Thanks, But What Kind of Prayer Books Were Those?

September 23, 2014

The holiest days in the Jewish year are fast approaching.

This sign, hanging in the window of a day care center on Brooklyn’s Montague Street, advertises services available to the observant during the next two weeks.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the Hebrew used in their prayer books, but they might want to double-check the Engligh.


Chabad of Brooklyn Heights
Congregation B’nai Avraham

The Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival

August 21, 2010

Each summer, the NY Writers Coalition offers an outdoor creative writing workshop for young people. At the end of the six-week sessions, the students join accomplished poets and writers and present their work at the Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival.

This year’s Festival included six notable poets who have participated in Jamaica’s Calabash International Literary Festival and Colin Channer, the founder of Calabash. After the reading, posing and hugging in the park, the writers met their fans and signed autographs at the nearby Greenlight Bookstore.

Reading from the Calabash Anthology

Patricia Smith

Kwame Dawes

Willie Perdomo

A delighted audience

Colin Channer

Captured by poetry

Two generations of writers

The writers assembled

Johnny Temple of Akashic Books

Aaron Zimmerman and friends

Reading in the Greenlight Bookstore

So Much Things to Say: Anthology of the Calabash International Literary Festival
NY Writers Coalition: Fort Greene Park Summer Literary Festival
NY Times: Summer Literary Festival Hits Fort Greene Park
Calabash International Literary Festival
Greenlight Bookstore

Fannie’s book finds a new home

June 15, 2009

A few months ago I was walking past a thrift store when I noticed several cartons full of books piled on the sidewalk. The shop was emptying their shelves for a special event and giving away the items they deemed unsalable.

It was starting to rain, so I glanced through the books, selected three that appeared interesting, stuffed them into my bag, and hurried home. When I got inside I gave them a closer look. One of the books was about classical music (I gave it to a musician friend), another was about vitamins (it turned out to be too wet to save).

The third book, however, was something else entirely: dark, small and slim, in rather poor condition with the words “Album of Love” embossed on the cover. I picked it up, flipped it open, saw a name, Fannie C. Ashmore, written inside the cover and an illustration on the first page followed by quite a few blank pages.

I assumed that it was a fancy old blank notebook or an empty photo album, but when I looked further, I saw that some of the pages did have writing — spidery words formed with an old-fashioned fountain pen. The inscriptions (mostly poetry) were by several different hands, but all of the messages were addressed to Fannie, and I realized that it was some sort of autograph or friendship book.

A few items were tucked between the pages: a scrap of paper with Fannie’s name and town, Trenton, New Jersey, one of her calling cards, a bit of a dried fern and two newspaper clippings concerning the death of Alexander B. Green of the Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers, who lived in Ewing and died in the battle of Monocacy Junction “in his youth, away from home … in the fierceness of battle.”

One of the inscriptions in the book was to Fannie from her “coz, Alex G,” and with a bit of online research I learned that Alexander B. Green of the Fourteenth New Jersey Volunteers died July 5, 1864 and is buried near Trenton at the Ewing Church Cemetery.

I couldn’t imagine how the book that was once so important to Fannie wound up in a thrift store, or why it was discarded, or even how it managed to make its way to this city, but I thought that the little Civil War era book would be of value to someone. Unfortunately, I don’t know who, or where, or how to find them.

Over the past few months, I’ve tried to locate an historical society, museum, or similar instituation where the book would be appreciated, but the places I contacted never seemed to be quite the right fit. A couple of people offered to “take it off my hands,” but I didn’t want the recipient to act as though they were doing me a big favor — I wanted it to go to someone who’d be happy to have it.

Finally, it occurred to me to offer the book to the library in Trenton, Fannie’s hometown. I had a long conversation with a librarian who told me that similar books were a fad among the girls who attended the Normal School (a teacher’s college) in Trenton around the time of the American Civil War. She was delighted to accept my offer and will be giving Fannie’s little book a safe and secure new home in the Research Department’s Trentoniana Collection. She also expressed her hope that somehow, someday, a descendant will walk into the library and ask to see Fannie’s little book.

Perhaps, someday, they will. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Front cover

Fannie C. Ashmore


Album of Love


To Fannie from “your affectionate cousin”

“The clear, cold question chills to frozen doubt …”

“Your sincere friend, Mary F. Sheppard”

The Mountain Sprite

Dried fern

To Fannie from J.J.S.

“To Fannie, Trenton, April 14th 1861”

Light of the Harem

“Ever your loving cousin, CMG”

“Remember me when far away …”

“A despatch, received from Alexander B. Green, of Ewing, by his wife, on Saturday night …”

From the State Gazette, lines of the death of Sergeant A.G.

“Still think of Alex G”

Fannie C. Ashmore, Trenton, New Jersey

Trenton Free Public Library
14th New Jersey Volunteer Regiment
New Jersey Civil War History Association: History of the 14th Regiment
National Park Service: Monocacy National Battlefield
Friends of the William Green Farmhouse: Alexander B. Green
Report of State Normal School, Trenton, 1864

A Sign With a Picture of a Doorway

March 29, 2009

Sometimes I must leave the city, and this was one of those days. I headed to Pennsylvania Station to take a train but, due to a delay on the subway, I arrived a few minutes after it departed. With nearly an hour to wait until the next train, I passed the time exploring the enormous maze of floors and passageways.

While walking through one of the lower levels, I noticed a doorway crisscrossed with yards of yellow tape ominously marked “Police Line Do Not Cross.” I stepped closer and saw two paper notices fastened on and near the tape.

The both bore the same message: a notice to Amtrak employees telling them that the entryway was closed (apparently, the yards of tape weren’t enough of an indication) and that they should use another entrance. And, in case any Amtrak employees weren’t sure what an entrance was, both notices were helpfully illustrated with photographs of doorways. A pair of uniformed Amtrak workers strolled by while I was reading the signs, and we joked about management’s assessment of their intelligence (“I guess they figured if they didn’t put up a sign, we’d just walk through the tape.”).

I unpacked my camera and began to photograph the doorway. Suddenly, my lens was dark. I looked up and saw a large, red-faced man in a dark jacket who’d placed himself between the doorway and the camera. He demanded to know why I was taking a picture.

New York, as you probably know, has no shortage of crazies. I deal with them all the time, usually simply by putting as much distance between us as quickly as possible. This fellow, however, was already close enough to touch me. I felt I’d better say something, so I asked whether he had a problem with me taking pictures. He did, he said. I told him to get over it and, wanting to avoid a confrontation even more than I wanted the photo, I quickly walked away.

A few minutes later, I heard an announcement that my train was ready for boarding. I ran down the stairway, jumped on board, settled into a seat and began to read a magazine. Suddenly, I was aware that someone was standing over me.

I looked up and saw two police officers. They told me that they’d received a report and that I fit the description of the person involved. “Were you taking pictures in the station?,” asked one of the men. Yes, I was. “Can you tell me what compelled you take pictures?,” he asked.

Compelled? I didn’t feel compelled, I explained, I just thought it would make a good picture. I thought it was funny. They asked me to describe what happened and I did. They exchanged looks, then asked why I’d left the scene rather than talk to the man who’d approached me.

