Event booked by fans eager to hear author

Headliner: "Charming Billy" writer and National Book Award winner Alice McDermott proves quite a draw for the Supper at Six program.

April 29, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

When it was announced earlier this year that Maryland author and 1998 National Book Award winner Alice McDermott was set to be host of a dinner and lecture in Howard County, the response was immediate: a sold-out event.

The $35 tickets to tonight's Supper at Six program, an annual Maryland author event sponsored by the Howard County Library and the Maryland Center for the Book, sold out quickly as fans of McDermott's lyrical prose clamored to reserve seats at the dinner and talk.

More than 275 people are expected to attend the dinner, to be held at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville. Library officials believe the McDermott dinner will be hard to top next year.

"Trying to get an author as popular as Alice McDermott [next year] will be a difficult job," admits Joan Fox, who runs the community outreach office of the Howard County Library system. "She's really at the top of her game, and people are really looking forward to her being there."

McDermott will read from her fourth novel, "Charming Billy," a quiet story of love and deception that won McDermott the National Book Award. Copies of the books will be available for purchase and signing at the lecture.

"We were fortunate to get Alice, even though she lives in Bethesda and teaches creative writing at Hopkins," said Fox. "We were able to book her right after she won the National Book Award.

"I guess we were just really lucky with the timing of the offer," she added. "We'd like to get someone of an equally high caliber each year for the Supper at Six series."

Library officials have considered making a monthly feature of the Supper at Six series, but Fox said the annual lecture "is already quite a production to put on. The ins and outs of putting on a supper and lecture means that it's not something you can do every week."

The Howard County Library held several discussion groups this month to talk about McDermott's books.

McDermott also wrote "At Weddings and Wakes" (1992) and "That Night" (1987), which were both nominated for Pulitzer Prizes. Her first novel, "A Bigamist's Daughter," was published in 1982 and was nominated for a National Book Award.

"Charming Billy," published in 1997, brought McDermott a larger audience thanks to the prestigious award and the printing of 100,000 copies of the paperback version in January.

Sales of the book exceeded expectations, including McDermott's, and caused stampedes at bookstores around the country as readers were eager to follow the story of Billy Lynch, a gregarious Irish-American who dies a heartbroken alcoholic in the streets of Queens, N.Y. -- haunted by a former love.

Last year, local author Karen Arnold discussed her work at the Miller branch library in Ellicott City as part of the first Supper at Six. McDermott was named a 1998-1999 "Write from Maryland" author by the Maryland Center for the Book.

Other 1998-1999 "Write from Maryland" authors include Robyn Amos, Ruth Glick, Sujata Massey, Carolyn Reeder, Gus Russo, David Simon and Ed Burns.

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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