Spelling had the crowd on the edge of our seats. We had been instructed by Jesse Sheidtower, the editor-at-large of the Oxford English Dictionary that revealing gasps or groans by the audience must be kept in check, but it was hard to comply, as famous literary contestants bravely sounded out the letters in some truly perilous words (such as “barouche”).
The annual Spelling Bee was thrown at The Standard Hotel’s High Line Room by CLMP, Harper Perennial and Penguin Books. The brave authors involved have all proven their wonderful, creative power with words as language professionals, but when it comes to spelling—the practical side of being a scribe if you will, only one could triumph. A feat made harder or easier depending on your constitution by the delicious jalapeno infused tequila margaritas flowing freely.
Donning plastic antennae, the Bee-ers were Jonathan Ames, Jessica Anya Blau, Rosanne Cash, Bruce Feiler, Lev Grossman, Fiona Maazel, Patricia Marx, Bernice L. McFadden, Lauren Mechling, Elissa Schappeil, Liesl Schillinger and Darin Strauss. Ben Greenman, winner of last year’s black and yellow crown was the emcee and the aforementioned Jesse Shiedtower was the judge, indeed we were warned the “judge is already judging all of you.”
Authors were allowed to ask for the definition of words and the word in a sentence. Darin Strauss tried “Can you provide the spelling please?” Greenman did not. Sacrilegious mowed down three contestants and my friend whispered to me, “the antennae makes it so sad when they have to go to the penalty box.” We learned blunderbuss originally meant “thunder gun” for its noise and azimuth comes from an Arabic expression which means “the way” or “the direction.”
“I played Carnegie Hall and I wasn’t this nervous,” said Rosanne Cash when it was down to just her and Patricia Marx. Yet, Cash won the crown with Ischium, the curved bones in the pelvis.
Thrilling, glamorous and nerdy, the Bee was linguistic competition at its best. We eagerly await next year’s spelling heavyweight challenger.
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