Since Gore Vidal’s death two days I’ve been thinking about the one time I met the man himself. This was perhaps a dozen years ago, when Vidal came to Washington to give a talk at some sort of Smithsonian event. I had reviewed, enthusiastically, his massive retrospective essay collection “United States” and so had been asked to give a longish, biographical introduction.
Upon reaching the hall that night, I was ushered behind the stage, where Vidal sat, looking out of shape but still patrician, and talking to a small group of admirers. “Comrade Dirda” he called me, and he seemed friendly. Of course, people had long assured me that he could be just awful—mean, vindictive, selfish. But I saw none of that.
I’d spent a lot of time on my introduction, and made it as elegant and moving as I could. When Vidal approached the microphone, he was teary-eyed and surprisingly touched by my assessment of his life and work. After his lecture and questions from the audience, we spoke again and he thanked me for what I’d said, then suddenly invited me to come to a little party that night at his sister’s apartment. I sat with him in the back seat of a limousine as we drove to Nina Straight’s grand place on Connecticut Avenue. There, I chatted with well to do Washingtonians and some of Vidal’s old friends, such as E. Barrett Prettyman, with whom he’d been at school.
Vidal was still living in Italy in those days and he invited me to visit. Later he even sent me a postcard, repeating the invitation. Alas, I never went.
Have other members of the Reading Room ever gotten to know, however briefly, a famous writer? Would you share one or two of your memories? How do you feel about the passing of Gore Vidal? These past few months we seem to have lost one iconic writer after another—Sendak, Bradbury, Vidal. I’ll miss them all.