A horrible thought occurred to me. “Was he a cop?,” I asked. “He didn’t identify himself as a cop.” “No, he was no cop,” said the officer. “He works for Amtrak.” I explained that I’d left because thought he was a nut. Why would I stick around to talk to an angry nut?

The policemen asked more questions: why do I take photographs? What do I do with them? Just then, one of the officers glanced down at the magazine in my hands. It was a thick, glossy issue of Art in America. “Are you an artist?,” asked the policeman. I thought a moment, and decided that even though it is not the occupation I list on my tax returns, my photos are a kind of art. “Yes,” I replied.

“An artist,” he said. He turned to his partner and repeated the words. “An artist.” They both nodded. “Oh, well, you were taking the pictures for your art,” said the policeman. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

They told me that the man who’d blocked my view should have identified himself, but since he had called the authorities and reported me, they were obligated to follow up and investigate.

We began to discuss art, photography and Brooklyn when we heard a signal — the train was about to depart. The officers hurriedly gave me their names, shook my hand, and, repeating the words, “You didn’t do anything wrong,” stepped onto the platform just before the doors slid shut.

Thanks, NYPD. Thanks, Art in America.

The doorway

The sign on the tape

The sign beside the doorway

Art in America magazine

Art in America
The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station
New York Architecture: Penn Station
Amtrak: Penn Station

The Hidden Chorus

January 27, 2009

An essay I wrote has been published in an anthology from the NY Writers Coalition. Tonight I will be reading it at Community Bookstore, 143 Seventh Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn. If you are in the neighborhood, please stop by.


The Hidden Chorus: Poetry and Fiction from NY Writers Coalition
NY Writers Coalition
Community Book Store
New York Magazine: Community Book Store

Collected Poems

October 27, 2008

One of the most honored poets in the United States, John Ashbery has won nearly every major American poetry award. He has been compared to T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens and remains, at the age of 81, both creative and controversial.

The Library of America has just published the first volume of Ashbery’s Collected Poems and tonight he read from the volume at the 92nd Street Y. Anyone who thinks Americans don’t appreciate poetry would have been proved wrong tonight, as the sellout crowd swarmed from the packed auditorium to the lobby, where they snatched up books of Ashbery’s works, then stood on line for hours, patiently waiting for the old poet to inscribe them.

My Erotic Double

He says he doesn’t feel like working today.
It’s just as well. Here in the shade
Behind the house, protected from street noises,
One can go over all kinds of old feeling,
Throw some away, keep others.
The wordplay
Between us gets very intense when there are
Fewer feelings around to confuse things.
Another go-round? No, but the last things
You always find to say are charming, and rescue me
Before the night does. We are afloat
On our dreams as on a barge made of ice,
Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight
That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams
As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.

I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to.
Thank you. You are a very pleasant person.
Thank you. You are too.
Copyright (c) 1981, 2005, John Ashbery, all rights reserved.

Ashbery onstage

Signing books for fans

Ashbury autographs his book

Collected Poems, 1956-1987
Poets: John Ashbery
Wikipedia: John Ashbery
Ashbery Resource Center
92nd Street Y

A Writer Reflects on Brooklyn

October 21, 2008

In a recent issue celebrating its 40th anniversary, New York magazine asked some of its past contributors to reflect on the city they love and the changes they’ve seen over the last 40 years. Here is what Brooklyn-born author Pete Hamill had to say.

In Brooklyn, the visitor, whether native son or total stranger, can experience a very special sense of beauty. Much of it derives from a simple fact: Manhattan is a vertical city, and Brooklyn is horizontal. In a preface to a collection of his short stories, John Cheever once talked about Manhattan when it “was still filled with a river light … and when almost everybody wore a hat.” Hats are making a minor comeback, but in Manhattan, the river light is gone forever.

The reason: the soaring scale of most Manhattan buildings blocks the light. But Brooklyn is still the wide, low borough of light, bouncing off the harbor and the ocean (out by Coney Island), a place of big skies, a place where you can see weather, not simply defend against it. Clouds move swiftly, driven by the wind, or hang in lazy stupor. Storms can be tracked visually, as the immense dark clouds make their tours.

At dawn the sun begins to pass over Prospect Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, then all the way to the Verrazano Bridge, the start of its long day’s journey into the New Jersey night. The light is immanent, muted, a promise. Along the way, every neighborhood is given fresh clarity, every building assumes the kind of volume that depends upon shade as well as light.

In Brooklyn, most building is on a human scale and so the sun can do its work of gilding every surface. You walk for the morning paper, and total strangers say, “Beautiful day.” And you must assent.

I think he’s right, and that his words are too good not to share.

Pete Hamill in Brooklyn, September 2008

New York Magazine: Brooklyn Revisited

Bestsellers Brunch

September 28, 2008

Every once in a while, I’ll see a display with little sign saying something like “drop your card in the bowl and win a prize,” and if it doesn’t look too fishy, my card goes into the bowl. Why not? What do I have to lose?

Much to my surprise, after dropping a card in a bowl in Central Park, I received the following e-mail.

Congratulations – You have won one ticket to our Bestsellers Brunch, this Sunday!

New York is Book Country – Bestsellers Brunch
The Waldorf=Astoria
301 Park Avenue
Sunday September 28th
11:30 AM to 2:30 PM
Enjoy a fantastic brunch and meet six current and future bestselling authors as they discuss their latest works. You’ll hear from:

  • Lawrence Block EDGAR AWARD WINNER, Hit and Run
  • Harlan Coben EDGAR AWARD WINNER, Hold Tight
  • Marlo Thomas GOLDEN GLOBE-WINNING ACTRESS, Free to Be…You and Me (35th Anniversary Edition)
  • Dionne Warwick GRAMMY-WINNING SINGER, Say a Little Prayer

Plus, debut novelists sure to hit the bestseller lists in the years to come…

  • Rivka Galchen, Atmospheric Disturbances
  • Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

We are pleased to announce the event will be moderated by Carol Fitzgerald, President of The Book Reporter Network.

How could I resist? I have to admit that I was eager to get an up-close-and-personal look at Marlo Thomas and Dionne Warwick, and to hang around and drink coffee in one of the fanciest hotels ever built in the City of New York.

To my surprise (and delight), after they spoke, all of the authors hung around and signed copies of their books. I walked away with a pile of books tucked securely into a Waldorf-Astoria shopping bag, and now have enough reading material to last the rest of the season.

The brunch featured chefs making omelettes

The brunch crowd

Most of the panel (they didn’t all fit in the frame)

Dionne Warwick speaking to a fan

Marlo Thomas signing a book

Marlo Thomas speaking to a fan

Lawrence Block signing a book

Lawrence Block and Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben on the panel

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel
Lawrence Block, Hit and Run
Harlan Coben, Hold Tight
Marlo Thomas, Free to Be … You and Me
Dionne Warwick, Say a Little Prayer
Rivka Galchen, Atmospheric Disturbances
Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook

Brooklyn Book Festival 3

September 14, 2008

Now in its third year, the Brooklyn Book Festival has expanded to include authors and books that have no obvious connection to this borough.

