Politically Poisoned PEN

Terry McMillan spoke out against the GOP during Monday's gala.
Terry McMillan spoke out against the GOP during Monday's gala. (James R. Brantley - )
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By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The annual PEN/Faulkner Award gala at the Folger Shakespeare Library -- typically a genteel literary affair -- turned into a mudfest Monday night when two authors launched into denunciations of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

"Like most cult leaders, they really think the public is stupid enough to drink this Kool-Aid," best-selling novelist Terry McMillan said. "I am not taking a sip."

The benefit consists of short readings by a dozen prominent writers musing on a theme; this year's, the 20th, was "Promises, Promises." Melissa Bank, Christopher Buckley and Patricia Volk charmed the black-tie audience with personal stories about broken promises, but -- perhaps inevitably in an election year -- things quickly turned political.

Poet Amiri Baraka railed that the choice is between Barack Obama or that "patient from the Vietnam War." But it was McMillan ("Waiting to Exhale," "How Stella Got Her Groove Back") who eviscerated the GOP ticket with deadpan sarcasm:

"Now a senior citizen dying to dress up as the new sheriff of this land of opportunity and opportunists, John McCain, alongside . . . his charming VP running mate (who has finally gotten a chance to wear that tiara, even though this is not a beauty nor personality contest), Sarah Tall-and-Pretty Palin, have -- as self-ordained mavericks and reformers -- been making empty . . . promises about how they want to clean up Washington." All McCain really wants, she went on, is to "find a new war to fight"; Palin and her "uneducated snowmobiling husband just want to fly first class."

The crowd laughed a bit; mostly people whispered, "Did she really say that?" Oh, yes, she did -- and more.

A McCain spokesman said yesterday: "Those comments are obviously offensive and repugnant. We hope the Obama campaign would agree."

We asked local novelist Alan Cheuse, another reader at the gala, if politics had spoiled the party. "Stendhal said, 'Politics in a novel is like a pistol shot in the theater,' " he told us yesterday. "Terry's a very passionate woman and speaks her mind." He called Baraka "a poet and a bit of a propagandist -- his problem these days is that he doesn't know the difference."

Decorum returned for the post-performance dinner in the Folger's Reading Room, where the 250 guests and the authors effortlessly switched from campaigns to cocktails.

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

· Alanis Morissette buying a ton of veggies at the Glover Park Whole Foods Monday evening before her show at Constitution Hall. Tank top, long skirt, hair down--the whole boho glamour thing.

· "Top Chef" veteran CJ Jacobson ducking his head to clear the front door of the Crystal City Hyatt, where he was addressing fellow cancer survivors (he had testicular) at the American Cancer Society's "Lobby Day." The 6-foot-8 chef also stopped by the Capitol Hill burger joint of another "Top Chef" star, Spike Mendelsohn.

LOVE, ETC.

· Out: Clay Aiken, who appears on the cover of People with the headline "Yes, I'm Gay," reports the Associated Press. The "American Idol" fan fave is holding his son, Parker Foster Aiken, and says, "I cannot raise a child to lie or hide things."

· Together: Lindsay Lohan and deejay girlfriend Samantha Ronson. In a call to a radio show Monday night, the actress finally confirmed that the two aren't just BFFs; they've been dating a "very long time."

· Apart: Sharon Stone has lost physical custody of her 8-year-old son, Roan Bronstein. The actress, who adopted the child with then-husband Phil Bronstein, sought more time with her oldest child, but a judge ruled that he should stay in the Bay Area with his father. Stone has two younger sons adopted after her divorce from Bronstein in 2004.

Sprucing Up the GOP Ticket

Think John McCain is looking more handsome these days? Thank Tifanie White, Beverly Hills makeup artist to the stars -- and the McCain campaign, which paid her $5,583.43 in August. US Weekly found White's name in the Federal Election Commission filing of itemized disbursements; she's better known for her work on "American Idol," "So You Think You Can Dance" and, yes, Cindy McCain. The campaign had no comment.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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