There are times when watching, reading, or listening to something that I wish I’d been able to have dinner with the artist responsible. I wouldn’t say no to dinner with most artists, but a very few of them seem like people I really could have been friends with, either because of a wicked sense of humor, a passion for life, or just a series of interesting personality quirks. So, with that in mind, here is my list of people I would invite to the best dinner party ever.
I love Kurt Vonnegut’s writing. I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and I’ve adored all of it. He’s a pessimistic optimist, and I connect with that. His writing is wonderfully self-conscious, yet is still graceful. Most importantly, Vonnegut went through some of the most brutal experiences, yet still held on to his hope for humanity.
At first I thought Orson Welles was a pretentious—if gifted—asshole. But that was because I only really knew him through Citizen Kane and his War of the Worlds radio broadcast. I’ve recently watched some of his later work, and have found him to be delightfully whimsical. More than anything, Welles was an indulgent person. Indulgent with his food, indulgent with his filmmaking, indulgent with his conversations. I recognize that I’m the same way; I only hope I pull it off with the same finesse.
Let me begin by telling you that I love Katherine Hepburn’s voice. It’s low and a little raspy, but wonderful; it sounds like crystallized honey. Talking with Hepburn would be lovely simply for hearing her voice. However, there is much more to the woman than that. She wore pants regularly when no respectable woman would. She persisted in her career despite initial difficulty. She pursued what she wanted in her life with few reservations and no apologies, something we’d all do well to try sometime.
Oscar Wilde, when coming to America, passed through customs wearing a maroon jacket, green waistcoat, blue breeches, and gold gloves. He was asked if he had anything to declare, and replied, “nothing but my own intelligence”. I would invite him to dinner for his one-liners alone. More than being a witty writer, Wilde was kind. He visited people in distress and successfully cheered them up, he didn’t condemn people, but rather gently mocked them, and he was willing to interact with people regardless of their class background. Wilde eventually became an outcast for his idiomatic lifestyle, but he kept his sense of humor till the very end.
I know Edith Sitwell only through Façade, and through a failed paper on her connection to Sappho. However, just this brief brush with her work is enough to pique my interest in her as a person. She wrote just as modernism was coming into its own, and embraced satire when it was not proper to do so, especially for a woman. More than that, she wrote her poetry with an incredibly musical ear (Façade is set to music), and crafted each of her works with careful attention to detail. Any dinner party would be enriched by having such an independent and thoughtful guest.
The Venerable Bede
Any historian who has the balls to put a favorable adjective in front of his name, and then proceed to give the history of the world in a very gossipy manner has to be an interesting person. Not much is known about Bede, but I’m willing to risk inviting a possible jerk to a dinner party based on the evidence which shows he’s a pretty neat person.
I imagine Virginia Woolf would be semi-whiney, introspective friend, but one that people keep around because of the novel way she thinks of things. I’ve never counted her as one of my favorite authors, but have always been intently interested in her work. I’m not sure if I would get along with her, but I would invite her to dinner, just to see if she speaks the same way she writes. Plus, I imagine that she and Edith Sitwell would get along well, so if worse comes to worst I can seat them next to each other and ignore Virginia Woolf altogether.
Zora Neale Hurston
One of my favorite personal essays, “How it Feels to Be Colored Me”, was penned by Zora Neale Hurston. In it she remarks that we have different outsides, but the insides are the same. More distinctly, she remarks that these insides are things like mismatched marbles, bits of colored twine, and door knobs which open doors long decayed away. Hurston is realistically fanciful in her writing. She recognizes the realities of life (she was a black woman in the 1920s), but refused to be limited by the way others thought she should be. She worked with what she had to create a better life for herself, and wrote pieces that touched deeply on things resonant with the human soul. Most importantly, she kept her perspective and a sense of humor, two things everyone needs, no matter where life takes them.
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