The Masquerade of the Red Death Returns Bigger and Better Than Ever

Electric Literature's fundraiser honored Gary Shteyngart, Jim Shepard, and Rebecca Makkai for their contributions to pandemic fiction

It’s been three long years since our last Masquerade of the Red Death in 2019, and let’s just say that the plague is hitting a bit closer to home these days. This year, in homage to our patron party saint Edgar Allan Poe and his story “Masque of the Red Death,” we honored excellence in pandemic fiction. As executive director Halimah Marcus said when she addressed the crowd, writing about the pandemic can make our worlds a little clearer and our emotions a little more bearable. We were thrilled to honor authors who do that work, including Gary Shteyngart for Our Country Friends, Rebecca Makkai for The Great Believers, and Jim Shepard for Phase Six.

We’re grateful to our sponsors for their help in making such a memorable night: marquee sponsors Boxwalla and Mount Saint Mary’s University, and benefactor sponsors Hachette Books, The Shipman Agency, Bookshop, and Plympton.

We donned our (eye, for once!) masks, decked out in our spookiest red and black outfits, and drank some very strong Poe-themed drinks, courtesy of our drink sponsors Smooth Ambler Old Scout, Malfy Gin, and Sipsmith Gin. After hearing remarks from Marcus and editor-in-chief Denne Michele Norris, we danced the night away with Ryan Chapman aka DJ “Nice Deal,” while revelers posed at the photo booth, sponsored by Zibby Books. And because no party is complete without a goody bag, we rounded up the best pandemic novels for partygoers to take home in our brand-new Reading Into Everything tote bags.

Here are some of the best photos from what Gary Shteyngart deemed “the party of the year,” taken by photographer Jasmina Tomic. (We may be a little biased, but we agree!)

Partygoers peruse our table of curated pandemic fiction, from allegories, to realist procedurals, to zombies.

As EL Executive Director Halimah Marcus said, the work of a writer has always been narrativizing life, bearing witness, and making meaning out of a mess, but that work that grew more difficult with the uncertainty and isolation of COVID-19. We were thrilled to honor authors who help us process the past, present, and future of pandemics.

Bookshop founder and EL board chair Andy Hunter with EL Executive Director Halimah Marcus.

We also honored three authors for their excellence in pandemic fiction: Gary Shteyngart, Jim Shepard, and Rebecca Makkai. These distinguished honorees represent how writers interpret the past, present, and future of pandemic life.

We loved everyone’s outfits, from gorgeous gowns to creative masks and headdresses. We think our new Reading Into Everything tote matches pretty well too!

Our beverage partners, Smooth Ambler Old Scout, Malfy Gin, and Sipsmith Gin, helped keep the open bar flowing!

The highlight of the night may have been seeing the phenomenal costumes everyone came in.

From a fiery tops to stunning makeup looks, our guests came ready to party.

Editor-in-Chief Denne Michele Norris, pictured with Joseph Osmundson, author of Virology, and Leslie Shipman of the Shipman Agency.

Special guest Jim Shepard, author of Phase Six, chatted with with Leigh Newman, author of Nobody Gets Our Alive, and Kelly McMasters, author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir from an Atomic Town.

Special guest Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, (far right) with The Commuter contributor Sara Thomason, Heidi Denman Wade, and Bethany Ball, author of The Pessimists.

Contributor and former EL editor Jennifer Baker, The Freya Project founders Nonie Brzyski and Natalka Burian (author of The Night Shift), Marie-Helene Bertino (author of Parakeet), and Mira Jacob (author of Good Talk), enjoyed some Poe-themed cocktails.

Plague-inspired mask? Sequin suit jacket? Karl Jacob shows off a masquerade look.

We heard from Halimah Marcus and Denne Michele Norris, who are also on our best-dressed list, of course! They’re standing in front of wonderful event artwork by Ali Katz.

And once cocktail hour was over, the crowd watched the remarks.

Photo by Karl Jacob

Shouts out to Ryan Chapman aka DJ Nice Deal for bringing the tunes!

A full house danced to remixes by DJ “Nice Deal”.

Seriously…the dance moves were just as firey as this costume.

Our favorite part of the night was reuniting with the EL staff in person after years of remote work! Left to right: Managing Editor Alyssa Songsiridej, Social Media Editor Katie Robinson, Denne Michele Norris, Halimah Marcus, and Books Editor Jo Lou.

And of course, everyone was thrilled for the return of the photo booth, sponsored by Zibby Books! Here are some of the highlights of the night:

Thanks to everyone who made it out and brought their most fabulous Masquerade looks! And a huge thank you to our sponsors who made the whole thing possible.

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