Monday, June 24, 2024

Mount Auburn Hospital’s Pink Pages event, held June 12 at the Loeb Mainstage in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Rue Sakayama)

By the time Anne Leary finished speaking, the audience was in tears of laughter. The chuckles were so on-cue they sounded like a laugh track, and the applause resounded off the theater walls – and Leary was just the first author at Mount Auburn Hospital’s Pink Pages event, held this year June 12 at the American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Mainstage in Harvard Square.

The night also has a serious cause – fighting breast cancer – and drifted repeatedly to concerns about restrictions on freedoms in America.

Leary (“An Innocent, A Broad”) was followed by Anita Diamant (“Period. End of Sentence.”), Lisa Genova (“Still Alice”), Elinor Lipman (“Ms. Demeanor”), Jodi Picoult (“Mad Honey”), Laura Zigman (“Separation Anxiety”) and Alice Hoffman (“Practical Magic”), whose Hoffman Breast Center benefits from the annual fundraiser.

Unlike many author events, Pink Pages is held purely for charity, with all authors speaking or reading for free. Tickets are $150, or $500 for VIP tickets that come with a book signing portion and a book giveaway.

The Pink Pages crew of authors and leaders on June 12 in Harvard Square. (Photo: Rue Sakayama)

Atop that, the night includes bidding, when audience members raise placards to donate to the hospital – coming away only with pride. Hank Phillippi Ryan, the evening’s emcee, said that while she hated asking for money, treating cancer patients was a worthy cause. “Come on, you guys,” she begged as the theater lights turned up. “Someone’s gotta give $5,000.”

Eventually, placards popped up throughout the theater, and spotters were forced to race to mark each. “You just changed a life,” Ryan told donors, leading small rounds of applause for each donation.

When the authors returned, things took a turn toward the serious, with a focus on events in Florida.

Picoult, who spoke about book bans, said Floridian teachers can face third-degree felony charges, lose their teaching licenses and pay $50 fines if they show “sexually explicit” books to their classes – a label that has grown to encompass an increasingly large number of children’s books, many of which simply include LGBTQ+ representation. A small but vocal minority lead these changes, with merely 11 people responsible for 60 percent of the thousands of yearly school book bans. This might someday affect Cambridge, Picoult said.

“I’m not going to let people take this away from me without a fight,” she declared, greeted by a standing ovation.

Diamant also touched on Florida, referring to a bill passed in Florida’s House of Representatives this April to limit discussion around menstruation until the sixth grade. The bill, which still has to go through the state’s Senate, would ban students from even asking teachers about periods. Though Massachusetts has gone the opposite direction by recently passing an I Am bill providing free menstrual products to all, “we gotta stop being cute about periods,” Diamant said, quoting Michelle Wolf.

Zigman chose to end the night on a sillier note, telling the audience about her attempt to create a Martha Stewart gingerbread haunted house. “What I’m telling you here is only a shortened version of the misery I went through,” Zigman warned, before detailing a grueling 33 hours of work and more than $200 spent on the project.

While a box with instructions and a few supplies arrived relatively fast, “a week passes before I feel emotionally ready” to begin following it, Zigman recounted. After a long struggle in creating sugar-pane windows, a crafts store helper told her to just buy a glue gun and melt Jolly Ranchers – “I think she says ‘fuck it,’ but I’m not sure,” Zigman said. When she finally finished the miniature gravestones, she said, she wanted to bury herself in them as well.

The audience left smiling. A publicist said nearly $290,000 had been donated to the Hoffman Breast Center through Pink Pages.