Monday, March 30, 2015

Lena Dunham is No Philip Roth or Richard Pryor

Gilbert Flores/BroadImage
I seldom disagree with David Remnick, who may be the best New Yorker editor since Harold Ross. But I must this time.

"He doesn't tip. And he never brings his wallet anywhere," Lena Dunham quips about her partner, musician Jack Antonoff, in a New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs piece titled Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz. "This is because he comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring and don't acknowledge their own need for independence as women." 

The article drew heat from social media, opinion writers, and the Anti-Defamation League. But David Remnick stood by Dunham, stating that "Richard Pryor and Chris Rock do the same about black stereotypes," comparing HBO's Girls star to Lenny Bruce and Larry David.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crimea Is Not The End: Dmitry Bykov's Dispatch From Kharkov

Dmitry Bykov, a Russian poet, fiction writer and journalist, wrote some twenty books of prose, verse, and literary criticism. Together with actor Mikhail Yefremov, he also created a performance series called "Citizen Poet"— a daring spectacle of opposition poetics about the current state of Russia. TV network "Дождь" (Rain), which broadcast Citizen Poet, is repeatedly censored and blocked by cable providers under pressure from the Putin government.

Just days after Russia invaded Crimea, Bykov traveled to Kharkov, a mostly Russian-speaking Eastern Ukrainian city where I was born. He wrote about his visit in Sobesednik, Russia's current events weekly. Below is my translation of the piece. The original Russian version is available here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Goodbye to You All: Writers on Using and Leaving New York

Image credit:
"I’d entered the city the way one enters any grand love affair: with no exit plan," Cheryl Strayed, bestselling author of Wild, wrote about leaving New York. Her essay is one of twenty eight personal accounts in a collection titled Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. A couple of them talked up their exodus in a recent  Atlantic piece--a warm reminiscence on slim pants, chic coats, West Village, Park Slope, Christmas, and the smell of pizza.

"I kept insisting that I wouldn’t leave until I had made it," said Mira Ptacin, one of the contributors. "The thing is, once I made it to one rung on the ladder of success, there was always another rung above to reach for. And another, and another."

Monday, October 7, 2013

For $2.50, A Ride And An Art Show

"Missed Connections" by Sophie Blackall©

On your next New York City subway commute pocket the iPhone and look around. You’ll be surprised by the atmosphere which, in some cases, is literally painted on the walls.

Currently, more than 200 platforms feature permanent displays connecting "to neighborhoods with art that echoes the architectural history and design context of the individual stations." For 25 years, MTA’s Arts for Transit has been choosing the most visionary local artists to adorn the stations using materials already on site—mosaic, ceramic, tile, bronze, steel and faceted glass. The result is a cornucopia of artwork on platforms, walls, gates and transfers all over the city.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Steven Volynets©
I was not yet American when I became obsessed with the New York City skyline. I first glimpsed it from the back of a flatbed cargo van which was taking me, my baby brother, my parents, my grandparents, another family, and everything we owned into Manhattan from the JFK airport. When we reached the midpoint of the 56th Street Bridge, those of us still awake shared a vision. No one spoke. I held my breath. My father cried. Years later, in Brooklyn, I took this photo with a disposable camera from the rooftop of the Americana—the tallest building in my neighborhood. It was 1997. I was 18 and a U.S. Citizen.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict: A Manifesto of Justice to White America
You followed the trial. You heard the testimony. A grown man shadowed a black teenage boy despite being told not to by the police and shot him. You studied the case; you learned of Zimmerman's racist, lawless past; you waited as the jury of women, all but one of them white, deliberated. You listened to the President as he finally admitted that "there is a racial disparity in the application of our laws." No fact eluded you. Still, you cheer the verdict. You stand your ground. It was a fair trial, you say, justice was served.

A man got away with murder in Florida. But if the same man stalked and killed a black teenage boy on the streets of New York City or Philadelphia , surely the verdict would be different (for one, you cannot carry a concealed weapon in those cities). We are a nation of laws, you protest, and laws are different in Florida. But was Trayvon's pain any different in Florida as he clung to his young life? Was any different the pain of his loved ones as they buried his corpse? Are bullets any less lethal in Florida? Then why, if not for racial bias, should the punitive action taken against his killer be different in Florida than anywhere else?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

You Say 'Brooklyn Author,' I Say White Lady From Colorado

Bernard Malamud, Alfred Kazin, Normal Mailer, Paule Marshall, Edwidge Danticat, Jonathan Lethem--these are the writers I think of when I think Brooklyn. And then there is this list. It names some great scribes like Adelle Waldman, Helen Phillips, even William Styron. There is only one problem: having a Brooklyn zip code doesn't make you a Brooklyn writer. Jennifer Egan and Martin Amis, also on the list, are both tremendous novelists. But buying a brownstone in Fort Green at the height of literary acclaim didn't make their work uniquely Brooklyn. Nor does living and writing, as most on the list do, inside the square mile of Park Slope privilege reflect the stupendous cultural diversity of this borough.