Today in Literary History – October 27, 1950 – Fran Lebowitz is born

Fran Lebowitz, a writer famous for not writing, was born on October 27, 1950.

Lebowitz started her writing career as a columnist in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in the late 1970s. I used to buy Interview sometimes when I was in high school and always read her column “I Cover the Waterfront” even though I had no idea who most of the people she was talking about were.

She published two slender books of humorous essays, Metropolitan Life in 1978 and Social Studies in 1981, which I practically memorized. (I recently listened to an audiobook version of Metropolitan Life read by Lebowitz herself and it still had me laughing out loud.)

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But, after this strong opening Lebowitz suffered a legendary bout of writer’s block (or “writer’s blockade” as she calls her case). She wrote a children’s picture book in 1994 and has written a smattering of magazine pieces over the years but that’s it.

She has supposedly been writing a novel to be called Exterior Signs of Wealth, said to be about “rich people aspiring to be artists and artists who want to be wealthy.”

Another book, Progress, a 112 page repudiation of the idea of American perfectibility, has been haunting Amazon listings since 2004. Its current publication date is listed as October 1, 2017, but it still doesn’t exist.

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Lebowitz’s style is pithy, snarky and unabashedly elitist. She is often compared to Dorothy Parker. Here are a couple of her pensées:

“Ask your child what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying.”

“No animal should ever jump up on the dining room furniture unless absolutely certain that he can hold his own in the conversation.”

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

She is also a lifelong smoker and defender of smokers’ rights.

“I understand, of course, that many people find smoking objectionable. That is their right. I would, I assure you, be the very last to criticize the annoyed. I myself find many– even most– things objectionable. Being offended is the natural consequence of leaving one’s home. I do not like aftershave lotion, adults who roller-skate, children who speak French, or anyone who is unduly tan. I do not, however, go around enacting legislation and putting up signs. In private I avoid such people; in public they have the run of the place. I stay at home as much as possible, and so should they. When it is necessary, however, to go out of the house, they must be prepared, as I am, to deal with the unpleasant personal habits of others. That is what ‘public’ means.”

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