The Frye Festival had the great good fortune of welcoming New York Times bestselling author and prolific New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik to its fall Community Read on October 29th. Adam is perfect for a Community Read / un livre, une communauté because he is bilingual and he has a very popular book that is available in paperback in both English and French (Paris to the Moon). He had been on our programming committee’s radar for years, but he is a busy guy! I met him a couple of years ago in New York at the PEN Writers Festival (I wasn’t technically stalking him, but close!) and of course I invited him again. Through Ed Lemond’s persistence, the assistance of lots of authors who had been through the Festival over the years who knew Adam, and the financial clout of Université de Moncton’s Alumni Association, we finally landed him.
In preparation for Adam’s visit, I pulled out John Ayre’s biography of Frye (as I often do) and sought some insight. It was fun to see what a big role the New Yorker played in Frye’s life, especially while he was in Europe.
When Frye was studying at Oxford, he was dependent upon Helen to send him “supplies” from North America. From Ayre’s biography:
“Nothing annoyed him (Frye) immediately more however, than Helen’s apparent failure to send along promised copies of the New Yorker. In furious block lettering he admonished her “WHEN THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO COME THROUGH WITH SOME NEW YORKERS?” Given Frye’s seemingly bottomless taste for esoteric works, this voracious desire for copies of America’s quintessential upper-middle-class weekly with its cartoons and satire by Thurber and White appeared mysterious. But within the context of his misery at Oxford, it represented a life-line to an urbane North American perspective which Frye desperately needed.”
The New Yorker obviously still has tremendous pull all around the world and Moncton is no different. Nearly 100 people (some of whom I have never seen before at Frye events) came out to meet Adam. And what an incredibly gracious and professional person he is! Adam had only been in town for about two hours when we had him on stage and already he was waxing philosophical about the incredible linguistic fluency he was enjoying all around him. He had an open and freewheeling conversation with Janique LeBlanc, a local journalist for Radio-Canada who had just returned from nine years in Switzerland. Adam is a gifted storyteller and one simple question could lead in many different directions. We were treated to so many insights into his life in Paris, raising a child in Paris, the fundamental differences between American and French culture (it all comes down to tomatoes!) and of course some great anecdotes about the New Yorker. His hopeful message was that 25 years ago when he began his career, there were many people who believed that the word was dead and that images would take over. Despite our age of sound bites and blog posts, the New Yorker is still very much alive. The one hour conversation was simply not enough, but after a few great questions from the floor, Adam chatted with everyone at a beautiful reception (and he even signed the Mayor’s guest book, writing a full-page article!).