The auction, which runs online till Sept. 15, offers signed books, coffee dates and book club visits donated by a number of well-known and critically acclaimed writers, including Meg Wolitzer, Ayelet Waldman and Aimee Bender.
Groff, the author of one of my favorite recent novels, “Arcadia,” serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of North Florida. She says she was inspired to set up this auction by a new sense of urgency: “Our legislature is openly hostile to us, and Florida never expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving many Floridians in the lurch.”
She knew the dimensions of the need but wasn’t sure how to help.
“The problem is that though I care passionately, I’m a writer,” she said. “This basically means I’m a hermit and don’t know many wealthy people. I also don’t know how to ask people for money: This is why I have an agent! The only thing I do have is a brilliant community of writer friends, most of whom just happen to be passionate defenders of women’s rights.”
Starting with those literary friends, she put out the word, and within a few days she had writers donating all kinds of things and services. Several authors are auctioning off the names of characters in their upcoming novels.
Emma Straub, author of this summer’s delightful comedy “The Vacationers,” said, “I love Planned Parenthood, and I love the idea of being forced to write a character with an auction winner’s name. My father, [Peter Straub], one of American literature’s great treasures, once did this exact thing and was very clear that the winner’s name could be any kind of person, which in his books means that it could be a murderer or a murderee. Somehow, I think the winner in my auction will have a sunnier fate.”
Edan Lepucki, author of this summer’s dystopic “California,” said she has never forgotten that Margaret Atwood auctioned off character-naming rights for charity for “The Year of the Flood” (2009). Now, Lepucki is looking forward to seeing what name she gets in the Choice Auction. “And I’m curious to see how it influences the book I’m writing.”
For some of these woman, the cause is very personal. Jennine Capó Crucet, author of the story collection “How to Leave Hialeah,” noted that Planned Parenthood was her health-care provider during the years she was uninsured. “The idea of naming a character after whoever wins the auction is sort of selfish on my part,” she said. “It’s a way to remind myself, as I write my next book, that wonderful people who sincerely care about other people’s lives exist in the world.”
That sentiment is widespread among these donors.
“Great writers and readers of the world are professionals in the realm of empathy,” Groff said, “and they understand that other people’s choices are difficult to make and intensely personal. I love Planned Parenthood for its calm commitment to basic human dignity, for standing up to people who want to impose their personal beliefs on others, and for saying that all people must have the freedom and education to make the choices that are best for us.”