For more than two decades, the fundraiser featured original readings followed by a fancy three-course dinner. If you were seated with a charming young author, it was heaven. A pedantic poet? Not so much. Plus, even literary Washington likes to be in bed by 10 p.m. So Haft came up with a streamlined version that allows people to chat with the writers and each other for as long as they please — or slip out after the program without looking like party poopers.
Design Cuisine teamed up with Union Kitchen to present five different stations with roast beef and biscuits, smoked catfish and grits, Italian antipasto, and Peking pork – plus bite-sized desserts because calories don’t count when standing up. The vibe was younger, less formal and more playful. Most of the crowd — including Sens. Thad Cochran and Pat Leahy, Katharine Weymouth, Maureen Orth, Septime Webre, David and Katherine Bradley, Jim and Kate Lehrer, and other book lovers — mingled and lingered and generally gave the new format a thumbs up, even when they had to stand in line or juggle a plate or two.
But some traditionalists were nostalgic (because traditionalists are always nostalgic) for the grandeur of the past formal dinners. “Well, I don’t miss the black tie,” said Bill Paley. But he does miss the really great dinner conversations where everyone makes an effort instead of just huddling with their friends: “I think guests should do a little work.”