The East Hampton Library, it seemed, broke into the highest echelons of good causes — up there with the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, motherhood, and apple pie — on Saturday, when a reported 2,000 people jammed into a tent on the Gardiner-Flynn grounds off James Lane in the village for the ninth Authors Night extravaganza. The crowd was estimated as 25 percent larger than ever before.
While this has been a summer of collective moaning and sighing (and swearing) about crowds, traffic, noise, rude behavior, etc., the unmatched number of people crowded onto the South Fork has had a few positive effects, too, especially in raising the proceeds at charity events. Benefit parties are being sold out, and everyone says the amounts raised are only mounting and mounting.
Authors Night was the culmination of a year’s planning by the co-chairs, Sheila Rogers, executive vice president of the library’s board of managers, Dennis Fabiszak, the library director, and Patti Kenner, reception chair. They worked with committee and subcommittee chairs who also met regularly. The proceeds, when you combine the $100 a ticket book-buying reception with the haul from 26 dinner parties following the reception, plus the take from the free children’s fair on Sunday, are expected to reach $375,000. Many of the essentials required were donated, keeping the budget for so large an affair minimal.
But what amazed me were the logistics. A flock of about 100 volunteers started the day early, setting things up and shepherding authors and books, food and drink, and book — and celebrity — lovers to the right place. Ms. Kenner apparently kept an eye on plans for everything from the napkins on the food tables to the flowers and the check-out lines.
I am told that 830 cars were parked on the field, and I myself saw many others lining Main Street. There were parking helpers and golf cart drivers to ferry guests back and forth. Eight security personnel were on hand (although no one was reported to have gotten rowdy).
Given the size of the crowd, I was surprised to learn that fewer authors were invited this year. The number was 104, compared to 125 last year and 180 the previous year. Ms. Rogers said she always asks the writers what the library can do to make Authors Night better; honing the number was one of the results.
Maureen Egen, a member of the library’s board — who retired not long ago from a top career with the Time Warner Book Group and Little Brown — acted as liaison to publishers and was instrumental in bringing in some writers of note for the first time. Every book was donated.
Then, imagine: Volunteers were back on Sunday morning to dismantle it all and set up for the children’s fair, which included a book reception of its own, carnival rides and games, crafts, roving performers, and snacks. Of course, that had to be dismantled at day’s end, too.
Although more than 600 guests attended the dinner parties, enjoying good food and conversation in honor of one or more of the authors, the event at the art dealer Larry Gagosian’s art-filled Gwathmey house on the dunes took the prize for glitz. Among the 120 who attended were Jack Nicholson, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Buffet, and Anjelica Huston, among others. Clive Davis was the honoree.
Many of us remember the John Steinbeck Book Fair, a fund-raiser for Southampton College, which began in 1977 at the college and became the annual Meet the Writers event at the Elaine Benson Gallery in Bridgehampton, heralding the summer season for some 20 years. It ended in 2002, four years after Ms. Benson’s death. Tickets were $15 and the college reported proceeds totaling $157,000 over the years. I think Elaine would be amused that Meet the Writers was the genesis of this very successful Authors Night, and bemused by the phenomenal numbers involved.