Even though Phoebe and Bobby Tudor are fixtures on Houston's charity scene, they stay loyal to their Louisiana roots. That was evident at the Inprint Poets & Writers Ball, where the couple snagged Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tony Kushner as the featured attraction because of their Pelican state connections. Kushner, who wrote the epic play Angels in America, grew up in Lake Charles and has a long and complicated relationship with his hometown.
"Most of you probably think of Tony as a New York writer, but here's a dirty little secret," Bobby Tudor said. "He's not a New York writer. He's a Southern writer at his core. All the pathos and Gothic absurdity and irony and humor, he comes by it naturally."
The result was one of the most memorable such gatherings in Inprint's 33-year history.
The evening, which was moved from its traditional gathering spot at Houston Country Club to the Houstonian Hotel in order to accommodate the sizable crowd, began as guests sipped cocktails in three large event rooms as writers — Robin Davidson, currently the city's Poet Laureate and author of the collection Luminous Other, novelist Matthew Salesses, author of The Hundred-Year Flood, and Leah Lax, author of the memoir Uncovered: How I Left Hassidic Life and Came Home — rotated into each space, reading excerpts from their work.
Afterwards, the 420 black-tie guests gathered in the hotel's main ballroom for dinner, where tables were decorated with literary-themed centerpieces featuring favorite books and items from personal collections. Themes included Brundibar by Kushner and Maurice Sendak (a children’s book based on a World War II children’s opera), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Little Prince, Anna Karenina, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and books by U.S. immigrants and writers of the African diaspora.
Speaking at warp speed, Kushner gave a witty, densely-worded 30-minute after-dinner talk that included references to writing for the theater, Shakespeare, poetry, the meaning of art and life, family history and the absurdity of giving an "informal" talk in formal wear. He elicited lots of laughs, a few tears and a standing ovation at the end, along with a big hug from the Tudors.
The Kushner/Tudor connection began when Bobby's mother, Jane Anne, met Kushner's father, William on an airplane nearly 40 years ago. She recommended him for the job as conductor of the Rapides Symphony in Phoebe's and Bobby's hometown of Alexandria, where he led the orchestra from from 1968 until his retirement in 2002. The elder Kushner died in 2012.
"Although we children lived in different cities, we knew each other through our parents and saw each other at concerts and dinners over many years. We kept up with the talented Kushner children through the decades," Phoebe said.
As a thank you gift to guests, book designers Cathy Hunt and Fiona McGettigan of FioCat Press created a limited-edition handmade chapbook, Homebody/Kabul: An Excerpt, autographed by Kushner.
Inprint officials, including executive director Rich Levy and Dinah Chetrit, board chair Consuelo Duroc-Danner, president Christina Bryan and Trey Peacock, vice president Eleanor Gilbane and Dan Gilbane, secretary/treasurer Robbi Jones and Robert Ford, were thrilled with the turnout.
Also spotted in the crowd were Andrea and Bill White, Y. Ping Sun and David Leebron, Mark Wawro and Melanie Gray, Dina Alsowayel, Robin Angly and Miles Smith, Liz and Steve Crowell, Carolyn and Platt Davis, Rachel and Dr. Bud Frazier, Sis and Hasty Johnson, Sabria Lewis, Nancy Powell Moore, Bobbi and Vic Samuels, Sannam and Scott Warrender, and Marcia West and Ron Lewis.
The evening raised more then $412,000 for Inprint, Houston's major literary arts nonprofit organization.