For Bard College literature and theater students, the bad news is that superstar fantasy author Neil Gaiman is taking a year off from his teaching duties to write his next novel. The good news for all mid-Hudsonites is that his successful series of onstage chats with leading lights of American culture (and subculture) at the Fisher Center will continue this spring and fall. Taking the interviewing helm in Gaiman’s absence is the much-awarded author/journalist/literary critic Daniel Mendelsohn, who holds the Charles Ranlett Flint Humanities professorship at Bard. And the subject of his first “Conversation with…” next Friday evening will be none other than acclaimed cultural satirist Fran Lebowitz.
Often compared to Dorothy Parker for her quintessential-New-Yorker sensibility and her no-holds-barred acid wit, Lebowitz got her start as a writer with a regular column in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. She mastered the art of the succinct, sarcastic put-down early on, and by 1981 had published two best-selling collections of curmudgeonly essays, Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. If you’re lucky, you didn’t appear in any of them.
Since then, Lebowitz polished her reputation as a social pundit with frequent appearances on Late Night with David Letterman; portrayed a judge for six years on Law and Order; made Vanity Fair’s International Best-Dressed List; became a well-known advocate for smokers’ rights; wrote a children’s book titled Mr. Chas and Lisa Sue Meet the Pandas; was the subject of a documentary by Martin Scorsese; had a cameo appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street; and struggled for many years with a very public case of writer’s block, trying to complete her (still-unfinished) novel Exterior Signs of Wealth.
Gender, race, gay rights, the media, celebrity culture, tourists, parenting, aging, New York politicians, health food, exercise, urban housing, multiculturalism…all are fair game to come under the Lebowitz scalpel. “Fran Lebowitz’s trademark is the sneer; she disapproves of virtually everything except sleep, cigarette smoking and good furniture,” The Paris Review has written about her. “Her essays and topical interviews…have come to be regarded as classics of literary humor and social observation.”
Besides a wealth of barbed one-liners, the audience at the Fisher Center on April 1 can look forward to discovering the raconteurial talents of Daniel Mendelsohn. An internationally bestselling author, award-winning critic and essayist and columnist for Harper’s, he has been dubbed “arguably the best writer and critic at work today” by The New York Review of Books and “a brilliant storyteller” by The Times of London.
Mendelsohn is the author of seven books, including The Elusive Embrace, a New York Times Notable Book of 1999 and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year and a scholarly study of Greek tragedy, published by the Oxford University Press. His acclaimed translation of the complete works of the Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy was named a Publishers’ Weekly Best Book of the Year, as was his 2008 essay collection, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken. Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture (2012) was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in Criticism and runner-up for the PEN Art of the Essay Award. The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, his best-selling 2006 account of his search for information about six relatives who perished in the Holocaust, won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the National Jewish Book Award, the Salon Book Award and the Prix Médicis in France and has been published in more than 15 languages.
Mendelsohn has also won a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Book Critics’ Circle Citation for Excellence in Book Reviewing and the George Jean Nathan Prize for Drama Criticism; he made The Economist’s 2008 list of the best critics writing in the English language; he was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society; and in 2014 received the 2014 Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for “prose that merits recognition for the quality of its style.”
Heavy-hitter lit-critter meets the undisputed queen of metro-snark: Sounds like an evening of dazzling brain-food. Check out “Fran Lebowitz: A Conversation with Daniel Mendelsohn” beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 1, in the Sosnoff Theater at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, located on the Bard College campus, just off Route 9G in Annandale-on-Hudson. Tickets cost $25 and can be ordered online at https://fishercenter.bard.edu or by calling the box office at (845) 758-7900.
“Fran Lebowitz: A Conversation with Daniel Mendelsohn,” Friday, April 1, 8 p.m., $25, Sosnoff Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, https://fishercenter.bard.edu.