May 10, 2017 (Wednesday)

by Yule Heibel on May 9, 2018

Last night I went to the first-ever non-New York City “Women of Letters” event at American Repertory Theater’s Oberon Theater venue, brought to Boston by the Boston Book Festival people. It started at 7:30p.m., doors opening at 7. The venue I found terribly uncomfortable: very small, rickety and chintzy folding chairs (the slatted wood kind, so not even padded or with a solid seat) crammed around small “cafe”-style tables, but with the chairs needing to face the stage, therefore two at each table had to face away from the table, which meant that one’s knees butted against the chair back which was in front. It was airplane-level discomfort, sardines on sticks, er, slats. And it was sold out, i.e., packed. About five men (including W. in attendance, otherwise hundreds of women. But the event / performance itself was amazing.

Organized by a woman with a funny accent (as she herself pointed out) – inevitable, perhaps, as she was born in what used to be Yugoslavia, raised to adulthood in Australia, and now living (where else?) in New York City – named Sofija Stefanovic. She was extremely personable and good at emceeing – and she herself actually also read a “letter,” too. The idea is: get a group of diverse but really interesting women together and have them read a letter they composed on the chosen theme of that particular gathering. They meet monthly in NYC, and last night was a first in Boston and also a first outside of NYC.

The theme was “secret,” hence: “A letter to my secret.” The writer-readers were a very interesting lot: Hank Phillippi Ryan, who spoke about naming and how she got her name; Marianne Leoni, who spoke about her Catholic youth and “priest eating” mother; Abeer Hoque, whose dark secret was about awakening sexuality in childhood; Callie Crossley, who spoke about southern secrets, lightheartedly centered on secret recipes and burning ambitions left unfulfilled; Rose Styron, who spilled the dirt on Amnesty International; the aforementioned Sofija, who spoke of childhood in practically the Outback and coming of age; and finally Claire Messud, who had a stunner of a letter to “Dear Divinity,” on her belief, even as a semi-atheist, in some kind of god, told very movingly through the death of her father.

And so now it’s barely 6:30a.m. and I’m still sore from those awful chairs and the confinement, as well as under-rested because we didn’t get home till 10p.m., and I didn’t turn out the lights till 11:30p.m., and even then couldn’t get to sleep for a while, and what I remember very strongly is that we weren’t allowed to film or record the event in any way, that everything heard in that space last night was secret and not for distribution… and I can recall Messud’s presentation most vividly, either because it went deepest (but, no, it didn’t actually), or it was last, but aside from the shocking revelation of hers that she believes, I can’t right now in my head recall precisely what the crux of each other story was, what the secret was, specifically, the secret which really can’t be told, or hadn’t been revealed till last night. Obviously, it’s still there, in my head, that information. But right now, hardly conscious, I have a hard time retrieving it, especially with a hundred other things pressing down, from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: