There are two primary myths regarding the proper social structure of the writerly life — that of the recluse and that of the well-connected scribbler-about-town. Each has its constituents — Salinger, Pynchon, et al. suiting up for the former squad; the likes of Bloomsbury and, more currently, the McSweeney’s mob carrying colors for the latter — and its charms — the romance of flinty genius on the one hand, unceasingly brilliant comradeship on the other. Each is also somewhat a bunch of crap. Surely J.D. hits the town for a beer every now and again? Lytton Strachey must have at least occasionally worn out the gang with bad scat jokes around the dining room table?
Myths, though, are probably better judged by their endurance than their accuracy. And certainly these two have proven durable enough. It was in the spirit of the second, more sociable pole, then, that a group gathered recently at the bar of the Algonquin Hotel to honor that most iconic member of New York’s literary in-crowd, Dorothy Parker.
According to its website, the Dorothy Parker Society of New York (DPSNY) “is a non-academic social organization, extremely loose-knit, and exists without a thought toward rules, bylaws or parliamentary procedure.”
That said, midway through the evening, guests had taken to assigning themselves various titles of societal authority, each of which Kevin Fitzpatrick, the DPSNY’s president and founder, dutifully noted on a scrap of yellow legal paper.
“We’re divvying up positions,” Fitzpatrick said as a group of newcomers took seats at the far end of the table. A round of gin martinis followed quickly on their heels.
Like most everything these days, the Society started with a website. In 1998, Fitzpatrick came into a copy of Marion Meade’s Parker biography What Fresh Hell is This? He launched dorothyparkernyc.com shortly thereafter. A few months later he and a group of his site’s more regular visitors got together for a party, and the DPSNY was born. It remains a rigorously informal endeavor.
“The Dorothy Parker Society doesn’t have meetings,” Fitzpatrick said, “we have parties.” The most involved of these is the annual Parkerfest, wherein the group gets together in their Roaring Twenties best for a few days of Parker-related activity. At one recent Fest, the group drank its way to a $2,000 bar tab (“Champagne bottles,” Fitzpatrick explained), at another a few of Parker’s great nieces came down from upstate and regaled the crowd with family stories. Last year the affair included a booze cruise around Manhattan on a 1930s yacht. Towards the end of the evening, Fitzpatrick wandered downstairs to find a pair of revelers in flagrante delicto beneath the decks.
“I’m not sure if that was a high point or a low point,” he said. “But it was very Parker.”
The evening at the Algonquin was, alas, scandal-free. At the table, though, was a veteran of a fairly fresh literary squabble, one Ms. Barbara Weider. In addition to being a regular at the Parker Society, Weider is a Wodehouse devotee, and at a recent Broadway Special meeting (the New York chapter of the national P.G. Wodehouse Society) she had found herself in a trivia contest, answering questions about the Wodehouse book Picadilly Jim. She lost in the tiebreak round to a fellow Wodehousian from Maryland. However, upon discovering that her opponent had just read the novel while riding up on the train, Weider was overheard to have declared the proceedings “bullshit.” Now she looked on amusedly as Fitzpatrick regaled the table with the story. Her battle had been noted in a recent Observer article by Spencer Morgan, and the salmon-colored clipping circled around the party.