Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Master Writer of the City

There's a new biography of Joseph Mitchell by Thomas Kunkel called "Man in Profile:  Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker."  It's reviewed by Janet Malcolm in the April 23rd issue of the New York Review of Books.  I had a copy of Mitchell's "Up in the Old Hotel" which I kept for years- such an eerie tale of old New York, before the Brooklyn Bridge was built. 
I didn't know Mitchell, but I saw him fairly often.  He liked to come to the 11 o'clock service at Grace Church, and lurk in the back by the narthex (that's foyer to the uninitiated).  He didn't discriminate between Morning Prayer and Communion, never approached the altar rail.  The Rev. Fleming Rutledge, the assistant at the time, told the congregation that Mitchell came for the sermon.   
I never felt like Mitchell was approachable, so I left him alone.  Never asked him about his writer's block, or about the New Yorker's glory days.  He was a man who wanted to be left alone.   And I was a young writer who didn't want to upset an old man. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


In my quest for research about Berlin in the early 1940s, I came across Allison Owings' Frauen [Women].  It's a series of interviews with women who lived through the "Hitler times" in Germany, and it's fascinating.  Owings doesn't judge her subjects, she lets the reader judge for herself.  Some of the subjects are remarkably unguarded in their stories.   One interviewee is Freya von Moltke, whose husband was executed for his resistance work; but most of these women are not aristocrats nor famous.  They hold a wide range of political opinions; some of them had the greatest admiration for Hitler and his policies.  The interviews are full of surprising insights into the daily lives of women during difficult times.  I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Llamas on the Attack!

One night before rehearsal, my friend Cotton Wright made the mistake of telling me that her sister had witnessed attack llamas, that is llamas who act like guard dogs at various properties in the southwest.  This image of half of a pushmepullyou behaving like Jimmy Carter's attack rabbit has stayed with me. 
In the November 10th issue of the New Yorker, Alec Wilkinson wrote a feature called "Modern Farmer, and the Back to the Land Movement," in which he interviewed the former (as of yesterday) editor of Modern Farmer magazine (who knew there was such a thing?), An Marie Gardner, and a farmer, David Munson, Jr.  Munson had a few things to say about his llamas, which he keeps to guard his goats:  "Llamas don't like dogs, they don't like coyotes, they don't really like people-  they put up with them because they bring them food.  Some are more protective than others.  Mine were raised [on his farm north of Dallas] as pet llamas, I think, and they just didn't go after the bad guys.  They would walk ff and leave the goats.  The predators often kill for fun.  You have all these goats that are torn up ... It's a combat situation... I replaced the llamas with guard dogs."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

ReadWomen2014, Part Four

Julie Salamon
Dorothy L. Sayers

Above, Dorothy L. Sayers

Catherine Schine
Tracy Scott
Meryl Secrest
Anna Sewell
Ntozake Shange
Rachel Sheinkin
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Betty Smith
Johanna Spyri
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
C. Denby Swanson

Donna Tartt
Maria Tatar
Elizabeth Taylor (the British novelist, not the movie star)
Sydney Taylor
Josephine Tey
P.L. Travers
Joanna Trollope
Sojourner Truth

Ann Ulanov

Paula Vogel

Wendy Wasserstein
Rebecca West
Edith Wharton
Phillis Wheatley
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mary Wollstonecraft
Virginia Woolf
Joan Wyndham

Marguerite Yourcenar

Stephanie Zadravec

ReadWomen2014, Part Three

Frances Parkinson Keyes
Lisa Kron

Dorothy Lane
Susanne Langer
Mary Lavin
Madeleine L’Engle
Doris Lessing
Rosina Lippi 
Lisa Loomer

Olivia Manning
Katherine Mansfield
Hilary Mantel
Carson McCullers
Daphne Merkin
Jessica Mitford
Nancy Mitford
Lorrie Moore
Alice Munro

Irene Nemirovsky
E. Nesbit
Lynn Nottage

 Above, Lynn Nottage

Edna O’Brien
Flannery O’Connor

Dorothy Parker
Anne Patchett
Margot Peters
Anna Hamilton Phelan
Marge Piercy
Beatrix Potter
Dawn Powell

Ruth Rendell
Marilynne Robinson
Elaine Romero
Christina Rossetti

ReadWomen2014, Part Two

Cheryl L. Davis
Joan Didion
Mary Mapes Dodge
Daphne DuMaurier
Katherine Dunn
Marguerite Duras

 Above, Joan Didion

Eleanor Estes

Tina Fey
Louise Fitzhugh
Anne Frank

Elizabeth George
Susan Glaspell
Gail Godwin
Nadine Gordimer

Nancy Hale
Elizabeth Hardwick
Shirley Hazzard
Ursula Hegi
Lillian Hellman (with reservations)
Beth Henley
Amy Herzog
Patricia Highsmith
Hildegard of Bingen
Zora Neale Hurston
Siri Hustvedt

Naomi Iizuka

Shirley Jackson
P.D. James
Elfrieda Jellinek
Elizabeth Jenkins
Julian of Norwich


In the October 12th Sunday New York Times Book Review, there was an essay by Alexander Chee about reading women writers.  He mentioned a British writer, Joanna Walsh, who made bookmarks featuring her 250 favorites.  I meant to make a list of my favorites, and have just gotten around to it. 

There is one screenwriter, Anna Hamilton Phelan (no, we’re not related).  Novelists, nonfiction writers, children’s writers, playwrights, mystery writers, writers who write about religion, a couple of poets, all mixed together.  This list is totally biased-  it is not writers who are important (like Aphra Behn or Anna Cora Mowatt), or popular (like Harper Lee), or classic (like Emily Bronte).  They’re here because I like and admire their work.  It’s 123 names. I’m sure I could create a longer list, but I’ve got other stuff to do.  I’m also sure that there are writers I’ve forgotten and will remember after I post this.  

 Above, Anna Akmatova

Joan Accocella
Anna Akmatova
Louisa May Alcott
Isabelle Allende
Maya Angelou
Karen Armstrong
Jane Austen

Enid Bagnold
Kristen Bakis
Pat Barker
Vicki Baum
Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bowen
Anne Bronte
Charlotte Bronte
Anita Brookner
Frances Hodgson Burnett
A.S. Byatt

Sheila Callaghan
Angela Carter
Caryl Churchill
Beverly Cleary