The new focus on international authors, though, did not mean that local talent was shut out. In fact, this year’s festivities included some of Brooklyn’s best-known writers, and I was fortunate enough to hear some of them speak.

I also had the opportunity to gush (babble, perhaps) to the glamorous Terry McMillan about how much I enjoyed her first bok (Mama) and what it meant to me. She appeared to be both astonished and pleased and whispered conspiratorially, “That is my favorite, too.”

This year’s participating authors included:

Warren Adler: Funny Boys, The War of the Roses, Random Hearts
Jose Eduardo Agualusa: The Book of Chameleons, Creole
Henry Alford: Municipal Bondage, Big Kiss, How to Live
Dorothy Allison: Bastard out of Carolina, Cavedweller, Two or Three Things I Know for Sure
Ron Arons: The Jews of Sing Sing
Kyle Baker: Nat Turner, How to Draw Stupid, The Bakers: Babies & Kittens
Russell Banks: The Reserve, Affliction, Rule of the Bone
Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth
Jennifer Baumgardner: Abortion and Life, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics
Moustafa Bayoumi: How Does it Feel to be a Problem?, Being Young and Arab in America, The Edward Said Reader
Mo Beasley: No Good Nigg@ Bluez
Paul Beatty: Slumberland, The White Boy Shuffle, Tuff: A Novel
Alice Bernstein: The People of Clarendon County
Charles Bock: Beautiful Children
Mirko Bonne: Die Republik der Silberfische, Der eiskalte Himmel, Hibiskus Code
Jimmy Breslin: The Good Rat
Breyten Breytenbach: All One Horse, The Memory of Birds in Times of Revolution, Return to Paradise
Geoffery Canada: Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America
Colin Channer: The Girl With the Golden Shoes, Iron Ballons
Alan Cheuse: To Catch the Lightning, The Fires, The Light Possessed
Susan Choi: A Person of Interest, American Woman, The Foreign Student
Kate Christensen: In the Drink, Jeremy Thrane, and The Epicure’s Lament
Melissa Clark: The Skinny
Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Beautiful Struggle
Jerry Craft: Mama’s Boyz
Gabriel Cohen: Red Hook, The Graving Dock, and Boombox
Mark Danner: Torture and Truth, The Secret Way to War, The Road to Illegitimacy
Frank Delaney: Ireland, Tipperary, Simple Courage
Stacey D’Erasmo: Tea, A Seahorse Year, The Sky Below
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Where I Was From
The Waiter (Steve Dublanica): Waiter Rant
Ronald Dworkin: The Supreme Court Phalanx, Is Democracy Possible Here?, Justice in Robes
Nathan Englander: The Ministry of Special Cases, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
Rachel Fershleiser: Not Quite What I Was Planning: 6 Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
Isaac Fingerer: Adults Only: Trendsetting Spirituality for the 21st Century
Nick Flynn: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Blind Huber, Some Ether
Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections, The Twenty-Seventh City, Strong Motion, The Discomfort Zone
David Frum: Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror, The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush
Paula Fox: The Coldest Winter, Borrowed Finery, Desperate Characters
Rivka Galchen: Atmospheric Disturbances
Alexander Genis: Red Bread, Russian Postmodernism, Dovlatov and Environs
Dagoberto Gilb: The Flowers, Woodcuts of Women, The Magic of Blood
Ben Greenman: A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, Superbad, Superworse
Robert Greenman:
Andrew Sean Greer: The Story of a Marriage, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, The Path of Minor Planets
Phillipe Grimbert: Memory, La Petite Robe de Paul, Chantons sous la psy
Paul Guest: The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, Notes for my Body Double, upcoming My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge
Jessica Hagedorn: Dogeaters, The Gangster of Love, Dream Jungle
Pete Hamill: North River, Flesh and Blood, Forever
Theodore Hamm: Rebel and a Cause, New Blue Media
Kathryn Harrison: While They Slept, Envy, The Kiss
Matthea Harvey: Sad Little Breathing Machine, Pity the Bathtub its Forced Embrace of Human Form, Modern Life
Joanna Hershon: The German Bride, Swimming, The Outside of August
Paul Holdengräber (New York Public Library)
A.M. Homes: The Mistress’s Daughter, This Book Will Save Your Life
Pico Iyer: The Open Road, The Lady and the Monk, Sun After Dark
Steven Jenkins: Cheese Primer, The Food Life
Nina Katchadourian (Musician)
Porochista Khakpour: Sons and Other Flammable Objects
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: Candy Everybody Wants, I Am Not Myself These Days
Chuck Klosterman: Downtown Owl, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Killing Yourself to Live
Lily Koppel: The Red Leather Diary: Reclaiming a Life Through the Pages of a Lost Journal.
Pavel Lembersky: A Unique Space, City of Vanishing Spaces, River #7
Jonathan Lethem: Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, You Don’t Love Me Yet
Tao Lin: Eeeee Eee Eeee, You are a Little Bit Happier than I am, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Bud Livingston: President Lincoln’s Third Largest City
Phillip Lopate: Two Marriages, The Rug Merchant, Being With Children
John R. MacArthur: Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, The Selling of Free Trade: NAFTA, Washington and the Subversion of American Democracy
Ian MacKaye (Musician): Dischord Records
John Manbeck: The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn, The Brooklyn Film, Brooklyn: Historically Speaking
Alice Mattison: Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, In Case We’re Separated, The Book Borrower
Patrick McGrath: Trauma, Port Mungo, Dr Haggard’s Disease and Asylum
Terry McMillan: Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Interruption of Everything
Joe Meno: The Boy Detective Fails, Hairstyles of the Damned, Demons in the Spring
Sarah Mlynowski: Bars & Broomsticks, Spells and Sleeping Bags, Milkrun
Kenny Moore: The CEO and the Monk
Thurston Moore: Mix Tape, Alabama Wildman, Nice War
Walter Mosley: Devil in a Blue Dress, Blonde Faith, This Year You Write Your Novel
Eileen Myles: Sorry Tree, Cool for You, Chelsea Girls
Fae Myenne Ng: Bone, Steer Toward Rock
Jay Neugeboren: 1940, Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness and Survival, The Stolen Jew
Arthur Nersesian: The Swing Voter of Staten Island, The Sacrificial Circumcision of the Bronx, Chinese Takeout
Patrice Nganang: Dog Days, elobi, L’Invention du beau regard
Elizabeth Nunez: Prospero’s Daughter, Grace, Discretion
D. Nurkse: The Border Kingdom, Burnt Island, The Fall
Patricia O’Brien: Harriet and Isabella, The Glory Cloak: A Novel of Lousia May Alcott and Clara Burton
Joseph O’Neill: Netherland
Ed Park: Personal Days
José Luis Peixoto: The Implacable Order of Things
George Pelecanos: The Turnaround, The Night Gardner, Hard Revolution
Arthur Phillips: Prague, The Egyptologist, Angelica
Darryl Pinckney: Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature, High Cotton
Katha Pollitt: Learning to Drive and Other Life Stories, Reasonable Creatures, Virginity or Death!
Kevin Powell: No Sleep Till Brooklyn: New and Selected Poems, Someday We’ll All Be Free
Richard Price: Lush Life, Freedomland, Clockers
David Rakoff: Fraud, Don’t Get Too Comfortable
Aaron Raskin: The Rabbi and the CEO
Juan de Recacoechea: American Visa
Elizabeth Reddin: The Hot Garment of Love
John Reed: All the World’s a Grave, The Whole, Snowball’s Chance
Nathaniel Rich: The Mayor’s Tongue
Simon Rich: Free Range Chickens, Ant Farm: And Other Desperate Situations
Steven Rinella: The Scavanger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine
Cristy C. Road:  Indestructible, Bad Habits
Carl Hancock Rux: Asphalt
Linda Sanchez: Dream in Color
Loretta Sanchez: Dream in Color
Esmeralda Santiago: When I was Puerto Rican, Almost a Woman, América’s Dream
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh: When Skateboard Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood, State by State
Lore Segal: Shakespeare’s Kitchen, Her First American, Other People’s Houses
Ken Siegelman: City Souls, Through Global Currents, Urbania
Amy Shearn: How Far is the Ocean From Here
Robert Silvers: The Consequences to Come
Esther K. Smith: How to Make Books, Magic Books & Paper Toys, The Paper Bride
Larry Smith: Not Quite What I Was Planning: 6 Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
Patricia Smith: Teahouse of the Almighty, Close to Death
Ian Randal Strock: The Presidential Book of Lists
Manil Suri: The Age of Shiva, The Death of Vishnu
Paco I Taibo II: Pancho Villa, Frontera Dreams
Marina Temkina: Canto Immigranto, Kalancha, In Reverse
Hannah Tinti: The Good Thief, Animal Crackers
Adrian Tomine: Shortcomings, New York Sketches 2004, Summer Blond
Paul Tough: Whatever It Takes
Sandra Tsing Loh: A Year in Van Nuys, Mother on Fire: A True Mother%#$@ Story About Parenting, Mr. Loh’s Not Afraid to be Naked
Nikki Turner: Black Widow
Linn Ullmann: Before You Sleep, Stella Descending, Grace
Binyavanga Wainaina: Discovering Home, Kwani?
Matt Weiland: Names on the Land, State by State, The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup
Jacob Weisberg: The Bush Tragedy, In an Uncertain World, The Bushisms Series
Sean Wilsey: Oh the Glory of it All, State by State (co-editor)
Dirk Wittenborn: Pharmakon, Fierce People
Peter Wortsman: Telegrams of the Soul
John Wray:Canaan’s Tongue
Naomi Wolf: The End of America, The Beauty Myth, Promiscuities
Matvei Yankelevich: Today I Wrote Nothing
Kevin Young: Dear Darkness, For the Confederate Dead, Jelly Roll
Gary Younge: No Place Like Home, Stranger in a Strange Land
Thomas Zweifel: The Rabbi and the CEO, International Organizations: Democracy, Accountability, Power

