If the meek are going to inherit the earth, then Wally Shawn will be in the vanguard. The diffident playwright and essayist, known for such works as "My Dinner with Andre," "Aunt Dan and Lemon," and "The Designated Mourner," presented readings of a wide range of his essays and dramas last month at the CUNY Graduate Center. Each piece of his work offered a passionate view of a world corroded by power, but redeemable through art.
The Obie-Award winner was joined by a group of literary and theatrical friends who voiced his work, including writers Fran Lebowitz, Peter Carey and Deborah Eisenberg; poet Mark Strand; and actors Mary-Louise Parker, Julianne Moore, Bob Balaban and Josh Hamilton.
Shawn's most recent play, "Grasses of a Thousand Colors," premiered in London in 2009. His first book of nonfiction, "Essays," was also published last year.
On differences in taste, from Shawn's essay "Aesthetic Preferences": "When certain people take their clothes off in public, they’re worshiped and rewarded, while others are arrested or taken to an insane asylum.”
On why art makes a difference, from Shawn's essay "The Quest for Superiority": "People beguiled by beauty are less dangerous to others than those obsessed by thoughts of supremacy…A poem really is more enjoyable than an empire."
On life, from Shawn's play "The Fever": “Life should be celebrated. Life is a gift.”
Click above to hear an excerpt from the evening celebrating Wallace Shawn, or below to watch a video of the event. The CUNY event was sponsored by Shawn's publisher, Haymarket Books, and the Theatre Communications Group.