Field Trip: A Night at The Moth Ball


In 1997, novelist George Dawes Green was homesick. Back in his native Georgia, on muggy, cricket-filled nights, his friends used to gather outdoors on the porch to spin stories to one another, chatting into the night while moths gathered overhead, bumping into the lightbulbs. Green, determined to recreate those gatherings in New York, founded The Moth, a non-profit literary organization dedicated to just that.

Over the past decade, The Moth sponsored live storytelling events in communities across the country, as well as launching a Moth podcast and public radio show, featuring heavyweights like Malcolm Gladwell and Salman Rushdie. Last night, The Moth had its annual fundraising gala at Capitale in Manhattan. Wry comments, feather boas, and vintage ballgowns abounded, and literary rock stars — like host Jonathon Ames and honorees Calvin Trillin — mingled with past Moth contributors. Check out our photos and read some of the best quotes of the night, after the jump.

Hosts Mike Birbiglia and Jonathon Ames pose with honoree Calvin Trillin. The Moth has become, according to Birbiglia, well-known enough that he’s been asked to tell a story at a Potbelly’s sandwich restaurant before. “It’s so popular that even douchebags like it. And that’s a real mark of success.”

Both Birbiglia and New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik delivered stories alongside The Moth’s previous slam winners. Birbiglia’s focused on his experiences with Catholicism growing up: “It always struck me that priests got huge laughs on jokes that just weren’t that well done.” Gopnik told a story about his daughter Olivia’s imaginary friend, Charlie Ravioli, who was always too busy to play with her. This prompted a struggle about whether he should stay in New York to raise his family or move “to Connecticut, where all writers go to become alcoholics and write bad autobiographical plays.”

In keeping with the night’s 1930s theme, a roving band of Marx brothers entertained the guests at the pre-show cocktail party. The Moth’s previous slam winners also delivered one minute versions of their winning stories, which ranged from the traumatizing experience of having New Age parents to becoming a drama teacher for a junior high school. (“Turns out, there’s very little difference between the world’s best middle school play and the world’s worst middle school play.”)

Novelist Colson Whitehead, in Great Gatsby-worthy attire, noted that he had stopped being on his Twitter account so much. “You know, so I can write things that aren’t just 140 characters.” Other notables that we spotted included Jenny Slate, the former Saturday Night Live cast member, and Bored to Death‘s Ajay Naidu.

New Yorker editor David Remnick gave the 2010 Moth Award to longtime friend and New Yorker employee Calvin Trillin, who Remnick described as “the great bard of lard.” Plus, Remnick joked, “he’s the only writer at the magazine who calls me ‘El Hefe Supremo.'”

For his part, Trillin accepted the award modestly, noting that this wasn’t his first honor — he once got “3rd most likely to succeed” at his high school in Kansas City. Trillin is also a renowned foodie, and so I asked him where to find good barbeque in New York. “Here’s what you do,” Trillin said. “You take a cab to LaGuardia airport. And then you take a plane to Kansas City.”

Guests sported impressive 1930s finery, including this fantastic peacock coat. For those who were less outfitted for the occasion — such as your Flavorwire correspondent — there were feather boas, beglittered top hats, cigarette holders, and flapper headbands. Just in case.