Holly BlackThe Good Neighbors, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Ironside
Susan Cooper (Newbery Award author) Acting Out
Daniel Kirk, Elf Realm
Gail Carson Levine: Ella Enchanted, The Fairest, Ever
David Levithan,Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, Boy Meets Boy
Patricia MacLachlan (Newbery Award author), Acting Out
Sarah Mlynowski: How to be Bad, Spells and Sleeping Bags, Bras and Broomsticks
An Na: A Step From Heaven, Wait For Me, The Fold
Alisa Valdes Rodriguez: Haters, Dirty Girls on Top, The Dirty Girls Social Club
Ariel Schrag: Potential, Awkward and Definition, Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age
Paul Volponi: Hurricane Song, Black and White, Rooftop, Rucker Park Setup
Ivan Velez, Jr.Tales of the Closet, Dead High Yearbook
Cecily von Ziegesar: Gossip Girls, It Girl
Brian Wood,DMZ, Demo, The New York Four
Jacqueline Woodson: Feathers, Hush, After Tupac and D Foster
Bil Wright, When the Black Girl Sings

Grace Chang: Jin Jin the Dragon
Raul Colon: Tomas and the Library Lady, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart, Angela and the Baby Jesus
Nina Crews: Snowball, The Neighborhood Mother Goose, Below
Edward Hemingway: Bump in the Night
Betsy Lewin: So, What’s it Like to Be a Cat? Duck for President, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type
Ted Lewin: Horse Song, Peppe the Lamp Lighter
John Bemelmans Marciano: Madeline and the Cats of Rome
Chris Myers, Jabborwocky (adapted by), Wings, Jazz
Jane O’Connor: Fancy Nancy
Chris Raschka: Yo! Yes? Charlie Parker Played Be Bop and Five for a Little One
Jon Scieszka: Time Warp Trio, The Stinky Cheeseman and other Fairly Stupid Tales, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs
Marilyn Singer: Didi and Daddy on the Promenade, City Lullaby, Shoe Bop!
Mo Willems: Elephant and Piggie Books, The Pigeon Wants a Puppy

Pete Hamill

Amy Shearn

Jimmy Breslin

Chuck Klosterman

Stacey D’Erasmo

Geoffrey Canada

Charles Bock

Henry Alford

Sandra Nunez

Paul Beatty

Simon Rich

Ed Park

Youme Landowne

Toby Barlow

Etan Boritzer

Jessica Hagedorn

Brooklyn Book Festival
Brooklyn Public Library
Mama by Terry McMillan

He went away without me

August 24, 2008

I’m so sad. I dropped in to see an old pal and found that he’d gone on vacation without telling me — or inviting me to come along. My only notification was a small sign he’d left at the door.

OK, actually, the sign is posted in the main branch of the New York Public Library in front of the room that has contained, among other treasures, the original Winnie the Pooh bear (the one that inspired the stories, films, cartoons and toys), his pals Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger, and a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.

The room is now closed for renovations and the lovely people at the information desk have assured me that Winnie will soon be back in a new location. When makes his next public appearance, he will be residing in the new children’s division of the library.


Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
Winnie the Pooh at the New York Public Library
Gutenberg Bible at the New York Public Library

It’s history. It’s poetry.

August 9, 2008

I was walking down Broadway when an unusual all-text tattoo caught my eye. I stopped to ask about it and learned that it had been applied only the day before at a strange little tattoo parlor on Manhattan’s Fulton Street.

The tattoo’s wearer (owner?), a Brooklynite from Park Slope, explained that the phrase is a quotation, spoken by the character Mr. Antolini in the classic American novel of disaffected youth, The Catcher in the Rye.

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles.

“You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951



The Catcher in the Rye
Flickr: chiappone.rebecca’s photostream

A Tribute to Nuala O’Faolain

June 24, 2008

Four years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Ireland. Unlike many foreigners who visit the Emerald Isle, I wasn’t there to conduct business, meet up with long-lost relatives or search for my “Irish roots.”

The trip was almost a last-minute decision; it was 2004, the year the Republican Party decided to hold their national convention in New York City. As local authorities issued dire predictions about the chaos and congestion that would accompany the event, I opted to leave town and skip the whole mess. Tickets to Dublin were cheap and available, so I flew there shortly before the convention began and didn’t return to New York until it was over and the protesters and politicos had all gone home.

