Tag Archives: New York

New York Radical Women and the Limits of Second Wave Feminism

New York Radical Women protest the Miss America Pageant on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, 1969. (Santi Visalli Inc./Archive Photos/Getty Images)

At New York magazine, Joy Press has compiled an oral history of New York Radical Women (NYRW), a collective that existed from 1967 to 1969 and played a large role in defining second wave feminism in the United States. Its founders were generally younger and more radical than the women of the National Organization for Women (NOW), who’d come together in 1966 to address specific legislative failures in Washington, DC. NYRW focused more on elements of the culture that held women back.

The theatrics of the group’s organizing has been seared into the public’s imagination. In 1968, they protested the Miss America pageant by interrupting its telecast, crowning a live sheep on Atlantic City’s boardwalk, throwing objects symbolizing female oppression into a “freedom trash can.” The media called them “bra-burners” for this spectacle, and though nothing caught fire that day, the myth endured.

Along with their image-making, NYRW’s intellectual work, in the form of speeches, essays, pamphlets, and books laid the foundation for women’s studies as an academic discipline. Press explains:

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Fats Domino’s Secret to Writing Great Songs: ‘Bein’ Lucky’

(AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber)

The legendary musician Fats Domino died today at the age of 89.

Ten years ago, Fats Domino traveled to New York City for the first time in over two decades. As Charles Young explained in a Rolling Stone piece at the time, Domino had largely stopped touring and even performing at all, playing only occasionally in his hometown of New Orleans. As shy as he was legendary, “talking to people he doesn’t know” ranked “near the top of his list of least-favorite activities.”

“Most stress of all is probably talking to strange people with notebooks,” Young wrote. When Young finally works up the nerve to take out his notebook and ask Domino “the secret of writing great songs,” the reticent musician replied, “Bein’ lucky.”

“Lucky” wasn’t how you’d describe Domino at that time, since Hurricane Katrina ruined his beloved home in New Orleans. His occasional attempts at touring hadn’t gone well and, as New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Keith Spera reported in 2007, his friends felt the octogenarian musician had grown more forgetful since the storm. Nevertheless, some of those friends rallied around Domino and coordinated the trip to New York, inviting Spera along to document it.

Spera’s piece is cobbled together from his updates from the road and, fittingly for his New Orleans audience, talks about Domino as though his reader already knows and understands him. Young’s takes a wider view for a broader audience. Both are well-worth a read for anyone looking to remember the musician who at age 21 recorded a song that was, as Young writes, “one of the first and biggest steps toward” rock and roll.

When he was twenty-one, in 1949, he recorded a song called “The Fat Man,” which he and his producer/writing partner, Dave Bartholomew, reworked from a tune called “Junker’s Blues” on the theory that singing about being fat was more commercial than singing about being a junk­ie. Antoine changed his name to “Fats,” and the song became a huge hit. It was also, strangely, not jazz. With its rollicking beat and thunderously repetitive pop sensibility, it was something else. It was, in hindsight, rock & roll, or at least one of the first and big­gest steps toward it.

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Why Industrial Laundry Is Dirtier Than You Can Imagine

Industrial washing machines. (Getty Images)

After a six-month investigation, Annie Hylton uncovers third-world working conditions and rampant sexual harassment at industrial laundry facilities serving Manhattan hospitals, hotels, and restaurants.

At Dissent, she recounts how workers, who went without health and safety training and personal protective equipment, routinely handled linens contaminated by human blood, urine, vomit, and feces. When workers weren’t dealing directly in others’ sh*t, they were forced to endure it. One manager routinely preyed on migrant women workers who had little English and less recourse; women were subject to unwanted touching and lewd suggestions. And after they finally stood up to complain? Retaliation, of course, in the form of reduced hours and more strenuous duties.

There are more than fifty industrial laundries in and around New York that employ thousands of workers, most of whom are recent immigrants, mainly women. These workers typically operate in noisy, dirty, stressful conditions, and are frequently exposed to harmful chemicals. Meg Fosque, an organizer at Make the Road New York who testified before New York City Council in 2015, described the laundry industry as one plagued by rampant violations of labor law and exploitation of the largely immigrant workforce by “unscrupulous employers.” Fosque concluded, “the industry as a whole has a disturbing track record and is in need of oversight.”

Until legislation was passed in 2016, there were no comprehensive and enforceable standards or licenses for industrial laundries in New York.

In November 2011, twenty-four-year-old Milton Anzora, a laundry worker at a commercial facility in Long Island called Prestige Industries, was crushed to death by a conveyer shuttle (this facility has since closed). In 2015, OSHA found that the company continued to expose employees to similar hazards at its Paterson facility. “It is unacceptable when a company continues to neglect basic safety and health procedures, especially after experiencing a fatality. Prestige Industries’ deliberate failure to uphold its responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace is an indication that worker safety and health is not a priority, which is intolerable,” said Robert Kulick, OSHA’s regional administrator in New York.

The largely female and immigrant workforce has meant that some workers are also subject to sexual harassment or assault, much like that faced by Gonzalez and her coworkers. Workers whose rights are violated often do not come forward because of their immigration status or because they lack legitimate union representation, allowing the cycle of abuse to continue.

