A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Everything Is Copy, the fantastic documentary about the late, great, iconic writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron, when someone said that she was also well-known for her dinner parties, filled with good food and eclectic guests. I thought, “God, I would have loved to have been at one of those dinners.” And then I started thinking: Who would I invite? I would want strong, opinionated, interesting women, I decided, whose work would in some way have been influenced by the work of those who came before. So, after much deliberation, behold: my literary ladies dinner.
Please come to my dinner party: Cheryl Strayed
Maybe it’s her experience running “Dear Sugar” or because I saw her interview Hillary Clinton at Book Expo in June and it was magical, but I imagine Cheryl Strayed moderating this dinner conversation, using her wit, insight, and mastery of reading (no pun intended) the room to bring us from topic to topic. I also would want her to be the moderator because that means she would probably be the first to arrive, and while we opened the wine I could talk with her about the Pacific Coast Trail and ask her to solve all of life’s problems.
Cheryl Strayed, author of WILD, is as candid and compassionate as ever as “Sugar,” the formerly anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus. TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS is a striking collection of “Dear Sugar” columns, the gentlest tough-love advice you’ll ever need to hear.
Please come to my dinner party: Martha Gellhorn
I’m thoroughly embarrassed that, though I’ve been a Hemingway fan for years, I only recently discovered the life story of his third wife, journalist and author Martha Gellhorn. A prolific writer before she met Hemingway and after their divorce, she was a friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and covered global events like the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the liberation of Dachau, the Vietnam War, the Arab-Israel conflicts, and the U.S. invasion of Panama. Gellhorn rarely spoke about her famous marriage, demanding that her work define her instead. Though it would be difficult not to ask about her time with Hemingway, I would respect her wishes and instead ask about her experiences on the front lines and how she operated in a male-dominated sphere for so long.
Please come to my dinner party: Nora Ephron
For anyone who knows me, this one is a no-brainer. Sure, I basically want to live in her early 90s depictions of New York City—fall foliage, small indie bookstores, Tom Hanks, and all—but more than anything, I would love to hear Nora talk about something other than those memories, since it seems they were the ones she was most interviewed about. I would want to ask about her career as a journalist, about bringing a female voice to publications like Esquire, the books she loved, and how she was able to perfectly blend the personal and the political.
Nora Ephron is funny, honest, fearless, and an icon for American women. This volume celebrates all of her major works: her novel Heartburn; the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally; and her magazine journalism from the 1970s, with razor-sharp profiles of figures such as Helen Gurley Brown, Dorothy Schiff, and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. And did we mention that she's funny?
Please come to my dinner party: Rona Jaffee
Somewhat on the other side of the spectrum is Rona Jaffe, the author of a number of novels depicting the worlds of working women in Manhattan. Her most famous is THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, which follows a group of young women trying to make it in the publishing world. This book (and her others that followed) were frequently referred to as “pre-women’s liberation,” confronting the real issues of sexism in the workplace and greater culture. Jaffe is sort of a cross between Martha and Nora—real-life issues meet quasi romantic comedy—and I would pay money to be able to watch the three of them interact.
The story of five young women employed at a New York publishing company, this classic electrified readers when it was first published in 1958. Following the women’s adventures with intelligence and sympathy, it remains touchingly true to the personal and professional struggles that women face.