While I was in Dublin, I met a woman who gave me a copy of a book entitled Are You Somebody? and urged me to read it. That was my introduction to Irish author Nuala O’Faolain (pronounced new-lah oh-fway-lawn), who died a few weeks ago. Tonight I attended a tribute to the famously brilliant and cantankerous author at the main branch of the New York Public Library.

The room was packed with friends, colleagues and admirers who came from as far away as Ireland to honor the woman who said, in one of her last interviews, “I’m not nice or anything — I’m not getting nicer. I’m sour and difficult you know….I think look how comfortably I am dying, I have friends and family, I am in this wonderful country, I have money, there is nothing much wrong with me except dying….I kinda hoped there was some kind of way of fading away, that you lay on your bed and you were really a nice person and everyone came and said goodbye and wept and you wept and you meant it.”

A Tribute To Nuala O’Faolain

Tue Jun-24 at 7:00PM

The New York Public Library
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street
NY, NY 10018
(Enter on 42nd St)

Friends and fellow Irish writers of Nuala O’Faolain, who died in Dublin on May 9, will gather to pay tribute to one of Ireland’s best-loved writers.

Internationally known for her searing memoir, Are You Somebody, as well as her acclaimed first novel, My Dream of You, O’Faolain was widely respected in Ireland as an award-winning television producer, journalist, and columnist for The Irish Times before her memoir caused a sensation on its publication in 1999. Her unblinking, unsentimental description of an impoverished Irish childhood that struck a cord with readers world-wide became a New York Times bestseller.

Frank McCourt, Paul Muldoon, Fintan O’Toole, Polly Devlin, Julie Grau, Sheridan Hay, John Low-Beer, and others will honor Nuala O’Faolain’s life with reminiscence, traditional music, and readings from her work.

Special live musical performance by vocalist Susan McKeown, guitarist Eamon O’Leary, fiddler Dana Lyn, and piper Ivan Goff. During March 2005, McKeown appeared with O’Faolain at LIVE from the NYPL.

About Nuala O’Faolain
Nuala O’Faolain is the author of Are You Somebody, My Dream of You, Almost There, and The Story of Chicago May. Her first memoir is often seen as a feminine, and feminist, counterpart to Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. “A lot of us suffered in the Ireland of my day,” she later said. “We came out of a culture where women were utterly powerless and children had no value. If you were hit at school you were hit at home for being hit at school. The only education a lot of us got was in neglect and being unloved.”

And yet, O’Faolain’s humanity softened her observations and her humor was irresistible. Despite being a well-known opinion columnist, a television and radio commentator, and bona fide celebrity, her work often chronicled her own sense of personal failure. She turned her vulnerability into a strength that enabled her to empathize with ordinary people’s fears and hopes. Her opinion column developed from a broadly feminist commentary to a narrative that spanned all aspects of the human condition. Her memoirs touched many readers, who responded by sending her hundreds of letters with their own tales of unhappiness and failed family life.

A resident of Manhattan for the past seven years, O’Faolain ascribed her affinity for the city to her experience growing up one of nine children. “When you live in the middle of mayhem for so long, you grow to need mayhem to construct peace within it.” As Maura Casey wrote in an Appreciation in the New York Times: “Although her mortal life has ended, her words, her sympathy and insights, are here. Her writing helped her legions of readers believe in her and in the validity of their own experiences.”

About Polly Devlin
Polly Devlin is an author, journalist, broadcaster, filmmaker, and conservationist. In 1994 she was awarded an OBE for services to literature. She has been a columnist for the New Statesman, features editor for Vogue, and had her own page in the Evening Standard. She has published eight books, including a memoir. All of Us There, a novel, Dora, a guidebook to Dublin, and, most recently, A Year in the Life of an English Meadow.

About Julie Grau
Julie Grau is Senior Vice President and Publisher of Speigel & Grau, a division of Random House. Previously she was Vice President and Publisher of Riverhead Books, where she edited Nuala O’Faolain’s novel, My Dream of You, her memoir, Almost There, and her work of biography, The Story of Chicago May.

About Sheridan Hay
Sheridan Hay is a novelist, editor, and teacher. She met Nuala O’Faolain in 1999 and remained a close friend until her death.

About John Low-Beer
John Low-Beer and Nuala O’Faolain met in 2002 and registered as domestic partners a year later. An attorney for the City of New York and a former professor of sociology, Low-Beer lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, Anna.

About Frank McCourt
Frank McCourt received the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award for his memoir Angela’s Ashes. He is also the author of ‘Tis and Teacher Man, both international bestsellers. McCourt appeared with O’Faolain and others for “Silence, Exile and Cunning: What’s So Irish About That Anyway” on March 15, 2005, at LIVE from the NYPL.

About Paul Muldoon
Paul Muldoon teaches at Princeton University and is an Honorary Professor in the School of English at the University of St Andrews. He held the chair of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University five years and he is an Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford University. In 2003 he won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and in 2007, he became poetry editor of The New Yorker.

About Fintan O’Toole
Fintan O’Toole is a literary critic, historical writer, and political commentator. He is known for his commentary on a remarkably wide-ranging number of subjects—cultural, historical, political, social and economic. O’Toole has written for the Irish Times since 1988 and was drama critic for the New York Daily News from 1997 to 2001. He is the author of more than ten books.

frank mccourt 2
Frank McCourt after the tribute (taken with borrowed camera)

frank mccourt
Frank McCourt inside the NYPL (taken with borrowed camera)

Are You Somebody?
My Dreams of You Nuala O’ Faolain interview: ‘I don’t want more time.”
New York Times: Nuala O’Faolain, 68, Irish Memoirist, Is Dead Poets, writers and musicians in Stateside tribute to much-loved figure
Huffington Post: A Tribute to Irish Writer Nuala O’Faolain

Post-Bang with Lynda Barry

June 6, 2008

Author, teacher, humorist, cartoonist, muse, Lynda Barry is an American original. She is brilliant, creative, dedicated and inspirational, yet somehow the fame and fortune (especially the fortune) she deserves have managed to elude her.

Instead of being a household name, she is more of a cult figure. While a devoted fanbase worships her every jot and scribble, she still struggles to have her work published and derives most of her income by selling sketches on eBay.

Tonight, Lynda spoke as part of Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!, a symposium on the growing cultural significance of comics sponsored by New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU with the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA). This was a serious academic event which described Lynda’s appearance thusly: “Harvard scholar Hillary Chute in conversation with one of the country’s foremost alternative cartoonists, LYNDA BARRY (Ernie Pook’s Comeek, The Good Times are Killing Me, What It Is).”

I’ll never understand why Americans think nothing of paying $5 for a fancy cup of coffee that lasts only a few minutes, or $100 for a pair of sneakers that will wear out in a few months, yet balk at paying $20 for a book that is sheer genius and will last a lifetime. C’mon, give the red-headed lady some respect.

