On Monday night, PEN Center USA held its 22nd annual Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Joyce Carol Oates was presented with a lifetime achievement award -- although with her history of writing novels, short fiction, criticism, nonfiction and memoir, plus her longtime Princeton professorship, she might deserve more than one award for lifetime achievement.
Accepting her award, the soft-spoken Oates told a story about learning to write -- well, scribble -- before she could even speak. "This has been a dazzling evening," she told the crowd.
The winners of the awards had been announced before the dinner, so "Homeland" writers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon (who, with Gideon Raff, won the Teleplay Award) had plenty of time to prepare a speech. Gansa spun a tale of being an ambitious young writer at Princeton who sweated over and perfected 11 pages to show his writing adviser, who told him, "These aren't good enough, are they?" The advisor, of course, was Oates, who hid her face as he recited her criticism.
But that wasn't all -- Oates gave him a copy of "The Adventures of Augie March" to read, and Gansa quickly became obsessed with Saul Bellow. He blathered on about all who would listen about Bellow, until finally someone told him there was another student on campus also obsessed with him. That student? Howard Gordon, who was standing beside Gansa on stage. They've been friends and writing partners ever since -- and recently won two Emmy Awards.