On July 23, 2009, I lost one of my close friends, author Everette Lynn Harris. He was only 54 but managed to leave behind more than a dozen books of which several became New York Times Bestsellers.
Three years after his passing, I decided to pay homage to his work by inviting a small group of friends for a book party who knew E. Lynn or were fans of his literary work. His last book, “In My Father’s House” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), was chosen for discussion.
Invited guests included Helen Coleman; Rich Cohen, president of Distant Village Packaging; Melanie Cooper, an English Professor; Charlotte Lyons, the former food editor of Ebony Magazine; Art Sims (aka Chat Daddy) contributor of You & Me This Morning on WCIU-TV; Joyce Thomas a retired nurse and national AIDS activist Rae Lewis-Thornton.
This event was a Southern-style tapas lunch. Tapas is a Spanish term that means a menu of small plates. I chose Southern food because E. Lynn was raised in the South (Little Rock, Arkansas) and it was one of his favorite cuisines. I recalled having him over for dinner in 1996.
I made several of his favorite comfort foods: fried chicken, collard greens, okra/tomato cornbread, mac & cheese, black-eyed peas and smoked turkey necks, sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and pound cake. I talked about this meal and the invited dinner guest in my book, “Smothered Southern Foods” (Kensington Publishing, 2006). So, for this book party, I decided to make a few of those dishes and serve them tapas style which is one of the easiest ways to entertain – yet it can be very elegant.
The color scheme chosen was a vintage black tablecloth, which shows well in the dining area of my condo. The dishes and glassware were selected to enhance the look and color of the food and drink.
An alternative design layout for this selected menu could be a sunflower theme. Using sunflower plants, along with a matching sunflower pattern for the tablecloth and napkins will highlight several of the menu foods because they have various shades of yellow in them. If you decide to use a sunflower pattern, I would suggest using white or a neutral color for serving dishes and glassware.
The Menu – Classic All-Stars
The afternoon’s menu consisted of chilled corn soup, mac & cheese with smoked honey turkey, deviled eggs, herb-roasted baked chicken thighs with herb barbecue sauce, hoecakes, bananas with pecans and whiskey and tea cakes.
The history of deviled eggs originated in ancient Rome. However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, they were signature stables served at fancy antebellum parties throughout the southern part of the United States. Deviled eggs were served as cold hor ‘d oeuvres, often during the summer months.
BIN 36 wines were selected by my friend Brian Duncan, wine director and BIN 36 restaurant group partner and one of America’s leading wine educators. The wines included BIN 36 2010 Chardonnay, Monterey and BIN 36 2010 Zinfandel, California. Additional wines served were Lion’s Lair 2011 Family Reserve White, South Africa and Barista 2010 Pinotage, South Africa.
The chilled corn soup, served in petit cocktail glasses, was styled by friend and food stylist Charlotte Lyons who was the editor of Ebony Magazine for more than 25 years. We styled and served the mac & cheese with smoked honey turkey served in espresso cups, the deviled eggs on a vintage platter, the herb-roasted baked chicken thighs with herb barbecue sauce on a crystal platter and the hoecakes in a crystal candy tray.
The homemade tea cakes were packaged in small boxes courtesy of Rich Cohen as parting gifts as each guest left the party.
Tips for Hosting a Book Party
1. When deciding on a book to read, bestsellers are great because the media attention can be fair game and an added discussion topic.
2. Choosing a lesser-known author or a self-published author can be rewarding because they want the exposure. If the author is local, extend an invitation to attend your party.
3. Invite guests who know the author’s work or who know the author personally. The party conversation might lead to some informative insights about the book as well as the author.
4. Select a book party theme that connects with the book or author. Examples: the author’s hometown, favorite foods, etc…
5. Be sure to buy books for all of your guests and send them with the invitations. This approach can also be done, using Kindle Books.
6. Keep your guest list small. Ten guests is a great number. It’s important to have a small group if you plan on having an in-depth discussion about the book as well as the author. When book parties are large, it is a lot harder to have everyone participate.