The SFWA Mill and Swill

(Originally Posted Sunday, November 25, 2007)

So I was at the SFWA annual Publishers’ Reception (which was, just to confuse matters, originally called the Authors and Editors Reception) in New York City the other day and . . .

But wait a second. Why does such a thing exist in the first place? Well, according to Tom Purdom, who was one of the original organizers, the idea was that throughout the year editors (who have expense accounts) traditionally stand writers (who do not) to drinks and the occasional meal. Then someone — was it Damon Knight? — decided that once a year the tables should be turned at an event where the writers paid for the booze. And it was so.

The “Mill and Swill,” as it’s come to be known, is an evening of intensive business-doing and not as much drunkenness as you would expect. (Though an aging literary lion did pour half his drink over my hand while lurching past and I did have to explain to an up-and-coming young writer that it was simply not done to punch people one has just met and who have done nothing to deserve such treatment.) But the best part of the reception, in recent years, has been the venue.

The event, you see, is held in the third-floor bar of the Society of Illustrators. Their museum, with varying shows featuring contemporary illustration, is open to the public and well worth the visit. But the bar, well, that’s another story. Hanging on the walls are works by N. C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson, Hirschfeld, Frederick Remington, Montgomery Flagg, Maxfield Parrish… virtually all the great American commercial artists of the past century. It’s breathtaking.

So there I was and I had a great time. Above: Joe and Gay Haldeman. Good friends, good company, good people. And I saw a lot of other friends, and even did a little practical business. But the big thing, really, is how such an event makes you feel like a part of the literati. As of course you are, or why would you be there?

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