A Literary Night Out: Spelling Bee Humiliation and Partying With PEN
By Steven Kurutz
The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses [CLMP] was holding its annual spelling bee at the Diane von Furstenberg Studio. Since 1967, the CLMP has offered assistance to literary publications, ranging from the well-known (N+1; Virginia Quarterly) to the obscure (Les Figues Press). To simultaneously raise money and humiliate writers, each year the organization holds a charity auction and spelling bee. Last year’s winner was Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham, who edged out Sara Nelson, former editor of Publishers Weekly and current books editor for “O: The Oprah Magazine.”
Nelson was determined to avenge the defeat, but said her desire hadn’t translated to hours spent reading the dictionary. “I studied one year and got knocked out in the first or second round,” she said. “Now I don’t study.” Other spellers included novelists James Frey and Francine Prose, Vogue editor Sally Singer, Village Voice mainstay Michael Musto, former New York Times reporter Alex Kuczynski and New Yorker staffers Nancy Franklin and Ben Greenman. The event was emceed by literary agent Ira Silverberg, and judged by Oxford English Dictionary editor-at-large Jesse Sheidlower, who took visible delight in tripping up accomplished writers with deceptively simple-to-spell words like sacrilegious (which knocked several contestants out).