The Amazing Adventures of Chabon & Waldman

The New York Times today describes last night’s first-ever White House poetry jam:

The candles flickered, the bassist strummed and, one by one, the writers and poets seized their moments in front of the microphone.

James Earl Jones served up Othello, his sonorous voice rumbling through the East Room. Mayda del Valle, a poet from Chicago, conjured her grandmother from Puerto Rico. Joshua Brandon Bennett, a poet from Yonkers, N.Y., delivered an ode to his deaf sister, his fingers flying as he translated his words into signs.

It was Tuesday night, time for the White House poetry jam. A pony-tailed disc jockey hovered over a pair of turntables in the hallway, guests sipped white wine and President Obama and his wife, Michelle, celebrated the power of the spoken word.

Also taking their turn at the mike: Berkeley literati couple Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, who’d been vocal supporters of and fundraisers for the Obama campaign. Waldman, author of the recently published “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” and an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year, described the experience in an e-mail this morning:

Honestly, I don’t know how the hell we got there, and the people with whom we shared the stage were so much more talented that it was all we could do not to miss our call and slink off to the bar.

It was An Evening of Poetry, Music & the Spoken Word, and we were the Spoken Word. We were silly, maybe a little cute. We had a point to make and we tried our (decidedly lame) best to do a little Mike Nichols & Elaine May softshoe.


Guess whom you don’t want to follow on stage with your cute little 3 minute routine? James Earl Jones. Reciting Othello. ‘Nuf said.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.