While chatting with my eldest daughter the other day, I told her she'd have been a marvelous addition to the Algonquin Round Table; she had no idea what I was talking about. How is that possible? She is a well-read, well-educated woman. She writes for a living, in NYC. It astounded me, and I had to acknowledge that many probably have no idea of what it was, and the way the internet is now a very large, very bicker-ish Round Table--one often lacking the wit.
It all started as a joke, with a group that had a few names ("The Viscous Circle" is my favorite) before it settled on The Algonquin Round Table, so dubbed for the hotel they gathered in. It was all about who could be wittiest--often in a very scathing way--who could out-do the rest. As many of the members were also journalists with national by-lines, these luncheons were reported, and became quite famous both nationally and internationally.
|Left to right: Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, and Alexander Woollcott|
And it was.
I could go on and on about the members, the history, the pranks and the games they played--recreating the Algonquin Round Table has always been an aspiration of mine. It has been emulated over the years, but never duplicated. It was a Camelot of Wits, and a definite result of right place, right time, right people. There is no duplicating it.
So why am I writing about the Algonquin Round Table, anyway? Because while it is forever gone, shades of it still do exist in various places--especially on the internet. Remember those old chatrooms so popular back in the 1990s? Facebook, blogs, discussion boards--flamewars aren't quite the same, but there are shades of the A.R.T. once in a while.
And in small press world,* where there is a sense of camaraderie and good-natured competition. (I am remembering the Hadley Rille Books vs. Yard Dog Press game of charades during ConQuest 2012. Hilarious fun.) Everyone knows everyone, or at least of everyone. When gathered in the same place at the same time--as often happens at conventions--you can often catch "rival" houses sitting together, poking fun at one another, sharing ideas and experiences, collaborating on projects. There is usually a lot of laughter. Among my own Hadley Rille Books family members, we share inside jokes, tease one another incessantly, and on the rare occassion when there are several of us gathered in the same place, the absolute joy of being in one another's company is palpable. Maybe I'm just too in love with my HRB family, but I'm pretty sure it's true outside of it.
Whether the internet or small press world, it's not quite the wit of The Algonquin Round Table, but it is the kinship and fun I always imagined existed among its members. Truly, I'm ever the mother of any group I happen to be part of; my tongue is not sharp enough to have been one of the Vicious Circle. I suppose my dream of ressurecting the entity is like my love for pirates--it's the notion of them I fancy, not the reality.
*I can't comment on big press, as that is not my experience. I imagine it's quite the same, on a bigger scale.