PEN 2013: Master/Class: Fran Lebowitz with A.M.Homes



Friday, May 03, 2013, 8:30pm The New School: Tishman Auditorium 66 West 12th St., New York, NY 10011


Caustically witty and sharp-tongued as ever, Fran Lebowitz and A.M. Homes lit up the stage at The New School's Tishman auditorium last night with a candid conversation that ranged in disparate topics from bravery in writing to changes in New York City and in particular, the West Village, to revenge, playing a judge on TV, to teaching, politics and Hurricane Sandy.


Not surpringly, Lebowitz had a plethora of choice words for Mayor Michael Bloomberg during the course of the night, at one point stating, "I don't care who the next mayor is. They will be better than who we have," noting his propensity to treat everything, including public institutions and services, as if they were businesses. "Bloomberg apparantly has no conception of geometry," Lebowitz comically continued, stating that Bloomberg keeps putting things into streets that remain the same size. "Furniture is now strewn about the city. No room for a chair in your apartment? Throw it in the street!" Bloomberg, in Lebowitz's eyes, has made NYC a city for tourists and welcomes the day when the billionaire mayor who refused to live in Gracie mansion leaves office.


Asked by A.M. Homes if she believes in the freedom of expression ("Do you actually want to hear what everyone has to say?"), Lebowitz quipped, "No I do not. But I also believe in the freedom of not listening."


As any comedian (or friend of a comedian) knows, the drive for comedy stems from a deep-seeded longing for acceptance from others that pushes one to get up on stage night after night, no matter how many protestations to the contrary might be voiced. And while I am not sure if the role of comedian fits exactly what Fran Lebowitz does, from watching her "perform" last night it seems as though her signature judgemental, no-nonsense attitude is a thin cover for a host of issues she is more than happy to keep to herself, noting, "I never talk about myself... and I am not going to start here."


Lebowitz is now famous for her writer's block of over twenty years (her "writer's blockade" as she calls it) in addition to her roles in Scorcesse's documentary entitled Public Speaking (she describes Scorcesse as a "promising director"), her numerous roles as judges on television ("Playing a judge is my hobby. I can only be a judge because I am judgmental"), and her two published books, Metropolitan Life (1978) and Social Studies (1981). She noted that the only job more difficult than writing is coal mining. "Anytime someone says they love to write," says Lebowitz, "don't read their book." But noting an exception, Lebowitz recounted that she once asked her good friend, Toni Morrison, why she likes writing so much. "Because," said Morrison, "otherwise you are stuck with life."

Asked at the closing of the program where she gets her facts given she does not have a computer or cell phone, Lebowitz said, "I pay attention. When I am in the streets, I am in the streets," adding that everyone is so focused on their technologies that they lose touch with everything around them. "Whatever you are doing," she said while mimicking texting, "that is where you are."


It was a fast-paced and riveting night filled with laughter. Lebowitz, asked if she would ever consider running for mayor, said, "I couldn't get the votes." Her divisive and brutally honest approach is a refreshing contrast to the ego-stroking, self-esteem stoking times that we live in. I think she could win.


Here a few other gems from the night. Enjoy:


On hate crimes: "Almost all things that are hate crimes are already crimes. Otherwise, hate crimes become thought crimes. The beating up part is the crime, not the thinking part."


On the "confining institution" of gay marriage: "They only let people have things when they lose value."


On human nature: "Human nature is horrible. That's why it's called human nature and not human art."


On the business model: "A business is a really bad model for anything other than business."


On a good day: "A good day for me is a night. I don't enjoy the daylight hours. I'm not a morning person... or an afternoon person."


On writing school: "Going to writing school is like going to tall school... Writing is a talent randomnly sprinkled amongst the population."


On politicians: they are "always the best of the bad lot."


On camping and tents: "Camping should be something in the human past. Why go backwards? Worldwide, most people in tents are not there willfully. It is normally a refugee camp or due to some manmade or natural disaster."


On Atlas Shrugged: "Atlas Shrugged is the favorite novel of Republicans and anyone that has never read a novel before."


Further Resources

Event listing on PEN website




Fran Lebowitz: is an American author. Lebowitz is known for her sardonic social commentary on American life as filtered through her New York sensibilities. Some reviewers have called her a modern-day Dorothy Parker


A.M. Homes: is an American writer. She is best known for her controversial novels and unusual stories, most notably The End of Alice (1996), a novel about a convicted child molester and murderer. She has also written a memoir, The Mistress's Daughter (2007). Her most recent novel, May We Be Forgiven, was published by Viking Books on September 27, 2012.


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Comedy, Fran Lebowitz, New York City, PEN 2013