If you have any interest at all in creativity, writing, conquering the internal demons that prevent you from telling your stories or learning how to be your own muse, please buy (or at least read) What it Is.

What it Is

Lynda Barry

What It Is
Lynda Barry’s shop on eBay
Marlys Magazine
Post Bang: Comics Ten Minutes After the Big Bang!
Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA)
Drawn and Quarterly publishers
NY Times: How to Think Like a Surreal Cartoonist
My Shrine to Lynda Barry
National Public Radio (NPR): Lynda Barry on What it Is
Salon: Lynda Barry, Barefoot on the Shag

Brooklyn Book Festival 2

September 16, 2007

For the second year in a row, the Brooklyn Book Festival was held in and around Borough Hall.

Authors, poets, publishers, booksellers, writer’s organizations and (most importantly) readers gathered for discussions, recitations, meetings, entertainment and inspiration. Anyone who believes that the Internet has made the printed word obsolete would have gone into shock as thousands of books were eagerly signed, sold, swapped, coveted and devoured.

The day’s festivities included book-related crafts for kids, a poetry slam, acting troupes performing excerpts from classics, literary triva games and crossword puzzles, and the Brooklyn Public Library kicking off a borough-wide “Big Read” of Harper Lee’s beloved novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Participating authors included:
Chris Abani, The Virgin of Flames, GraceLand, Hands Washing Water
Megan Abbott, Die a Little, The Song is You, Queenpin
Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist and Media Assassin
Sinan Antoon, I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody, The Baghdad Blues

Doreen Baingana, Tropical Fish: Stories from Entebbe
Dan Barber, Chef’s Story
Wayne Barrett, Rudy!, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11
Moustafa Bayoumi, coeditor: The Edward Said Reader
Phil Bildner, Barnstormers, Playing the Field
Michael Ian Black, comedian
Shane Book, Gathering Ground, Revival, Breathing Fire 2
David Bouley, East of Paris, Chef’s Story
Libba Bray, A Great and Terrible Beauty; Rebel Angels
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Race, Law, and American Society
Michael Buckley, The Sisters Grimm
Marina Budhos, Ask Me No Questions, The Professor of Light

Alyssa Capucilli, Biscuit
Jim Carroll, The Basketball Diaries, Forced Entries, Fear of Dreaming: The Selected Poems
Dominic Carter, No Momma’s Boy
Stephen Carter, New England White, The Emperor of Ocean Park
Ana Castillo, Peel My Love Like an Onion, So Far from God
Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone
Colin Channer, Waiting in Vain, Passing Through
Cassandra Clare, City of Bones
Staceyann Chin, Skyscrapers, Taxis & Tampons
Troy CLE, The Marvelous World: The Marvelous Effect (Book One)
Joseph Coulson, The Vanishing Moon, Of Song and Water

Steve Dalachinsky, The Final Nite & Other Poems
Edwidge Danticat, Breath Eyes Memory, The Dew Breaker, Brother I’m Dying
Randall DeSeve, Toy Boat

Daniel Ehrenhaft, The Wessex Papers Volumes 1-3, 10 Things to Do Before I Die

Mike Farrell, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist
Jeffrey Feldman, Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them
Joshua Ferris, Then We Came to the End: A Novel
Laura Flanders, Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians
Paula Fox, The Slave Dancer, One-Eyed Cat

Mary Gaitskill, Veronica, Two Girls Fat and Thin, Bad Behavior
Laurie Garrett, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health
Amitav Ghosh, The Glass Palace, The Hungry Tide
Myla Goldberg, Bee Season, Wickett’s Remedy, Time’s Magpie
Wayne Greenhaw, King of Country, Ghosts on the Road, The Thunder of Angels
Ben Greenman, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, Superbad, Superworse
Eliza Griswold, Wideawake Field: Poems

Kimiko Hahn, The Narrow Road to the Interior: Poems, The Artist’s Daughter: Poems
Ayun Halliday, The Big Rumpus, No Touch Monkey!, Job Hopper, Dirty Sugar Cookies
Pete Hamill, The Gift, Downtown: My Manhattan, Why Sinatra Matters
Dorothy Hamilton, Chef’s Story
Jonathan Hayes, Hard Death, Precious Blood
Tad Hills, Duck and Goose, Duck Duck Goose, Waking up Wendell
Steve Hindy, Beer School: Bottling Success at the Brooklyn Brewery
Jeff Hobbs, The Tourists: A Novel
A.M. Homes, The Mistress’s Daughter, This Book Will Save Your Life
Charles Hynes, Triple Homicide

Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation

Simon Jacobson, Toward a Meaningful Life
Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters, Missing Men, Door Wide Open

Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: Low Culture Manifesto
Seth Kushner, The Brooklynites

Anthony LaSala, The Brooklynites
John Leland, Hip, Why Kerouac Matters
Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude, Motherless Brooklyn, You Don’t Love Me Yet
Gail Carson Levine, Ella Enchanted, The Fairest, Magic Lessons
Tao Lin, Eeeee Eee Eeee, Bed
Phillip Lopate, Getting Personal, Waterfront, Totally Tenderly Tragically
Errol Louis, Grameen’s Lessons. (Grameen Bank): An Article from: Dollars & Sense

Kam Mak, My Chinatown, The Moon of the Monarch Butterflies
Melissa Marr, Wicked Lovely
Bernice McFadden, Nowhere is a Place, Camilla’s Roses, Loving Donovan, Sugar
Joe Meno, Hairstyles of the Damned, Boy Detective Fails, Tender as Hellfire
Susanna Moore, My Old Sweetheart, In the Cut, The Big Girls

Mohammed Naseehu Ali, The Prophet of Zongo Street
Gloria Naylor, 1996, Mama Day, The Women of Brewster Place
Sharyn November, Firebirds, Firebirds Rising

David Ottaway, Afrocommunism, Chained Together

George Packer, The Assassin’s Gate: America in Iraq, The Village of Waiting
Antonio Pagliarulo, A Different Kind of Heat, The Celebutantes: On the Avenue
Gregory Pardlo, Totem
Christian Parenti, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq
Matt de la Peña, Ball Don’t Lie
Neal Pollack, Alternadad, Beneath the Axis of Evil
Katha Pollitt, Reasonable Creatures, Virginity or Death!
Francine Prose, Blue Angel, A Changed Man, Reading Like a Writer

Sharon Robinson, Safe at Home, Jackie’s Nine, Promises to Keep
Anthony Romero, In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror

George Saunders, In Persuasion Nation, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline
Jon Scieszka, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Cowboy and Octopus
Ken Siegelman, City Souls, Through Global Currents, Urbania
Danny Simmons, I Dreamed My People Were Calling But I Couldn’t Find My Way Home
Joseph “Reverend Run” Simmons, Words of Wisdom: Daily Affirmations of Faith
Justine Simmons, God Can You Hear Me?
Amy Sohn, Run Catch Kiss, My Old Man
Martha Southgate, Another Way to Dance, The Fall of Rome, Third Girl from the Left
Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle, Abide with Me
Robert Sullivan, Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles…, Rats

