The night Denis Johnson's novel Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award, FSG's Lorin Stein, who edited that and two other fiction nominees, decided to celebrate his very good year at the Russian Samovar. Combining literary cachet (it was founded by Joseph Brodsky, along with Mikhail Baryshnikov and current owner Roman Kaplan) with just enough Russian authenticity (i.e., flavored vodka and delicious zakuski but no dancers in pasties shimmying to "Pink Cadillac"), it's been a midtown standby for literary types for decades. That night Stein hit on the idea of reviving the defunct Russian Samovar reading series as an FSG-sponsored event, featuring at least one Farrar, Straus author, and followed by a Q&A over a potluck dinner. It kicks off January 17 with Richard Price and Sam Lipsyte. Vulture spoke with him about his new brainchild.
How long have you been a habitué of the Samovar, and what made you think of it as the ideal venue?
My friends and I started coming to the Samovar nine years ago, when [now-novelists] Nicole Krauss and Fiona Maazel started their series, about the same time I started at FSG. That series was an education, but so was the Samovar itself. In those days it was a hangout of Susan Sontag. Roger Straus loved to have dinners here. We all sort of grew up at the kids' table, in the smoking section.
What made you prefer it to other publishing hangouts?
Among other things, it's not really much of a publishing place. You see dancers here, musicians, lots of Russians, lots of writers. And all ages kids in their twenties next to famous writers in their eighties, with everyone feeling equally at home.
Making this an FSG reading series leads to odd bedfellows, like Sam Lipsyte and Richard Price. Or is that part of the idea?
That's definitely part of the idea. These are our dream matchups. We are our own focus group!
What does FSG have in common with Russia?
We definitely own some Soviet-era hardware. Like our file cabinets — Army surplus, 1946.
What, aside from the atmosphere, will make these readings different from so many others?
I hate the word "salon," and "dinner party" isn't right since we can't afford to pick up the tab. But we do hope that these readings will be a meeting place for people who love literature and also like to warm their hands at the fires of life. By which I mean borscht.
Do you think the midtown location might put off some of the young folks?
This is why God invented the Q train. —Boris Kachka