Author Imprint

S2017 E1 | CLIP

Ada Calhoun Discusses New York’s Changes

New York is currently going through rapid changes, some of which are disappointing to long-time residents. But in her book “St. Marks is Dead,” author Ada Calhoun discusses how New Yorkers have worried about losing their beloved city for centuries.

AIRED: April 05, 2017 | 0:06:22

>> Welcome to "Author Imprint,"

a public-media bookcast.

I'm Lisa Lucas.

A place of paradox and a home

for misfits, St. Marks Place has

been many things to many people

throughout its history, but one

thing seems constant --

the nostalgia for an idyllic

past, when St. Mark's was


In her book

"St. Marks is Dead," journalist

Ada Calhoun explores the

street's history, why each

generation seems to yearn for

the previous counterculture, and

the inevitability of change.

Ada, thank you so much for

joining us today.

>> Thank you for having me,


>> Of course.

So, you grew up on

St. Marks Place in the 1970s,

and you've described it as


[ Both laugh ]

Can you explain a little bit

about what it was like when you

were growing up and also why you

decided to return home for your


>> Sure. Yeah.

So, I was born in 1976.

And that's a time that people

are fairly nostalgic for right


I think because of "Just Kids"

and some other books, they

think, "Oh, the '70s and '80s --

it was a time when everyone was

free and it was cheap and

everything was glorious."

>> Mm-hmm.

>> And having been a child at

that time, it wasn't all


And there were, you know, crack

vials and used condoms all over

the place.

And we couldn't go to the

playground because it was a tent


And it was very dangerous.

Our apartment was broken into,

and my friends were mugged for

their pizza.

And it was -- it was a really

dark time.

My mom's friends died of AIDS.

It was -- A lot of horrible

things happened in the '70s and


So, while a lot of things were

good, it wasn't all, you know,

roses and sunshine.

>> Mm-hmm.

How did your parents come to

live at St. Marks Place?

>> They were bohemians.

So, my dad came from the Midwest

and my mom came from Texas and

they found each other and moved

in there in 1974.

>> I know people are nostalgic,

but the conversation about

gentrification in New York is


And do you think that people

were able to take a look at the

book and actually use

St. Marks Place as a way to

understand what was happening in

their own communities?

Was that a goal of yours when

you were writing the book -- to

help people understand the

changes that were happening in

the city?

>> What's funny is, it's wound

up seeming sort of universal in

this way because I think that

anytime you fall in love with a

place that you live in, you

think that it's great right

then, in that moment that you

love it.

And then later on, when other

people move in and they love it,

you think that they get it


So, one thing that I noticed

was -- I did like

200-and-some-odd interviews for

the book.

And in the course of doing those

interviews, people would say,

"Oh, there was this one moment

in time when it was just


It was so great.

Everything was, you know, fun

and love and awesome, and then

these people came in and wrecked


And I just heard that over and

over again, and I would say,

"What was the year?"

And they would say with all this

confidence like, "'63," or,

"'88," or, "2007."

And every time, I realized that

it had been because they were


>> Right.

>> And they loved it because

they were young.

And they felt like the city was

just for them.

So, I think that that -- It

turns out that that's sort of a

universal, I think.

When we fall in love with a

city, we think that's when it's


>> We think of, like, taking

over a part of a city or a

particular community or the

gentrification of one of those

communities as something that's

really current.

>> Yeah.

>> It feels like -- I live in

Williamsburg, and it feels


>> Yeah. Me too.

>> ...that's happening right


>> Yeah.

>> know, in Williamsburg.

It's changing.

I've seen it happen.

I moved there when I was quite

young and it's not been very

long and it seems like things

have really changed.

But this has been going on

forever and ever.

>> I live in Williamsburg, too,

and it's really hard to watch

people move out because they

can't afford it, or for places

to close.

But I think I took a little bit

of comfort in researching this

book and seeing that people

complained starting in like

1811, when the grid came in.

And they said, "Oh, New York.

It was really great.

Now there's this grid --

street grid there.

It's not gonna be good anymore."

There was this song from I think

it was 1913, "New York, What's

the Matter With You?" about how

this -- you know, the lights

don't shine as bright as they

used to.

And this idea kept recurring

that New York's not gonna be

good anymore.

And I just think there's

something about the fact that

people thought that for so long

and been wrong so many times

that every time I think, "Oh,

that's it, the neighborhood's

over," maybe I'm wrong, too.

>> Mm-hmm.

So, how many people that you

really wanted to talk to were

still living?

>> Quite a few.

I was so lucky because everybody

who hung out there and made a

name for themselves there

thought that it was important

when they were there.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> And so there was something

kind of wonderful about that,

that they would just really --

everybody just advocating for

their era because I think the

way I structured the book was

all these points at which people

said, "Oh, it's dead.

It's over."

People have this, like, vested

interest in arguing for their

part being the one that was

really cool.

>> What do you think is the

coolest part actually?

Is it your part?

>> [ Laughs ]

It's always your part, right?

>> Okay, so, you can't pick your


What's the coolest -- What's the

coolest time on St. Marks Place?

>> I mean, this is a

controversial answer, but I

would say now because you

have -- you still have all these


You know, I walk down the

street, and I see people who

were, you know, famous in the

'60s and the '70s and the '80s

and the '90s.

And, you know, skateboarders

from the '90s are there still

and old hippies are still there

and these incredibly famous punk

rockers are still there.

I'll walk down through the

Village, and I see all of them.

So, I think right now you have


>> Yeah. So, that's interesting.

You say at one point that

there's an incredible lack of

self-awareness in some criticism

of the East Village, which would

speak to your saying that it's

actually a really great time...

>> Yes.

>> ...even though that's a

controversial answer.

What do you mean by a lack of

self-awareness in their


>> Well, one thing that I kept

seeing over and over again in

these interviews was that people

found that -- They kept saying

to me, like, "Oh, it was empty

when I got here.

There was nothing going on."

And I started interviewing the

people around the people who

were famous or who were talking

to me, and one of them, like,

grew up in the projects.

And I was saying, like, "Oh,

these punk rockers said they

moved right to the

Alphabet City, and they said no

one was there."

And she said, "You know, people

see what they want to see."

And I think that's been true


I think it's true now that the

people who come before are

invisible, people who come after

are annoying.

What are you working on now?

>> I have a new book coming out

in May.

It's called "Wedding Toasts I'll

Never Give."

It's based on a "Modern Love"

column I had last year about

fighting with my husband...

The book is "St. Marks is Dead,"

and the new one is "Wedding

Toasts I'll Never Give."

Thank you very much to

Ada Calhoun for joining us


I'm Lisa Lucas, and this is

"Author Imprint."


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