Mari Takabayashi, I Live in Brooklyn
Michael Thomas, Man Gone Down
Lynne Tillman, American Genius: A Comedy, This is Not It
David Dante Troutt, The Monkey Suit, The Importance of Being Dangerous, After the Storm

Eisa Nefertari Ulen, Crystelle Morning
Anya Ulinich, Petropolis

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, Dirty Girls Social Club, Playing with Boys, Make Him Look Good
Ivan Velez Jr., Blood Syndicate, A Man Called Holocaust, Static

Lauren Weinstein, Inside Vineyland, Girl Stories
Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt
Eric Wight, My Dead Girlfriend
Mo Willems, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
Patricia Williams, Open House, Alchemy of Race and Rights
Tia Williams, It Chicks, Accidental Diva
Brian Wood, Channel Zero, Demo, DMZ
Jacqueline Woodson, Feathers, Hush, Locomotion
C.D. Wright, One Big Self: An Investigation, Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil

Actors reciting Walt Whitman’s poetry

The crowd scrambles for tickets to author events

Onstage for discussion of Jack Kerouac

The Brooklyn Public Library brought their bus

Brooklyn Book Festival
Brooklyn Public Library
National Endowment for the Arts: The Big Read

Readers Eye on NYC

August 29, 2007

I saw the notice in Time Out New York magazine.

Issue 618 : August 1, 2007 – August 7, 2007
Readers’ Eye on NYC

We want to see a version of this city we’ve never seen before—yours.

Send us recent photos of how New York appears through your eyes, whether it’s your favorite forgotten landmark, your undiscovered ’hood or a photo diary of your night on the town. (In other words, keep the Brooklyn Bridge postcard photos to yourself. )

The photos you submit could be published in an upcoming issue—maybe even on the cover! Plus, you could score a little cash.

Before you send, please make sure you do the following:

  •  *Check that the photo is recent (i.e. taken within the past two years).
  •  *Check that the file size of your image is between 1MB and 3MB (preferably in JPEG format). Especially large files will be bounced back by our email program.
  •  *Include your name, a descriptive caption and the date the photo was taken
  •  *Make sure that we receive your images no later than Friday, August 17.

Got that? Cool.

So, I sent in some photos and out of “nearly 1,000 submissions, including 91 street shots, 58 landscapes, 50 reflection photos, 47 parades, 44 shots of Coney Island, 42 pics of grafitti and four candids of some chick’s boyfriend,” Time Out New York selected one of mine for publication in the August 30 issue.

Today, the magazine with my photo in it came out. Even though I subscribe, I couldn’t wait for this week’s issue to arrive in the mail. I went to a newsstand, grabbed a copy, flipped through until I found the image and exclaimed, “Look, my picture is in the magazine!”

I turned it around so that the man behind the counter could see the page.

He studied the photo for a moment, looked at me and solemnly said, “It doesn’t look like you.”

“No,” I replied. “It isn’t a picture OF me, it is a picture BY me. I took the photo.”

He gave me a puzzled smile and nodded. “Yes, of course,” he replied, averting his eyes.

I paid for the magazine and headed towards home but when I saw a friend on the sidewalk I had to stop and show her the picture.

“Look, look, my photo is in this magazine!”

“Wow, let me see!”

I handed it over. She peered closely at the page, looked back up and said, “That doesn’t look anything like you.”

Argh. Never mind, I’m happy.

08-30-2007 12;34;32PM.BMP
The magazine cover

Burkhas & Rugrats
My photo

Announcement of Readers’ Eye on NYC

Looking Back

April 23, 2007

In the mid-1950s, a struggling young director with a failing production company staged the work of an unsuccessful young playwright and — overnight — changed British theater.

The producers were the English Stage Company, the director was Tony Richardson, the playwright was John Osborne and the play was Look Back in Anger. Based on the battles and ultimate breakup of Osborne’s explosive first marriage, it catapulted its author, the prototypical “angry young man,” to fame, fortune and widespread acclaim.

Osborne was an immensely talented writer, a loyal and amusing friend, a cruel son, a horrible husband and an absolutely vile father. Following Look Back in Anger, he turned out a long string of hits while breaking the heart of nearly every woman who played an important role in his life.

This evening the New York Public Library brought Osborne and his work back to life with Looking Back on John Osborne, a performance in the intimate (200 seat) Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts.

The program featured Michael Sheen and Natasha Richardson reading from Osborne’s plays, letters and journals. Sheen, who recently portrayed Tony Blair in The Queen, is currently starring on Broadway as David Frost in Frost/Nixon. Richardson, recipient of a Tony Award for her work in a Broadway revival of Cabaret, had a personal connection to Osborne. Her father, Tony, directed Osborne’s first successful play and the men were close friends to the end of their lives. 

Introduction and commentary was provided by John Heilpern, author of John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man. He discussed the man and his work, emphasizing both Osborne’s brilliance and his wretched treatment of his family.

Heilpern noted that Osborne despised his mother and drove one of his wives to suicide, but “the worst thing he ever did” was writing “an abusive, unforgivable letter” to his only child, his daughter Nolan, when she was 16 years old.

The audience audibly gasped as Heilpern went on to explain why he believes that the fact “she survived at all” is “a miracle.” At the age of 12, Nolan was sent to live with Osborne when her mother, who had been his third wife, descended into alcoholism and madness.

Four years after she moved in, Osborne left a letter for the girl to find when she came home from school. In it, he ordered her to remove her things from his home immediately and find a new place to live. He also stated that he was no longer willing to pay for her schooling, calling it “a waste.” 

Osborne’s missive compared the teenager, whose only crime was normal adolescent moodiness, to one of King Lear’s daughters and said “your heart — such as that is — is irretrievably elsewhere, a place without spirit, imagination or honour … banality, safety, mediocrity and meanness of spirit is what you are set on.”

The day Nolan found the letter, she obeyed Osborne’s commands, packed a few things and fled. A classmate’s family took her in; the father and daughter never spoke again. Now a middle-aged woman living in England, on the rare occasions that she refers to the man who tossed her out and abandoned her, she never uses the word “father.”

Among those listening to the program was Vanessa Redgrave, who was once married to Osborne’s great friend, Tony Richardson, and is now on Broadway in The Year of Magical Thinking. It was a particular pleasure to observe the much-honored actress sitting in the second row, smiling and nodding, as she watched her oldest daughter read onstage.

John Osborne by John Heilpern
Originally uploaded by annulla.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Calendar of Programs
Borzoi Books: Q&A With John Heilpern
The Guardian: Stage-Boor Johnny
Philadelphia Inquirer: A Life of Torment, Given and Received
David Hare on John Osborne
The Guardian: John Heilpern on “The Entertainer”
IMDB: Natasha Richardson
Michael Sheen
BBC: Michael Sheen Vanessa Redgrave Returns to Broadway
Internet Broadway Database: Look Back in Anger
Arvon Foundation

A Reader Lives Here

April 4, 2007

In the center of Greenwich Village, this window-cum-bookshelf at the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker Streets caught my eye. Sure, he’s lost half his view, but who needs to look outside, anyway, when you can see the whole world in a book?

A reader lives here
Originally uploaded by annulla.

