  commanded Diane's attention, so I went and paid for my book.

Then I stood and waited.  When the seat opened up I sat down reverentially:

Me:  Thanks for reading.  I have to say that your first collection totally inspired my master's thesis.

Diane (visibly touched):  Oh, wow.  That's wonderful.  Where did you write your thesis?

Me:  The University of Utah.

Diane (seemingly unimpressed):  Oh.  What is your name?

Me:  Julie

Diane:  Julie what?

I told her.  She had never heard of me.  Diane signed the first book and then opened the new one.

Diane:  Is this my copy?

Me (trying to sound wry and ironic and fun):  Uh, no!  I have the receipt!  (In reality, I sounded panicked and anxious, desperately afraid she was going to swipe my new copy of her book, because how often--in my tight place--do I get to buy a new book?)

Diane:  Okay, weirdo.  (Well, she didn't actually say this, but it's what I heard.)

Me:  Thanks again so much.  I can't wait to read the new one.

Diane smiles.

I run away and find my bike.

I have to tell you that I NEVER seem to be able approach an author I admire without coming off feeling like Travis Bickle, or some other genre of creepy stalker.

Is it just me?


  1. i've never not felt like an ass when telling a famous person i love them. i think perhaps the genre is inherently flawed?

  2. I never know how much I should suck up to famous authors... today I met Jack Halberstam (!!!) and I had him sign my copy of Female Masculinity even though it totally wasn't a book signing. I always feel dumb saying, "I love your work!" but I always wish I had a specific anecdote that illustrates how much I love the person in question.