My latest stint as a visiting scholar at Rollins College’s Winter Park Institute ends on Friday, after which I return to New York and resume my regular life. Not surprisingly, my schedule in Florida has grown more and more hectic in recent days, so much so that simply to write about it makes my head sizzle.
Among other things, I drove down to Palm Beach twice. On my first visit, I (A) took part in the world premiere of Steven Caras: See Them Dance and (B) spoke about and signed copies of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong at a breakfast that got written up in the local paper. A week later I went back to cover the opening of the regional premiere of Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer. In between these two visits, I flew up to New York to see two Broadway shows and present a literary award on behalf of Barnes & Noble.
Here’s part of the official account of the latter occasion:
Barnes & Noble Inc., the world’s largest bookseller, today announced that Canadian Kim Echlin’s nostalgic novel of a cross-cultural love story, The Disappeared (Black Cat), and attorney David R. Dow’s spellbinding account of his efforts to defend the seemingly indefensible, The Autobiography of an Execution (Twelve), have been named the winners of the 2010 Discover Awards for fiction and non-fiction, respectively. Each writer was awarded a cash prize of $10,000, and a full year of marketing and merchandising support from the bookseller….
The non-fiction winner, The Autobiography of an Execution, is David R. Dow’s thrilling account of his efforts to give death row inmates a proper defense in a criminal justice system gone awry. Non-fiction jurist Terry Teachout said, “No matter how you feel about capital punishment–and especially if you support it, whether staunchly or uneasily–this book will bring you face to face with the arbitrary, often capricious way in which the death penalty really works. It’s the most sobering book that I read in 2010.”
Writers on the non-fiction jury panel included Eric Blehm, whose book, The Last Season, won the Discover Award in 2006; British journalist Christina Lamb, whose book, The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan, was a finalist for the Discover Award in 2002; and critic Terry Teachout, whose biographies include The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken and Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong.
The Discover Awards honor the works of exceptionally talented writers featured in the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” program during the previous calendar year. In 2010, the Discover Great New Writers program featured the work of 60 previously unknown fiction and non-fiction writers….
I gave the prize to Dow at a luncheon ceremony on Wednesday and said a few heartfelt words about his book, which I once again commend to your attention.
From there I flew back down to Winter Park to attend a salon at which David Behrman, Diana Cooper, and Victoria Redel, the three master artists currently in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, discussed their work with a group of local supporters of the center, which is the best-run and most handsomely designed artists’ colony imaginable. I paid a brief visit there last month, which had the effect of making me want to go back as soon as possible. (Small-world story: Behrman turns out to be the son of S.N. Behrman, the playwright whose work is a cause of mine. He was as surprised to learn that I knew who his father was as I was to learn that he was Sam Behrman’s son.)
Next came my second trip to Palm Beach, after which I returned to Winter Park to write a review of one of the shows I’d seen on Broadway (it’ll be in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal) and hear a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion given by the Bach Festival Society that was conducted by my old friend John Sinclair. Having just spent a week hurtling from place to place, it was a comfort to sit in Rollins College’s Knowles Memorial Chapel, one of the most tranquil spaces that I know, and listen to profoundly spiritual music that says what it has to say without wasting a note.
Now my work in Florida is done, and all that remains for Mrs. T and me to do is pack our bags and say goodbye to our new friends. Have we missed New York? Sure. In fact, we’ve been on the move so steadily since mid-December that we haven’t even had time to buy furniture for our new Manhattan apartment, much less to hang any of the pieces in the Teachout Museum. I long to explore our new neighborhood, and I want very much to see all my old friends in New York.
That said, I also know that come Friday night, I’ll be missing Winter Park, too. Aside from the straightforward and uncomplicated affection that I feel for the place and its people, I’m astonished by the amount of work that I’ve been able to get done on Danse Russe, Satchmo at the Waldorf, and my Duke Ellington biography since I arrived here in January. New York, they say, is the most stimulating of cities, but I find there’s at least as much to be said for the beneficial effects of setting up shop in a smaller, quieter place where the pace is slower and the overall frenzy level significantly lower (though not in the past couple of weeks!).
In 1991 I wrote a book in which I asked the following question: “When do we acquire the grace to feel at home where we are?” Home, needless to say, is wherever Mrs. T is, but otherwise…well, I’m still working on that one twenty years later.