A very large audience listened intently as Peter Wells gave his sweet and short introduction.As an aside he mentioned that Judith was wearing Yves St Laurent and that while admiring it in The Green Room, she had divulged that it was from a thrift shop.An appreciative sigh from the audience who obviously knew her reputation as an arbitor and commentator on fashion and style, among other things.
Peter said that when he opened The NewYorker he always went to Judith's pieces first as he found them insightful and entrancing, and that no matter what the subject, he always found himself finishing the article, his own true test for a fine writer.
Judith regards herself as "an accidental biographer", she was asked to write her first biography of Isak Dinesen:The Life of a Storyteller, and she is open to suggestions about subjects. This was the case with her second biography, Secrets of the Flesh: A LIfe of Collette.
She spoke at length, and from the heart, about the art and the challenge of the biographer "the more you know about a life the more elusive the truth about that life becomes".
She remarked that you have to use instinct rather than science in recognising the weight of the truthful bits, and the feeling of sheer satisfaction when one is certain about a truth, "the feeling of the key turning in the lock".
I liked her desciption of the biographer having to proceed with "methodical doubt to reach absolute certainty".
As a young woman she was a poet and it still surprises her that she fell into non-fiction as she harbours the belief that it requires a focussed mind which she obviously believes she doesn't have. (I'm sure I was not the only one in the audience who would beg to differ!)
As part of her work as a staff writer at The New Yorker she was asked to write about a huge and varied array of subjects, mainly to do with the arts, style, literature and culture and she shared with us the experience of writing about one of them, a piece on Tofu, (a smallish subject some might say).
I was completely intriuged when she said that the piece involved 2 weeks research in Japan (Wow, what does that tell you about the resources and search for authenticity of that iconic magazine!), and then, 28 drafts!! She proceeded to share some of these with us and it was illuminating, her search for perfection so true and honest and completely inspiring. And all this for a magazine piece, admittedly one with a weekly circulation of well over a million copies.
It was a glittering lecture, animated, thoughtful, intellectual, lively and charming in its humility.