My Week with David Rakoff

David Rakoff

Much like David Rakoff’s starry fantasy of befriending Bette Midler on a film set, returning to “her rambling apartment.  It will be the maid’s night off and we’ll eat leftovers from the icebox: cold chicken and pie.  Milk from a glass bottle….” (“The Satisfying Crunch of Dreams Underfoot,” Half Empty), I harbored a similar fancy last summer.

I had applied for and in April been accepted into the Stony Brook Southampton Writers Conference, a week wherein aspiring authors and essayists are immersed in workshops and lectures given by esteemed literary faculty — Susan Cheever, Jules Feiffer, Mary Karr, Roger Rosenblatt, Meg Wolitzer … David Rakoff’s name popped out at me.  He was teaching a personal essay workshop for a week in July and while the cost was in the thousands, seven days with Rakoff would be heaven, I thought. 

Workshops were touted as smallish and intimate, so naturally, all of May and June my daydreams revolved around elaborate scenarios wherein on the first day of class, David took immediate note of my pithy comments and wry observations. Following his first class assignment — to write an essay about our earliest memory — David would scour the room, then point in my direction and ask me to read my piece out loud. Pleasantly surprised by my skill, he’d laugh heartily at my witty phrasings but would also nod in approval at the depth behind my cleverly chosen verbiage.

Then he’d pull me over after class and whisper, “What are you even doing here? This workshop is for amateurs!”

“I really just wanted to meet you,” I’d confess sheepishly.

Then we’d go to lunch on campus every day, but sit huddled together, just the two of us, sharing tunafish sandwiches while we exchanged gossip about David Sedaris and Ira Glass. Really he had all the gossip; I’d listen raptly, enthralled by his hilarious stories; stuff he’d never shared with his friends but knew instinctively that he could trust with me — only me.

After that week, because he was notoriously generous and kind, David Rakoff would offer to be my mentor and introduce me to his agent and editors, as his protegé.  We’d have weekly lunches at the Stork Club and I’d be the envy of every single nonfiction writer in New York City. And beyond.

But none of this was to take place.  And not only because it was a ludicrous flight of my imagination.  In early July of last summer, I received an email from Stony Brook stating that due to advanced illness, David Rakoff had to pull back from my workshop.   They found a substitute teacher.   I asked for a refund and scolded myself for entertaining pointless notions about us.

Still, I thought, as I unpacked my suitcase with a heavy heart, I had been this close to being in his presence…and that would have to suffice.

Have Ink, Will Travel! My Essay Reading Tour is About to Commence…

I’m producing a series of essay readings, a la David Sedaris, with a group of talented writers.  For details, take a look at the press release below and check out the sidebar here for upcoming event dates and locations.   And away, we go!

WRITERS GO ON TOUR FOR ESSAY READING SERIES

“Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears”

New York, NY (January, 2013) – A group of accomplished New York-based writers is banding together for a year-long original essay reading series that  kicks off on February 5th with an event at Guild Hall in East Hampton.

Themed, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat & Fears,” the reading series brings together a diverse group of professional writers who will read their works to literary audiences throughout venues in New York, Brooklyn and Long Island.

Taking a page from book readings, which usually involve an author reciting directly from a published chapter, this unique series features writers taking turns at the microphone, each reading an original essay.

Jerry Seinfeld, who still does stand-up comedy, was recently quoted in The New York Times Magazine about the need to perform for live audiences,” said the event organizer and writer, Claudia Gryvatz Copquin.  “He said, ‘We’re craving the non-digital even more these days, the authentically human interactions,’ a statement that is extremely on-point, particularly for writers who typically work in isolation.”

In addition to Copquin, a New York Times and Newsday contributor and the author of three books, participating writers in rotation include New York Times “Modern Love” writer and memoirist Paula Ganzi Licata, award-winning NPR humor essayist David Bouchier, two-time New York Emmy award-winning writer Iyna Bort Caruso, speechwriter and essayist Robin Bernstein, and Friars Club historian and head writer Barry Dougherty.

Some essays have been previously published in magazines and newspapers while others are never-before-seen.  “The topics run the gamut of the human experience — humor, relationships, love, death…And all offer a unique point of view that we know audiences will relate to,” Copquin added.

The group’s first reading event is on Tuesday, February 5 at 7:30 pm at Guild Hall’s Naked Stage, in East Hampton, NY.  Admission is free (guildhall.org).  Upcoming readings will be held at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor (April 6), The Half King in New York City (April 29), Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington (April 14), The Nassau County Museum of Art (June 2) in Roslyn, and other venues.

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