A Hill Feast Fit for Charity

Literary Dinners Aid Capitol Hill Learning Centers

Posted October 24, 2007 at 5:38pm

This Saturday night Capitol Hill resident John Franzen will open his doors to 10 strangers. He will invite them into his home to sit around the table and eat a meal inspired by the book “Blues” by John Hersey.

Franzen’s dinner party is one of 25 that will take place across the Hill this Saturday night as a part of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation fundraiser “A Literary Feast.”

“The book isn’t about blues music, it’s about the bluefish,” Franzen says. “It’s really an excuse to eat bluefish.”

The dinner parties, each of which will be based around a book of the host’s choosing, will take place in various homes throughout the neighborhood. Hosts provide food and drink, while ticket prices for guests range from donations of $75 to $1,000. Participants are asked to rank their top three dinner-party choices at the time of donation and are then assigned one to attend. The higher the donation the more likely it is that the guest will be given his or her first choice.

“The whole point is you sign up for a dinner without knowing where you’re going and you end up at a dinner with people you don’t know,” said Nicky Cymrot of the CHCF. “You get to know a lot of new people.”

Dinner themes vary from Geraldine McCaughrean’s “1001 Arabian Nights” to Caleb Carr’s “The Alienist.” Guests are not required to read the books, though they are asked to plan their outfits around them, while the hosts are asked to base their meal choices around the stories.

“Whole generations participate,” she said. “From young single people to people who have been here a long time.”

Board member Karen Reed, who had heard about a similar event in New York, first presented the idea for the feast.

“It was coincidental that when the idea was brought up that the Capitol Hill Community Foundation had started this School Libraries Project. It seemed like a perfect fit,” said former event co-chair Kristen Hartke.

The project, supported by PTA presidents, school leaders and the local community, aims to restore eight out-of-date public school libraries into working learning centers for students on the Hill. The first three libraries were opened by the second year of the event and the final five were completed this year. According to Cymrot, the foundation expects to raise about $30,000 this year to pay off remaining costs for the project. To date, the dinner parties have raised approximately $50,000.

“In the future, we’re sure that we’ll continue doing this, but for a different beneficiary,” Hartke said.

The dinners will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and will be followed by dessert and a performance by Joel Bailes and the Barrelhouse Brawl at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at Third and A streets Southeast.