I was so honored earlier this month to receive the first annual Terry Southern Prize for Humor from the Paris Review (for a five-installment blog post titled My Twelve-Hour Blind Date with Dostoevsky). Sadly, I was unable to accept the award in person at the Paris Review Revel, which coincided with the UK launch of The Possessed. This caused a few small logistical problems, the subject of some correspondence I share with you today, between myself and Paris Review super-editor Lorin Stein.
1. Stein to Batuman:
…Would you like to write a short (like, three sentence or whatever) acceptance note for me to read at the Revel?… Also: do you want your two-foot mahogany B52 sent to you in Istanbul, or shall we store it? I was thinking Nile Southern would probably be happy to give it a temporary home till you get back. But maybe you want it to look at—for inspiration???.
2. Batuman to Stein:
…re: b52, i don’t think i could be any more inspired in its physical presence than i already am by the powerful idea, thank you. if the object could be placed in storage, either with nile southern or even less illustriously, that would be wonderful – alternatively it could be sent care of my mother. whichever is least trouble.
3. Stein to Batuman:
We will totally deliver the plane to your moms!!!
4. Batuman’s mom, to Batuman (in response to a request to accommodate what I still somehow naively believed to be a “B52-sized plaque of some kind”):
I am now really apprehensive about the b52 (joke), will it be the size of the painting of the bull in Holland or even grander??
5. Stein to Batuman (after the Revel):
…In the end I wasn’t able to read your wonderful letter because [names redacted] went way over their allotted time slots.1 BUT I did manage to work in the shout-out to Fyodor. Now, will you please give me your mom’s address (does she have a doorman?)?…
…I’m sorry that your mother is soon going to have a large model of a B52 “flying fortress” in her living room…
6. Batuman to Stein:
“flying fortress” is a joke, right?
7. Stein to Batuman:
One sort of B52 was called the “flying fortress” – but I think maybe that one wasn’t outfitted with bombs. Yours is outfitted with bombs.
- My acceptance letter: “Dear friends of the Paris Review, I am so happy and honored to be addressing you tonight. I really wish I could be here in person, but right now I am hopefully asleep, because it must be around two in the morning in London, where I am promoting my book, The Possessed. The immortal novel by Dostoevsky, translated alternately as The Possessed and The Demons, has brought me to so many wonderful places, including a hilarious twelve-hour performance on Governor’s Island. I didn’t have to do anything to be so funny about it—I just wrote down what happened. So, I would like to thank Dostoevsky. A big thanks also to judges Sam Anderson, Chris Jackson, and Fran Lebowitz, as well as to Lorin Stein and the Paris Review—may there be many more galas, and may I be there for some of them too.” ↩