Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More PEN Corruption

THE DILEMMA of the whistleblower is that when he gives the name of a person involved in corruption, he's accused of making "personal" attacks, no matter how evidenced his report. If the person engages in more corrupt actions, and you mention him again, and again, as occurences require, and throw a necessary spotlight on his activities, this is characterized as a "personal vendetta."

Such was the case earlier this decade when the ULA, which I was then leading, blew the whistle on Fisher's Island resident Rick Moody's receipt of $35,000 from the Guggenheim Foundation-- scarce grant money which should go to struggling writers being handed instead to the blueblood scion of a powerful banking family. At the time, much of the literary media and even some well-known writers (according to the New York Post) agreed with the ULA's protest of this.

If you'll recall, despite "Page Six" level publicity, Moody's activities with grant-giving agencies increased. Shortly thereafter he was handing taxpayer money to his literary buddies while sitting on a National Endowment for the Arts grants panel in Washington D.C. More whistleblowing.
How does this concern PEN?

There's an interesting scene in Sidney Offit's recent memoir of literary New York, Friends, Writers, and Other Countrymen, on pages 277-278. With gushy prose Offit describes how circa 2002 Mr. Moody dropped in at a PEN American Center nominating committee formed to select a new PEN President. In the narrative Rick Moody suggests Joel Conarroe, as quoted by Offit:

"How about Joel Conarroe? He's just retired from the Guggenheim. We can't do any better than Joel for President of PEN."

Apparently, like eager and loyal retainers, Offit and the rest of the committee rushed to make Conarroe their choice.

Who was Joel Conarroe? What was the context?

As Guggenheim Foundation President, in 2000 Conarroe had overseen the questionable monetary award to Rick Moody. In early 2001 Conarroe strenuously defended the Moody award in a letter to the ULA. Shortly thereafter came payback time-- as well as ensuring Moody's strong influence with the PEN organization, which with the selection of Conarroe was amply demonstrated.

This is how this clubby little world operates. Using your influence with a publicly-regulated charity to reward, with a prestigious position, the person who had rewarded you is the essence of corruption. There's no way around it.

Will there be a Rick Moody explanation, or an apology? There never is.
With Joel Conarroe on board, the two men sat on a grants panel together at PEN. Curiously, despite the bad publicity he'd received, Rick Moody again and again was named to arts panels-- such as when he chaired the National Book Foundation Fiction panel in 2004, which gave its prize to blueblood writer Lily Tuck. You'd think a sense of shame or propriety would've prodded Moody to cease his grant-giving activities, but such was not the case. (More recently, Rick Moody was seen as a participant at PEN's drunken party last year on the Queen Mary.)

How does one explain his steadfast relationship with these foundations? From where his amazing clout?

His banker father, Hiram Moody Jr., himself ran a New York foundation. Perhaps, through him, son "Rick" (Hiram the III) learned how to manipulate the system.

More questions remain to be answered.

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