I’ve always been fascinated by the question “What famous authors, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?” Sometimes that question is phrased in such a way that it’s a dinner party; sometimes it’s phrased in such a way that the meeting is one-on-one. As I do many other things in my life, I overthink those questions and get bogged down in the answer. I compose my dinner party guest lists the way I would compose an invitation list for a birthday party or holiday party. How will all the people react to one another? How will all the personalities combine to make the meal and conversation a memorable event?
If I wanted to invite a bunch of serious partiers who probably only get better with a drink, I’d ask Walt Whitman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dylan Thomas, and Dorothy Parker. I wouldn’t even have to attend that party—just being a fly on the wall would make me happy.
If I were looking for meaningful conversation from people who have a keen sense of the human situation, I would ask James Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Toni Morrison. Although I love them dearly, I would probably avoid the long-winded and potentially morbid personalities of Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, and Oscar Wilde. I’m pretty sure they can hold an audience, but I wouldn’t want them to absorb all the air in the room.
I’d love to have a quiet dinner with Jane Austen and August Wilson, or maybe even set a table where the three of us could sit down together. That would be, by far, the one of the greatest conversations of my life. The listening, the giving and taking, and just the right amount of gossiping, would be more satisfying than any meal.