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Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Starry Night with Herman Wouk at the Library of Congress

By the Queen of Free

If the public had known the presenters at the Herman Wouk award ceremony at the Library of Congress this week would include Martha Raddatz, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ,William Safire, and Jimmy Buffet performing, it is likely a mob scene would have ensued.

Wisely, the Library of Congress press office kept the names of the celebrities (is that a dirty word now?) off the press release, and so the Coolidge Auditorium was almost SRO anyway.

Mr. Wouk received the first award bestowed by the LOC for "lifetime achievement in the writing of fiction." And he received another honor, too: Henceforth the award will be called the Herman Wouk Award. He has written 12 acclaimed novels, plays, and nonfiction, many of which were displayed in a lighted glass case in the foyer of the auditorium.

Herman Wouk is a delightfully charming 93-year-old who looks, speaks, walks, dresses, and acts like someone in his mid-70s, seriously.

When he made his entrance onto the stage the audience stood and clapped for several moments. Mr. Wouk wore a sharp suit and red tie, and sat and listened for two hours to the presenters who read at length from his novels, sang, and gave him special gifts including a framed letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D- CA) commemorating Mr. Wouk's achievements, and a framed facsimile of four leaves from a Hebrew illuminated manuscript.

The ceremony began with a taped segment from the television show, "What's My Line," broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s, featuring Mr. Wouk who tried to "stump the panel." It was a show filled with laughter and reminiscences of times and people past. And the Coolidge audience loved it. (Are there re-runs anywhere?)

Except for reading some of Mr. Wouk's War and Remembrance, Martha Raddatz of ABC News seemed a reluctant participant for she barely said any words other than those in the book. William Safire made the crowd laugh with his remarks and his reading from Inside Outside. Justice Ginsburg, as fragile as a porcelain doll and weighing about as much, made you proud of Bill Clinton who nominated her to the U.S. Supreme Court. She read excerpts from The Caine Mutiny.

And Jimmy Buffet! Whew! He bounded on stage, removed his jacket and gave the history of his and Mr. Wouk's collaboration on Don't Stop the Carnival before he took off his shoes and played the guitar and sang several numbers from the play in bare feet. Maybe that's another first for the stage of the Coolidge.

The event ended with Mr. Wouk reading in an affirming, strong voice excerpts from his personal journals which he has donated to LOC along with several manuscripts.

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