Hungry: The Muse in Black & White

Hungry: The Muse in Black & White

Discussions at the second session of this year’s Seminar focused on the links between one’s experience of food and one’s urge to write. All agreed on the pleasure-giving merits of eating well, and everyone found something to laugh at. But it soon became clear that there was much more to it than pleasure: food offers a lens into the machinations of repressive government and individual survival; learning to cook offers myriad lessons for learning to write; and food for most of us represents something both intensely personal and boldly communal: a template for the writing life as profound as any.

All photos this post by Nick Doll. Thanks to Shayne Benowitz for her notes.

Novelist Kate Christensen discussed the role food plays in the development of character, and explained how her taste in books often depends on whether or not the main characters are seen eating. “I hate novels that have no food in them. We all eat!”

Michael Ruhlman, well-known writer of cookbooks, surprised his fellow panelists with his disdain for them: “I hate cookbooks. Recipes are not instruction manuals, they’re more like sheet music. They’re incredibly nuanced.”

David ‘Call me Mas’ Masumoto brought some of the wisdom of the farmer to bear as he discussed his parallel passions for peach farming and writing. “Writing is a marvelous act because we are forced to slow down.”

Longtime New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik talked about what writers—prone to over-intellectualizing everything—can learn from professional chefs, who are forced by the timetables of the restaurant to plunge into action: “Take the mental task and transfer it into a physical task.” Simply put: just sit down, put pen to pad or fingertips to keys, and start writing.

A member of the audience waits to join in the conversation.

Molly O’Neill: “Writing about food is all about anticipation and desire. There is a dangerous moment in a piece when you sate that desire. It’s like it’s time to do the dishes.”

Savoring the proceedings from the audience.

Jane Hirshfield signs a copy of her poetry collection Given Sugar, Given Salt, while Patrick Symmes and Adam Gopnik look on.

Patrick Symmes spoke at the Seminar about the month he spent living in Cuba on the Cuban food ration, which he’d recently reported for Harper’s. Here, he takes a minute to talk with audience member Mary Box at the San Carlos, long an important site for the Cuban exile community.

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