When Will You Be Available For Me to Pick Up My Hat?

From Jerry Felsheim’s “New York Literary Tea,” part of the aborted America Eats project that was never completed by the Federal Writers’ Project, but that is thankfully collected in Mark Kurlansky’s forthcoming book, The Food of a Younger Land:

Literary teas are constantly in a state of flux. The uninitiate gravitates toward the author, the author toward the editor or publisher, the publisher toward the reviewer, and the reviewer, in desperation, toward another drink. Since the general rule of conduct is to seek out those who can do one the most good, magazine editors and big-name reviewers enjoy much popularity.

If the party happens to be given in honor of a new author, he is almost always completely ignored. In fact, there is a tradition among veteran literary tea-goers to put the young author in his place as soon as possible. They accomplish this by pretending vociferously not to know for whom the party is being given. The young author usually stands awkwardly in a corner, surrounded by a few dull old ladies, with his publisher frantically trying to circulate him among the “right” people.


  1. I found today’s post about the Literary Tea hilarious. Thanks for sharing.

    You mentioned a forthcoming book based on WPA writers’ pieces about the country’s diet. A number of these pieces have in fact been collected. I recently read such a book by Pat Willard that appears to cover the same ground as Kurlansky’s.


    As you may know, I’m working on a novel set in the 1930s and doing much research on the era. Indeed, one of the two protagonists is a WPA worker collecting folk music in the South. And, contra Kurlansky’s subtitle, there was a national highway system in place by the 1930s – US 61 was already a fabled thoroughfare due to Mississippi blues music and US 66 was the route many Okies took to California. Numerous diners and proto-fast-food joints lined these highways.

    Not sure what Kurlansky’s book brings to the, uh, table other than bestseller cache.

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