The Independent and Small Press Book Fair

December 3, 2006

This weekend the Small Press Center, a non-profit educational organization for independent publishers, sponsored its 19th annual Independent and Small Press Book Fair.

A program of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, the Small Press Center serves those “driven primarily by a desire to publish what interests them, what they believe in” regardless of whether or not large publishing houses consider it commercially feasible.

The Small Press Center is housed in a landmark Victorian structure at 20 West 44th Street in Manhattan. Built in 1893, it was designed by architects Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich to house the Berkley School (at the time, a private school for boys). The General Society moved here in 1899 and designated its central space, a three-story, skylight-topped expanse, as the main reading room for their members’ library.

The library was the site of the Book Fair, with most of the 100 or so publishers in attendance exhibiting their wares in the main reading room or on the surrounding balconies. In addition to the books, the Book Fair included readings, talks and panel discussions with authors, editors, illustrators and publishers.

Author Emily Jenkins Posted by Picasa

Illustrator Tomek Bogacki Posted by Picasa

Poet/TV personality Ira Joe Fisher Posted by Picasa

Literary anti-hero Amiri Baraka Posted by Picasa

Author Colin Channer Posted by Picasa

Graffiti artist Savager Posted by Picasa

Graffiti artist Erni Posted by Picasa

Graffiti artist Smith Posted by Picasa

Graffiti artist Lady Pink Posted by Picasa

Small Press Center
Book Fair Schedule of Events
Emily Jenkins
Tomek Bogacki
Colin Channer
Amiri Baraka
Smith and Lady Pink
General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen
The General Society Library
Lamb and Rich Architecture

The First-Ever Brooklyn Book Festival

September 16, 2006

For more than two decades Manhattan hosted New York is Book Country which grew to become one of the nation’s largest, busiest and most beloved book fairs. Every autumn, starting in 1979, a long section of Fifth Avenue was closed to traffic while hundreds of thousands of readers spent the day strolling among exhibit booths, buying books, and attending panel discussions and author signings.

In 2004, New York is Book Country was moved from midtown Manhattan to Greenwich Village, the date shifted from September to October and the program expanded from one day to two. The following year the book fair disappeared entirely. Devoted readers waited for the posters and announcements that would proclaim the location and featured speakers for 2005, but they never arrived. The nonprofit organization that ran the event shut down. That, it seemed, was that. Booklovers mourned.

Today New Yorkers rejoiced at the introduction of new literary fair: The first annual Brooklyn Book Festival.

Held at Borough Hall, the fair featured approximately 100 exhibitors, including two outdoor stages, a children’s pavilion and booths for bookstores, publishers and literary journals and organizations set up alongside the Greenmarket. Inside, the rotunda was dedicated to author signings while panel discussions and readings were held in the Courtroom and Community Room. Admission to all events was free on a first-come-first-served basis.

Most of the participating authors and poets have strong connections to Brooklyn, either by birth, residence or subject matter. Among those appearing at the Festival: Pete Hamill, Jonathan Ames, Colson Whitehead, Paula Fox, Jonathan Lethem, Jhumpa Lahiri, Philip Lopate, Rick Moody, Jennifer Egan, Kate Pollit, Edmund White, Gary Shteyngart, Jonathan Ames, Simcha Weinstein, Nelly Rosario, Ann Brashares, Colin Channer, Phil Levine, Nicole Krauss and Myla Goldberg.

Of course, the Brooklyn Festival was a bit different than the version that used to be held in Manhattan. There was less emphasis on bestsellers and antiquarian books and more on new and emerging talents. The crowd was smaller and more diverse, the presses and magazines represented tended to be more experimental, and everyone and everything (with the exception of a few painfully out of place, hipper-than-thou poseurs) was friendly, open and accessible.

Small presses and literary journals  Posted by Picasa

Listening to readings on the steps of Borough Hall  Posted by Picasa

Brooklyn-based publisher Akashic Books  Posted by Picasa

Bank Street Bookstore  Posted by Picasa

Authors Betsy and Ted Lewin reading in the children’s pavilion  Posted by Picasa

Authors Jonathan Ames and Gary Shteyngart  Posted by Picasa

Author Ben Greenman  Posted by Picasa

Author Colson Whitehead  Posted by Picasa

Author Rabbi Simcha Weinstein  Posted by Picasa

Graphic novelist Matt Madden  Posted by Picasa

Sorting through stacks of books  Posted by Picasa

“Artist” Tillington Cheese & her biographer, F. Bowman Hastie III  Posted by Picasa

The Target dog at the children’s pavilion  Posted by Picasa

  • New York Public Library: New York is Book Country 2004
  • Brooklyn Book Festival
  • Press Release: Brooklyn Book Festival
  • NY Times:A Literary Voice With a Pronounced Brooklyn Accent
  • Publishers Weekly: A Book Fair Sprouts in Brooklyn
  • New York Writers Coalition
  • Portrait of the Dog as a Young Artist by F. Bowman Hastie III
  • Ben Greenman
  • Jonathan Ames
  • Gary Shteyngart
  • Colson Whitehead
  • Rabbi Simcha Weinstein
  • Matt Madden
  • Betsy Lewin
  • Ted Lewin
  • Akashic Books
  • Bank Street Bookstore
  • Target

  • Teddy Atlas on Fear

    July 17, 2006

    Tonight, in an effort to stay cool and delay going down into the oppressively hot subways, I attended a book signing at the Borders Books store in Columbus Circle (stores in ritzy neighborhoods tend to keep their thermostats set at Arctic levels).

    The book signing (and reading) was by boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas who, working with writer Peter Alson, has just published his autobiography, Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring.

    During the course of his career Atlas has moved through every level of society, working with the famous and infamous, the beautiful and the ugly, dancers and athletes, doctors and executives, underprivileged kids and hardened criminals. He’s known gentleness and viciousness, redemption and damnation, punched hard, dried tears, heard as many confessions as a priest, felt the power of love and the damage of indifference.

    He arrived late, delayed by taping a TV segment at Brooklyn’s Gleason’s Gym and, apologizing profusely, read a long passage from the book. Then, fielding questions from knowledgeable fight fans, he spoke about his work with young boxers, the “Golden Age” of the sport (in his opinion, the 1920s – 1950s), why today’s fighters don’t measure up to their predecessors and why he isn’t working for HBO.

    Just before he began signing books, this unmistakably tough guy said something that struck a chord with me. He spoke about fear. Atlas, who is certainly in a position to know, says that all fighters are afraid. Even the men who appear to be the toughest, the most fearless, are scared to climb into the ring. The trainer’s job isn’t to teach the boxer how to stop feeling fear (an impossible goal), but rather, how to live with his fear.

    “They’re all afraid,” said Atlas. “Do you think there’s one of them that wouldn’t rather go get an ice cream than fight? They can’t stop being afraid, but they can learn not to show it. They learn to accept it and deal with it and not let it stop them.”

  • Atlas: From the Streets to the Ring: A Son’s Struggle
  • Hardcore Boxing: Kimo Morrison and Teddy Atlas
  • Gleason’s Gym
  • Borders Books Columbus Circle
  • Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation

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