It’s not easy to explain the appeal of a man whose whole manner and presence appear calculated make manifest the inherent awkwardness (‘I’m wriggling’) of a public event celebrating the written word. But it’s there. The event for The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann at the London Review Bookshop last night was sold out, standing room only. People travelled from Sheffield, Norfolk, France, for this one event on a cold night. Arturo Di Stefano brought along, for handing over to its subject, the original portrait painting that is reproduced as the book’s frontispiece. There were people who have known, worked with or read Hofmann for decades, many of whom hadn’t seen one another for a very long time. (There was no one from Faber.) After the official part, the mingling and talk continued for a long time. ‘I think I’m a bit in love with him,’ someone told me. I suggested she wasn’t the only one. She told me to get to the back of the queue.
In the US – which is Hofmann’s home country now, though it’s probably better to leave home out of it and just say the country where he lives – there is a new theatre prize: the Edward M. Kennedy Prize. A prize worth winning: $100,000. Today the joint winners were announced. One is Dan O’Brien, for The Body of an American, a play which, in the words of the announcement, ‘examines the challenges of war reporting, specifically the ethical and personal consequences of the publication of a famous photograph showing the body of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993’. War Reporter, Dan O’Brien’s book of poems exploring the same material, will be published by CBe in September.
Next Thursday, 28 February, there’ll be a CBe reading at the Broadway Bookshop in Hackney. Stephen Knight will read from The Prince of Wails and I’ll be reading myself, possibly as Jack Robinson. Space limited; £3, includes wine; more info here.
For CBe, this year is big. More new titles than in any previous year. A pop-up shop has been booked for the first week of July. Emails have gone out to a large number of independent bookshops inviting them to join a partnership scheme, whereby they commit to ordering CBe titles in return for a healthy discount. A smaller initiative, the Circulating Library, was set in motion last week. To date, CBe comprises just myself, and most of my time I’m doing other work to bring in a liveable income. But the thing is now too big to be run by just me, and before Christmas I applied to ACE for money for a part-time freelance marketing/sales person. As I was writing this, the post arrived: the application has been turned down. (‘Although your application met the criteria, we had to make difficult choices …’). If I had time, I’d frame the letter and hang it somewhere.