Ian Crouch, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, attended Monday’s “Evening at Mr. Wolfe’s”, presented by the Brooklyn Heights Association, and wrote an account of the event for the magazine’s blog, The Book Bench. Mr. Crouch misidentified the address of Thomas Wolfe’s one-time home, which is at 5 Montague Terrace, not Montague Street, but this is perhaps understandable as he was too busy hurrying to get inside and escape the cold to notice street signs.
With a nod to the weather, Neil Calet, vice president of the association’s board of directors, began the evening by reading from a letter Wolfe had written to his mother in 1934, in which he notes that his new overcoat is no match for a temperature of three degrees below zero on the Heights, with “the wind going through you like a knife.” True then, presumably, and certainly true on Monday night. We shivered for an instant in agreement, remembering where we’d just been and what awaited us when we were to leave.
Crouch describes actor Chris Eigeman reading from Wolfe’s writing about Brooklyn, which he, a native of the mountains of western North Carolina, viewed with some distaste, once calling it “a great enormous blob”. Eigeman also noted, though, that Wolfe produced some of his greatest writing while living here. Crouch cites a passage, read by the actress Susan Bruce, that Wolfe wrote while living on Montague Terrace, in which he gives a fictionalized account of the first time he saw Aline Bernstein, who was to become his mistress. In Wolfe’s words, “he only knew that from that moment his spirit was impaled upon the knife of love.” (What’s Wolfe’s thing with knife images?)
The mystery guest reader proved not to be Paul Giamatti (your correspondent’s prediction), but Borough President Marty Markowitz, who read Wolfe’s short story in Brooklyn dialect, “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn”. At the close, Markowitz admitted, “My accent’s not far from that, I hate to tell you.”
Crouch pronounced the evening’s entertainment “a fine performance”.