Rreview by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Sophie Brill
“Never in the history of publishing has anything like this happened. Writers shouldn’t get accustomed to this,” said author William Kennedy as he stood up to read a pivotal passage from his latest novel, “Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes” at Skidmore College’s first-ever “Salmagundi Salon.”
Dressed in a white summer tux befitting the evening’s tropical theme, Kennedy was clearly moved by the amount of preparation it had taken to transform Skidmore’s Surrey-Williamson Inn into a circa-1958 recreation of “La Floridita” – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Havana bar.
Musicians and authors – and actors from New York City’s National Theater Company of the United States of America – had been enlisted to recreate bits of Kennedy’s music-centric novel, which takes place in both Cuba and Albany.
Brooklyn’s acclaimed Howard Fishman Trio played entrance music as guests arrived at La Floridita dressed in their period-piece finest, and the trio later performed a touching version of the heart-rending old-time tune “I’m Tying the Leaves (So They Won’t Come Down).”
Throughout the night, guest authors read passages from the book followed by related songs with meaning in the novel. The New Messenger Gospel Quartet, dressed in burgundy blazers, crooned the popular early 20th century tune, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
Soulful Saratoga singer Garland Nelson – backed by newly formed Skidmore band Los Elk – sang a smoky version of Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright). Railbird’s Sarah Pedinotti put her own charmingly distinctive touch on “Pennies from Heaven,” and Kennedy himself sang a few lines of minstrel song “Shine,” while accompanied by local pianist Nat Phipps.
“He’s a very musical writer,” said Marc Woodworth – associate editor of Skidmore’s Salmagundi literary quarterly – of Kennedy at the start of the salon. Woodworth had arranged the evening’s program of song, readings and theater without much narrative structure in order to encourage attendees to “listen to the music of Mr. Kennedy’s sentences.”
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Ironweed,” part of a cycle of acclaimed novels set in Albany, Kennedy is the founding director of the New York State Writers Institute, which sponsors Skidmore’s Summer Writers Institute, a four-week writers workshop and reading series.
Thomas Dimopoulos’ review at The Glens Falls Post Star