The president of Kenyon College, S. Georgia Nugent, stood in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant Thursday night with a happy problem.
“When you say Kenyon, more people know the Kenyon Review than the college,” said Nugent, dressed in gold (a secondary color of the school, next to purple).
It’s not that Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, isn’t distinguished. Paul Newman, E.L. Doctorow, Robert Lowell, John Berryman and James Wright all spent time at the small liberal arts school, which is 187 years old.
But the Kenyon Review, today a thick quarterly journal of essays, poetry and fiction, has been famous since John Crowe Ransom was chosen as the first editor in 1939.
Along the way his successors have refined the art of throwing a party. Guests started out the evening with foie gras, proceeded to a four-course meal that included risotto with poached lobster, and finished with candied orange peels and brownies. David Lynn, current editor, enjoyed his dessert with a snifter of brandy.
Roger Rosenblatt, the quarterly’s literary ambassador, entertained during dinner, explaining his role.
“I travel the world as Audrey Hepburn did for Unicef, bringing news of the difference between the Elizabethan and Petrarchan sonnet,” Rosenblatt said. “My recent trips to Nairobi and Japan were wild successes.”
Simon Schama came to the lectern to accept the journal’s Award for Literary Achievement. He spoke of the importance of nurturing good writing, in the face of the “tyranny of tweets.”
The purpose of the gathering was to raise money for scholarships offered by the Kenyon Review’s summer writing program for students 16 to 18.
Jess Lacher, perched in one of the restaurant’s circular booths, said she has taught in the summer program for five years.
“It is shockingly easy to teach these kids,” Lacher said.
“They feel safe and understood, and that makes it easy for them to take risks. For me it’s about staying out of their way and letting them express themselves.” Teaching in fact inspired Lacher to return to fiction writing after a foray as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. In 2009, Richard Ford selected a piece of hers as the winner of the Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. She now lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and is studying for her MFA at Hunter College.
And of course she will return next summer to Kenyon to teach, and sit in the grass with her students, watching the fireflies blink.
The Kenyon Review didn’t lock up all the poets Thursday night. Downtown, at the event space Tribeca 360, Kenneth Goldsmith, a poet and artist, was at the Dia Art Foundation’s gala, hanging out with model Karolina Kurkova and interior designer Muriel Brandolini.
He wore a bright pink Paul Smith suit and Brooks Brothers Black Fleece bowtie.
“They told me you’re supposed to get the jacket or the pants, not both,” Goldsmith said.
Artist Vitaly Komar wore round red eyeglass frames, with a black-and-pink shirt.
“When I wear a red shirt, I put on exactly the same pair of glasses in black,” Komar said. “In Russian, red also means beautiful.”
Andy Warhol superstar Taylor Mead, 86, sported a blue New York Giants ski hat and leaned on a cane as he chatted with Julian Schnabel, who traded his ubiquitous pajamas for paint-splattered white pants and a T-shirt he made dedicated to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.
“I made a T-shirt for him and he sent me the picture of him wearing it,” Schnabel said, looking for the image on his mobile phone. “I guess I could sell them and give money to a good cause.”
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)