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."

Tuesday, October 8, 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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Facebook's Red Avatar Could Hurt Marriage Equality

As the Supreme Court weighs in on Proposition 8, Facebook has been lighting up with profile icons of the red equal sign in support of same sex marriage. This, according to Mary Elizabeth Williams, is a “meaningful act aimed at those you love.” Her recent Salon article, In Support of Facebook’s Sea of Red for Equality, was in part prompted by email from straight friends, one of whom called switching to the red logo “a truly spontaneous gesture of solidarity.”

I am straight and I support marriage equality. And I, too, hope that wiser minds prevail in the High Court, undoing prejudicial propositions once and for all. However, switching a profile photo to a red avatar will not make it so. In fact, it undermines the effort by lulling us into inaction.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty is Somewhere Between Zero and Dark

Zero Dark Thirty. Wiki.
Zero Dark Thirty is a film so controversial that when John McCain finally saw it, he jumped up and screamed: “I hate the Gooks! I will hate them as long as I live!” And if not for his personal handler, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who promptly pacified McCain with milk and cookies, God only knows what would happen next.

No, thankfully none of those things are true (except McCain screaming "I hate the Gooks!" That actually happened). There was, however, a small matter of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into the writer Mark Boal’s and director Kathryn Bigelow’s CIA-sourced material, which may have served as the basis for the torture scenes. The probe was quickly dropped because it was a waste of taxpayer money and a juvenile idea to begin with.

Still, violent representations of torture do make up a substantial portion of the movie—in all, about 20 minutes (I actually timed it). That may seem merely episodic in a two and a half-hour film. It is not. To put it in better perspective, a 20 minute action-dialog sequence is at least 20 pages of a shooting script. That’s a serious expenditure of creative energy and, by that extension, money—from writing to casting to shooting to editing to marketing—all made intentional, to be sure.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Oy Vey Caucus Sits in Judgment of Philip Roth

Air that passes between Philip Roth's butt cheeks carries more grace and acumen than this latest take on his work à la New York magazine. For starters, it omits at least one of his early long (and critically undervalued) novels, Letting Go. Then it slings the same old mud, calling him a “(probable) misogynist,” and reduces the life of America’s premier novelist to a Powerpoint of half-witted quotes. And while the panel includes some of my favorite authors, among the likes of Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Lethem, David Bezmozgis, Katie Roiphe, Brian Morton and Bret Easton Ellis it also lists James Franco. Not that I have anything against Mr. Franco or his very earnest attempts at writing. But when I want deep insight into Philip Roth’s fiction I think of David Remnick and Claudia Roth Pierpont, not the giggling burnout from Pineapple Express. Oh, one other thing: of the 35 members of this very esteemed literary caucus only 5 are women—something to mull over while on a break from protesting Seth MacFarlane’s boob song.

Friday, March 1, 2013

90Outloud: Broadcast 90 Seconds Of Your Favorite Book

Der Rabe, Carl Spitzweg, circa 1845

Bill Cheng, a writer I know, started something called 90Outloud— a way for anyone around the world to post a ninety-second flick of their favorite passages. Just 90 seconds or less from your favorite novel, memoir, travelogue, short story, poem, whatever (published and not your own). A paragraph. Sometimes not even that. Just a minute and a half for a snippet of book to come suddenly and thrillingly to life.

"Because books are awesome!" Bill says and I agree. "They are a confetti burst of sounds, and images, and ideas. A long gorgeous chain of words, dancing the tongue from roof to teeth to lips. Because books, in some way or another, have added to my life and have added to the lives of those I’ve cared about. Because I still believe that the book is the basic neuron of civilization, carrying impulses— our fears and hopes, the worst and best of ourselves— from the streets up into the seats of power, and out again; it tells us who we are and what we want to be and remains our best astrolabe for an unknown future." 

Also visit 90Outloud at and follow them on Twitter: @90outloud.

I shared. You should too!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seth MacFarlane's Boob Gate And The Oscars Bro-Haha

I admit, I didn’t watch the Oscars live. I wanted to, but the moment I rebooted my laptop I was instantly soaked by a social media frenzy—something about Seth MacFarlane and… a song about boobs! I wanted to see what the furor was about. Actually, what I really wanted was to catch the Oscars. But I couldn’t. An online replay of the entire ceremony was not to be found, but a song titled “We saw your boobs” was more ubiquitous than downloadable porn shots of actual boobs. So I listened to it and was at once in shock, thinking—what a catchy tune!!!

No, I really was shocked, mostly by the reaction to the song, particularly from critics whose observations I usually hold in high regard. Even one of my journalistic heroes, David Carr, referred to this Academy sanctioned stunt as “dudeism” and suggested “punching a whole in the theater to let some of that testosterone out.”  Maybe he has a point. After all, when David Carr speaks, I usually shut up and listen.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

For Black Women Writers, The Black History Month Forecast is "Obscure"

Image Credit: Sony Reader Store
In honor of the Black History Month, I dare you, my fellow buffs of American letters, to fire off in one breath 10 names of established, living, female African American fiction writers. And no, Kola Boof doesn't count (my game, my rules). If you are having trouble, it’s because there is a new term which seems to make anecdotal the persistence of whiteness across the best-seller lists: Obscurity.

"When the finalists for the (2011) National Book Award in Fiction were announced last month," wrote Ron Charles of The Washington Post, "I’m embarrassed to admit that I was among those critics grumbling about the obscurity of some of the authors.”

For a while, I struggled to make sense of that word. Obscurity sounded almost like an act of weather—a kind of fog that settled spontaneously on women of color and shrouded their writing.