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Want Buchwald’s Eyeglasses? They’re Available at an Auction

September 14, 1995

The former librarian of Congress contributed a bow tie. Humor columnist Dave Barry sent anti-gas medicine. And a few authors even chipped in with autographed books for an auction celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Writers’ Workshop.

The Sept. 16 event at the Radisson Hotel in Asheville, N.C., is billed as ``the most amazing literary auction ever.″

It will include books from the popular (Scott Turow, who sent an autographed copy of ``Presumed Innocent″) to the seriously literary (John Barth, who sent a 1967 copy of ``The Sot-Weed Factor″) to the irreverent (Barry, who sent a copy of ``A Guide to Boys″ and Beano Drops, an anti-gas medicine).

Workshop volunteer Bett Sanders sent letters to 237 authors asking for an autographed book and a personal item. ``I was a little embarrassed to ask that,″ says Sanders, a psychologist in real life.

She wrote to her favorite authors, then asked friends for their recommendations. She even wrote to the reclusive J.D. Salinger, author of ``Catcher in the Rye.″

``I thought, what the heck?″ Sanders says. ``I’ll give him something to get angry about.″

Needless to say, he hasn’t responded.

Surprisingly, John Updike did. He sent paperback copies of ``Of the Farm″ and ``The Centaur.″ Each contains an inscription ``To some good friend of The Writers’ Workshop.″

Karen Tager, president of the workshop, says she was surprised to hear from Updike. ``He just never is around,″ she says. ``He’s just a recluse.″

She thinks one reason for the good response is the organization’s simple approach, including Sanders’ one-page letter.

``People are intrigued ... because we’re a small, independent organization, and some writers find that interesting,″ she says. ``They’ve been to huge things where people just throw money at them, but they get put through the wringer.″

The Writers’ Workshop, based in Asheville, has about 1,000 members. Most are from the southeastern United States, but some are from the rest of the country and abroad. It offers writing workshops for adults and children and holds retreats. The workshop also sponsors international, fiction, poetry and nonfiction contests.

John le Carre, a member of the workshop’s advisory board, was asked in one interview why he chose to work with this group. ``He said it was sufficiently offbeat for him to come,″ Tager says. ``He gets tons of letters all the time. But he said this letter ... was just down to earth. He said that letter was what got him to say yes.″

Kurt Vonnegut was so impressed when he participated last year that he gave the workshop a $300 check to cover the cost of his hotel room, then joined the advisory board.

Vonnegut says The Writers’ Workshop is one of many in the country that nourishes writers.

``There’s more for people to do than to write best sellers,″ he said in an interview from his home on New York’s Long Island. ``The world is better for people who can write gracefully whether they make money at it or not.″

As for the check? Vonnegut calls it ``a generous impulse.″

Among the contributions for the auction this year: from Art Buchwald, a pair of glasses and a book; from Daniel J. Boorstin, the librarian of Congress emeritus, a book and a bow tie he got in Thailand on a lecture tour; books from Anne Tyler, Amy Tan and Lady Mary Stewart, the queen of Gothics; a book and a carrying bag from Margaret Atwood; a book and a tape from le Carre.

Arthur C. Clarke, the author of ``2001: A Space Odyssey,″ sent an autographed picture from Sri Lanka. Playwright and actor Sam Shepherd sent the screenplay for ``Paris, Texas.″

Lee Smith sent a book and a copy of a cookbook written by her mother; Doris Betts sent two books; and poet Nikki Giovanni sent a T-shirt.

The items will be appraised, although the organizers have not decided whether to set a minimum bid or hold an absolute auction, where items are sold to the highest bidder regardless the appraisal.

The auction, which is free, will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

The 10th anniversary workshop begins Friday with appearances by editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette and poet Dannye Romine Powell.

Tomorrow, children’s author Gloria Houston and Bill Brittain lead a workshop, followed by a session on how to get published. New York poet laureate Robert Creeley will lead a reading and discussion. There is a charge for some events.

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