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Diane Arbus: Describing the Loneliness that Shames Us

Photographer Diane Arbus poses for a rare portrait in the Automat at Sixth Avenue between 41st & 42nd Street in New York, New York, circa 1968. (Photo by Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

With the publication of two books and new gallery showings featuring photographer Diane Arbus, Hilton Als explores her work, writings, artistic motivation, and uncanny ability to capture on film the humanity of the “freaks” — the marginalized people — who were the subjects of her work. Read his piece at the New York Review of Books.

Arbus’s photographs were elegant, too—classically composed and cool—but they were on fire with what difference looked like and what it felt like as seen through the eyes of a straight Jewish girl whose power lay in her ability to be herself and not herself—different—all at once. The story she told with her camera was about shape-shifting: in order to understand difference one had to not only not dismiss it, but try to become it. “I don’t like to arrange things,” Arbus once said. “If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”

As Arbus went on, though, she became more and more interested in the drama of the self as it appeared not only to her through her lens (her magic portal) but to her subject. No visual artist of the twentieth century has described with more accuracy the enormous pride her characters, certainly in the early pictures, feel at having risked all to become themselves—selves they could not lock up, or hide, or resist being recorded despite the pain of being marginalized in their daily life.

Arbus made pictures that grew out of and described the loneliness we are all taught to be ashamed of and should try to “fix” through conventional connections—marriage, children, and so on.2 Arbus’s “I”—the eye behind her camera—was unabashed loneliness, looking to connect, if only because she understood what it felt like not to. She wanted to see the world whole, which meant seeing and accepting the fractures in those connections, too, along with all that could not be fixed. When she started taking pictures of drag queens and interracial couples, homosexuality was illegal, and miscegenation was still met with violence or derision.

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Postwar New York: The Supreme Metropolis of the Present

Demobilized soldiers returning to New York. Via Flickr.

David Reid | The Brazen Age: New York City and the American Empire: Politics, Art, and Bohemia | Pantheon | March 2016 | 31 minutes (8,514 words)

 

The excerpt below is adapted from The Brazen Age, by David Reid, which examines the “extraordinarily rich culture and turbulent politics of New York City between the years 1945 and 1950.” This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

Probably I was in the war.

—NORMAN MAILER, Barbary Shore (1951)

*

A hideous, inhuman city. But I know that one changes one’s mind.

In march 1946 the young French novelist and journalist Albert Camus traveled by freighter from Le Havre to New York, arriving in the first week of spring. Le Havre, the old port city at the mouth of the Seine, had almost been destroyed in a battle between its German occupiers and a British warship during the Normandy invasion; huge ruins ringed the harbor. In his travel journal Camus writes: “My last image of France is of destroyed buildings at the very edge of a wounded earth.”

At the age of thirty-two this Algerian Frenchman, who had been supporting himself with odd jobs when the war began, was about to become very famous. By 1948, he would become an international culture hero: author of The Stranger and The Plague, two of the most famous novels to come out of France in the forties, and of the lofty and astringent essays collected in The Myth of Sisyphus.

Camus’s visit to the United States, sponsored by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs but involving no official duties, was timed to coincide with Alfred A. Knopf’s publication of The Stranger in a translation by Stuart Gilbert, the annotator of James Joyce’s Ulysses. In the spring of 1946 France was exporting little to the United States except literature. Even most American readers with a particular interest in France knew of Camus, if at all, as a distant legend, editor of the Resistance newspaper Combat and an “existentialist.”

Reviewing The Stranger in the New Yorker, Edmund Wilson, usually omniscient, confessed that he knew absolutely nothing about existentialism except that it was enjoying a “furious vogue.” If there were rumored to be philosophical depths in this novel about the motiveless murder of an Arab on a North African beach, they frankly eluded him. For Wilson the book was nothing more than “a fairly clever feat”—the sort of thing that a skillful Hemingway imitator like James M. Cain had done as well or better in The Postman Always Rings Twice. America’s most admired literary critic also had his doubts about Franz Kafka, the writer of the moment, suspecting that the claims being made for the late Prague fabulist were exaggerated. But still, like almost everyone else, especially the young, in New York’s intellectual circles Wilson was intensely curious about what had been written and thought in occupied Europe, especially in France.

“Our generation had been brought up on the remembrance of the 1920s as the great golden age of the avant-garde, whose focal point had been Paris,” William Barrett writes in The Truants, his memoir of the New York intellectuals. “We expected history to repeat itself: as it had been after the First, so it would be after the Second World War.” The glamorous rumor of existentialism seemed to vindicate their expectations. Camus’s arrival was eagerly awaited not only by Partisan Review but also by the New Yorker, which put him in “The Talk of the Town,” and Vogue, which decided that his saturnine good looks resembled Humphrey Bogart’s. Read more…

Going Underground into New York’s Tunnels: A Glimpse at Life in the Dark

“You’re the first person to visit this week,” he says. “People don’t want to speak to me when they come here. I don’t know, man. They’re scared or something. I can get why, it’s a spooky place when you don’t know it. But people, they like it when it’s scary. They like it when it’s dirty, right? It makes them feel alive. That’s why they make up these stories about cannibalism and stuff. Like alligators in the sewers.”

