Thursday, October 9, 2008

Roy Scheider's wife and me at Edgar's house

The rather helpful Jeannette Grider at Saint Louis University news services sends the following bit of literary news:

The Saint Louis University Library Associates will honor noted author E. L. Doctorow with the 41st Annual Saint Louis Literary Award at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, in the Anhueser-Busch Auditorium of John and Lucy Cook Hall, 3674 Lindell Boulevard. The program will include comments from Doctorow followed by a Q & A session. A book signing will precede the program beginning at 4:40 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

And here is her blurb on the great man:

A highly-acclaimed novelist, playwright, lecturer and essayist, Doctorow's bestselling novel Ragtime became an award-winning movie in 1981. Other Doctorow works include: Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Loon Lake, City of God, World's Fair and Billy Bathgate. A prolific writer, he also has published two volumes of essays and a story collection, Sweet Land Stories. Doctorow's Drinks Before Dinner was produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival.

This information is relayed here as a public service and as an excuse to tell one of my very few celebrity stories from six years of living in New York and countless visits to the metropolis over the decade before my residence there.

A mentor and dear friend in New York had a summer home at the time on the East End of Long Island, not far from the summer home of "Edgar," as his friends know Mr. Doctorow. My friend received an invite for a Doctorow dinner party one weekend we were at his place in Long Island, working on a book I edited for him (that went on to win every comp. lit. award under the sun).

At dinner, the Doctorows separated the people who came to the party together so we would be forced to mix with strangers. I ended up sitting nowhere near "Edgar," so I don't have any Doctorow yarns, though I did break bread at a four-top with the wife of the (now late) actor Roy Scheider.

I see from her husband's obituary that her name is "Brenda Siemer," which The New York Times spelled wrong when it first published news of the Jaws star's death, a flawed obituary that also listed as a survivor a daughter of Scheider's that the man had the awful pain of burying before he passed away himself. Such is the life of a journalist. As I remind some snippy reader once a week or so, we all make mistakes - journalists publish ours.

As the above picture suggests, Brenda is a tall, regal, beautiful blonde woman. As spouses of celebrities surely must be, she was a good listener. At the time I was very passionate about American Indian religion and yoga; she - and, later, joining us, Roy Scheider himself - listened attentively to my tales of hitchhiking across Indian reservations to attend sacred ceremonies.

As for yoga, Brenda herself was practiving and teaching the art, and she accepted my street address for her mailing list. For months afterwards, I would get postcards inviting me to cool things like doing yoga on the beach with her. Mechanically, almost idiotically, every time I got such a card I would think, "Wow, that's Roy Scheider's wife," or "Roy Scheider's wife licked that stamp" or something like that.

And then I would helplessly picture the actor's rather flat flace on the big screen, as the man attached to it acted like he was doing battle with a gigantic shark.

Rest in peace, Roy, and I hope Brenda is getting along okay herself.

p.s. For the monied few:

A special post-awards ceremony dinner with Doctorow will be held at the Coronado Hotel, located directly across the street from the John Cook School of Business, beginning with cocktails at 7 p.m. and dinner at 8 p.m. Tickets are $100. The reservation deadline is Friday, Oct. 17. Checks should be made payable to the Saint Louis University Library Associates, c/o Joan Hecker, Administrative Offices, 330 Wenneker Drive, St. Louis, Mo. 63124. Valet Parking will be available in the Coronado Circle beginning at 4:30 p.m.

And, hey, this is cool! I know this guy, too!

Each year, as part of the Saint Louis Literary Award presentation, the Library Associates also recognize the accomplishments of one English graduate program student with the Walter J. Ong, S.J., Award for Outstanding Achievement. This year's honoree is Obi Nwakanma, who received his Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in 2008. A prize-winning journalist in his native Nigeria, he has published two books of poetry and is currently completing a biography about the distinguished Nigerian author Christopher Okigbo. Nwakanma is currently an assistant professor of English at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.

Obi is married to my friend Mira Tanna. This gives me an excuse to write about him and his interesting poetry later - even in The American.


Photo of Brenda by Curt Hoppe.

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