Interview by Gloria Mindock, Editor Červená Barva Press
When did you start writing poetry and fiction?
My first published writing was "The Model Life," a funny four page prose-poem about
my experiences supporting myself as a fashion model. Too inexperienced to know better, I
submitted it to six literary magazines and received five acceptances. Then I had to explain my
way out, choosing the magazine that was the most forgiving. I was never part of a writers'
community or MFA program. The only workshop I ever took was taught by Brian Swann at the
92nd. St. 'Y'. His tough approach appealed to me and made me aware I could write observantly
Who are some of your favorite writers? Why?
Favorite writers pop up everywhere. Some are my students. The first writing class I
taught was at the Cooper Union. I called it "Voices of the Third Age," targeting people over
fifty. It remains one of my favorite experiences. Class enthusiasm fueled my confidence. My
methods were ordinary, taken straight from Kenneth Koch's book of surefire exercises like: "I
never told anybody," or "I remember." Responses around the room were original and vivid.
Without saying so, we taught each other the power of language. I still recall the hush that fell
when Ernst said, "I remember Isabel." It was just three words, spoken last, after many other
reminiscences, but everyone knew what there was about a woman named Isabel. So, I guess my
favorite writers are those who leave an echo, like William Carlos Williams, Philip Roth, George
Eliot, and Ernst.
Where did you go from there?
After teaching writing classes at Bennington College, The New School, Baruch College
and for Poets and Writers, I became Program Director of the Great Hall at Cooper Union, which
lasted fifteen years. One of the Great Hall's first speakers was Abraham Lincoln who made his
famous "right makes might" speech there. I dropped Lincoln's name shamelessly. It worked like
magic to draw hundreds of our best-known thinkers, writers, artists, musicians, even U.S.
presidents. I also so-founded the American Jazz Orchestra at the Cooper Union with John Lewis
and Gary Giddins. The AJO went on to make recordings featuring the music of Duke Ellington,
Jimmy Lunceford and Benny Carter's "Central City Sketches," which picked up a Grammy. That
I never thought it strange to sit in my office shooting the breeze with Max Roach, Ron Carter,
Mel Lewis, Bobby Short, Dizzy Gillespie and many others reflects how generous and genuine
these men were.
Talk about your forthcoming book, Everything Happens Suddenly.
The title comes form a collaboration with Andy Warhol for Poetry on the Buses. The
poems span fifteen years. The idea that everything happens suddenly no matter how long it takes
still holds true for me. I like small surprises, accessible poems, quirky takes, humorous glances.
I've never lost faith in coincidence and tend to be a magic thinker. My father died at the cruel
age of thirty-eight when I was twelve. My mother, who didn't catch many breaks, raised two
small girls alone. I turned to books for knowledge and satisfaction. I don't have a daily writing
habit. I write only when fired up.
Where do you write?
Mostly in our country house in the western Catskills. It's taken me a long while to dig
in. Nature, one of poetry's oldest quarries, did not come naturally to me. Knowing only New
York City, rural settings made me nervous. Now , I'm on a first-name basis with the wildlife-at
least with the chipmunks. I've discovered an affinity with insects, noticing how beautiful even a
fly is up close. How beautiful? Log on to the Natural Resources Defense Council's:
What are you working on now?
I'm writing a book of personal essays, surprising myself because they are not about the
glamorous stuff, but mostly about my mother's long decline.
Does working in fashion effect your writing?
Not much. A little. I've said, sometimes defensively, that fashion can be great fun,
transformative and creative. But it can also be trivial. When the famously contemptuous editor of
"Vogue" just remarked (on camera) that her style wasn't aimed at women from Minnesota
shaped like little houses the press went wild. You can't make that stuff up. And Foot in mouth is
not a good look.
It's gratifying to have an editor like you who solicits writers, rather than the other way
round. I'm delighted to be among your authors.