[This post is part of a continuing series about fancy Hollywood parties that I have somehow managed to infiltrate.]
PEN USA's 19th Annual Literary Awards Festival was held last night at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a place with restroom stalls bigger than my first dorm room and soft cotton towels to dry your hands after a good wash. (It's flu season, people, so wash those digits! And to the guy who took a crap and beelined out the restroom door without properly cleaning, I feel sorry for every hand you shook that evening!)
As you know, it was an act of serendipity that I was asked to present the award for Drama to fellow playwright and blogger Marisela Trevino Orta for her play, Braided Sorrow. (By the way, Marisela, we've got to get you off Xanga and onto Blogger or Wordpress or Typepad.)
I prepared an introduction that opened funny but closed by honoring Marisela. (After all, it's not always about me.... Well, it is, but I'm not going to admit that in public.) My remarks went something like this:
"They say that the personal is political. I don't know who said that exactly. And, believe me, I did my research. This afternoon I was on Google for like five minutes, and I couldn't find anything. And I looked on Wikipedia too, and nothing. And if it's not on Wikipedia, then nobody knows.... But what's really interesting and effective about Marisela's work is that she makes the political personal. Her richly layered characters provide an easy entryway into the larger social issues that she's concerned with. This makes her not only a craftswoman, but also a crusader. So, I am proud to present the Literary Award for Drama to Marisela Trevino Orta."
Thankfully, I pronounced her name correctly. I repeated it to myself like 100 times because I was sitting next to her mother in the audience and she schooled me on proper pronunciation.
My intro met with some scattered laughter, and I quickly realized that, if you don't know who I am, then my deadpan delivery of jokes and stuff just comes across as confusing because people don't quite know how to interpret me. ("Is this Asian dude for real?")
I think part of the problem also was that I was wearing an outfit that made me look like a Chinese businessman, come to sell you some import-export stock. While I love and adore my Valentino suit (a rich friend's hand-me-down) because, frankly, it's fucking expensive, it really doesn't feel and look like "me." Something a bit more irreverent would've allowed people to think, "That's a hip, possibly witty, Asian-American artist," rather than, "I'd like to invest in that gentleman's company."
The picture at the top of this post captures my public persona last night. But the picture that was taken on my camera phone better captures the "me" that you know oh-so-well:
Fortunately, my intro was short, so I was able to get to the serious, seemingly profound stuff quickly, and those PEN people liked that.
Anyway, there were some really great acceptance speeches from the fabulous Elmore Leonard (what is he—like 200 years old?!; he's awesome!), Steve Lopez (who gave us an update on his book, The Soloist, which was made into that Robert Downey Jr./Jamie Foxx movie), Leslie T. Chang's mother (Leslie was ill, and her charming Chinese mother read Leslie's acceptance speech for the book, Factory Girls), and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (who is so goddamn talented, funny, charming, inspirational, humble, and scorching hot that you just want to hate him—but of course you can't).
There was also good food and gift bags full of some of the winning books. You know what that means, right? More Bamboo Nation giveaways on the horizon!
So there you have it, people. Once again, I attend fancy Hollywood parties...so you don't have to!