Decades ago, the Strand was one of 48 bookstores on Book Row, a street in New York named after the London publishing hub. Today, it’s the last man standing. Jessica Strand (no relation, though she is the daughter of poet Mark Strand) has run the store’s event programming for the past year. Formerly an LA writer who published multiple books on entertaining, Jessica has strengthened the Strand’s reputation as a literary destination, hosting 3-4 events per week. I got the chance to chat with Jessica about her experiences, which include her trick for keeping Martin Amis happy, a James Franco reading debacle, and the best upcoming events this winter.
- What was the most surprising thing you found about becoming a literary events director?
The most surprising part is even if authors are really famous, they get really nervous. Not everybody; for some it’s old hat. But some people are really anxious. My position is that I have to be a kind of nurse or headmistress. I have to calm them and direct them all at once.
The other part is that you can read their personality before you meet them. You often have a long correspondence, with the publisher or with them, and know what they would like. LIke, Martin Amis is going to want a bottle of wine. Put him in the back with a bottle of wine. You can read how they would like to be taken care of.
- What’s one of the most memorable events you’ve held at the Strand and why?
The worst event was James Franco, early on. It was incredibly chaotic, and my assistant and I would like to forget about that event. Everybody was really nice. But there were a lot of transvestites and girls in shorts screaming at him to email them back. There was a lot of paparazzi. We didn’t have the staff and didn’t know about that kind of celebrity chaos; it’s not something we were ready for. And then there was a protest in the middle of it — the occupy Wall Street people in Union Square sent in vigilantes dressed in combat gear.
- What Strand events should we keep an eye out for this winter?
This month we’ll have Victoria Roberts, a New Yorker cartoonist, drawing pictures of people for free. Next month we’ll have Deborah Eisenberg and George Saunders. There are lots of events — you can see them all on the site.