Last week I attended an event that was so unexpected and interesting that I want to tell you all about it. It started with an email promoting some upcoming Penthouse Symposium events at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle. One of these was an author event, billed as follows:
Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, author of Harlem is Nowwhere. April 20th. 7pm.
In conversation with Nick Licata, Charles Mudede, and Sandra Jackson-Dumont.
Topic: Sharifa’s new book: Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America.
$40/person, includes a hearty stew and a copy of Harlem is Nowhere.
Although I wasn’t familiar with the author, it sounded interesting. So off we went–me and my friend Kay, who is always up for an adventure. We really didn’t have any clear expectations for this event. The Sorrento is pleasantly old school, we like book readings–oh, and there would be stew?
After some preparatory cocktails and a cheese plate in the Fireside Room, we made our way up to the penthouse.
Long tables were set for dinner, there was a bar in the corner, and large windows framed sunset city views.
The room filled with an eclectic crowd, and the noise level quickly increased to an astonishing level. Conversation, laughter, clinking glasses, the space crackled with a contagious electricity.
Finally the chef, Michael Hebb, stepped forward and gave a game plan for the evening. He talked about bringing people together around the table. He told us that he had decided at the last minute to change the promised bowl of stew into an entire meal.
Platters of spicy garbanzo beans, an endive salad, matzo bread, and chunks of tender lamb circulated family style. Conversation crescendoed again over dinner. We were seated next to a couple who had recently travelled through China, and were planning a trip to Bhutan. Another tablemate shared anecdotes from her career as a private investigator. I caught snatches of conversation over my shoulder, from a dapper elderly gentleman who expressed his admiration for Angelina Jolie’s lips.
Fatal Lucciauno, a local Hip Hop artist, got up and gave a quick a cappella performance, full of poetry and shining with simple authenticity.
Then the author, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, read from her book, Harlem is Nowhere.
Her posture as easy and polished as her elegant voice, she read to us and it was lyrical, musical, hypnotic. When she finished there was a hush, then applause.
As we nibbled on pastries and chocolates, the panel discussion commenced, not the ping-pong of a debate, but a more leisurely game of verbal croquet, each member examining the lay of the conversational ball and taking a swing at it from their own unique angle.
There was a sparkle to the entire evening, a magic created from a diverse crowd, intellectual curiosity, good conversation, and a beautiful setting. But I think the true alchemy was from bringing people together around a table. The exquisite comfort of good food and the connection of passing dishes from hand to hand opened and eased and made way for an almost palpable sense of connection in the room.