Jon offers me a sip of vodka. We drink together. He tells me to stay safe and to watch out for trains when I go back walking into the tunnel. I hear him talk to himself as I go away from the entrance and from the white sky.

The smell down here is the one of brake dust and mold. I can see rats scouring for food and drinking from brown puddles in the tracks ballast. EXISTENCE IS FLAWED, a graffiti inscription reads.

The city growls over my head — a distant growl muffled by the concrete, almost a snarl, like something cold and foul spreading over the long stretches of stained walls, like a dark and wild beast curling up around me and breathing on my neck. A dark and wild beast silently trailing me.

— At Narratively, Montreal-based freelance writer Anthony Taille takes us into New York’s underground among “Mole People,” the Amtrak tunnel residents under Riverside Park. Taille has spent time with people who have lived under the city for many years, from Bernard Isaac, a legend among Mole People, to longtime resident Brooklyn, who has lived underground since 1982.

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A Very Brief History of Americans Playing Softball with Their Co-Workers

Americans have been playing softball with their co-workers since the game grew out of several variants of baseball in the late 19th century. In 1895, Louis Rober, a lieutenant in the Minneapolis fire department, organized games of “kittenball” to entertain firefighters between runs. Blue-collar company teams proliferated over the next half-century. Office workers joined in later, in the 1970s and ’80s.

Ira Boudway writing for Bloomberg Businessweek about how the High Times Bonghitters (yes, that is the team’s official name) became “the Yankees of New York media softball.”

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The Cult Could Become a Church: On David Foster Wallace

I once dated a David Foster Wallace fanboy. You know who I mean: He’s white. He’s straight. He went to a small liberal arts college. He interrogates you on which DFW books you’ve read—the novels, or just the essays? He’s read Infinite Jest probably more than once. He thinks he has a unique take on the author’s work and the man’s life (and death).

My ex isn’t alone; DFW fanaticism swept the literary States in the early to mid-aughts. Prepare for the fans to be flamed (or the flames to be fanned): The End of the Tour (based on an account of Wallace’s Infinite Jest book tour) stars Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel and hits theaters on July 31. If you’ve never heard of this acclaimed author, treasure your last moments of innocence; then, read this primer at Vulture on DFW’s contested legacy.

David Foster Wallace has always been an unstable commodity. For two decades, the writer and his writings have been at the center of a cult with several branches. The first branch is other fiction writers, who also tend to be the most serious readers. This makes a certain obvious sense. ‘Infinite Jest’ is, on its face, the most daunting of novels; 1,079 pages, 96 of them endnotes; text in small type pointing you constantly to text in smaller type, necessitating multiple bookmarks; an immersion in two subcultures, junior tennis and addiction recovery; a time commitment to be measured in weeks, not days — two months for serious readers, Wallace thought…

The second branch are the magazine writers for whom his essays renewed the possibilities of a fast-aging New Journalism by clearing away Tom Wolfe’s cynicism and replacing it with a dazzling faux-amateur act.

The third are the academics; English professors hadn’t received the gift of fictional worlds so rich and susceptible to their hermeneutics since Nabokov, Beckett, or Joyce.

But before his suicide he compared his own fame only to that of a high-profile classical musician. 

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The Perils of Writing About Your Own Family: A Conversation with George Hodgman

George Hodgman and his mother Betty.

Sari Botton | Longreads | April 2015 | 15 minutes (3,752 words)

 

Sometimes life’s most inconvenient surprise detours ultimately yield great rewards we never could have predicted. For writer George Hodgman—who’s been whisked away indefinitely from his tidily self-contained life in New York City to care for his ailing mother—one of those rewards was a chance to better know and appreciate Betty (now 94) before she’s gone. Another benefit: the conditions he hadn’t even known he needed to finally, at 55, write and publish his first book. The New York Times Bestselling memoir, Bettyville, is the result. Read more…

For the Love of Lettering: Stories About Typography

I didn’t pay attention to font until I worked for my college newspaper. After months of poring over proofs in InDesign, I realized I was learning the differences between fonts, their specific names, where they fit best. I’m no typographer—I don’t have the patience—but I’m fascinated by the subtle ways type entrances us and the absolutely grueling work that goes into its design and placement. Now, not only do I know the difference between type design and typography, but I try to make an effort to appreciate the work that goes in to the books I love, the gig posters for my favorite bands, the fonts on my blog.

1. “Praise the Colophon: Twenty Notes on Type.” (Nick Ripatrazone, The Millions, March 2015)

Colophon: a statement at the end of a book, typically with a printer’s emblem, giving information about its authorship and printing. You know: the details about the typeface, the typographer, the publisher, the who, what and where of the book’s creation. Nick Ripatrazone researches the colophon’s history and its artistic purpose. He concludes, “I call for the return of colophons. The battle of the book is not to be won or lost in preferences of print or digital. The page will always remain. Letters will always remain.” Read more…