Lucy Sante

  • Meditations in an Emergency

    I REMEMBER seeing the cover of B. S. Johnson’s book Aren’t You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? in a bookstore when I was eighteen. (Johnson was thirty-nine, had only a few months to live then, and his book is not in fact a memoir.) That title stayed with me for years and haunted me whenever I’d think of writing anything concerning my own life. The proper time to write a memoir was one’s sunset years, when one had retired from the hustle and bustle and could sit by the window in quiet contemplation. One’s task in the intervening decades was to write novels, which were generally understood

  • Live Flea or Die

    The last particule of the once-sprawling Chelsea Flea Market closed down on December 29, 2019. That remnant occupied a parking lot on 25th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, but earlier the market, which opened in 1976, had in addition comprised three lots along Sixth Avenue, as well as a garage on 25th Street, the principal setting and primary subject of this beguiling memoir. Flea markets have been in serious decline for years; in many parts of the country a “flea market” is where you go to buy batteries, aftershave, and car parts. The recent, possibly terminal phase has everything

  • Speak, Memories

    Last Witnesses was the second book by Svetlana Alexievich, originally published in 1985, the same year as her first, The Unwomanly Face of War. Both of them, like the three major works that followed—Zinky Boys (1990), Voices from Chernobyl (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013)—could be briefly and superficially described as oral histories. They indeed consist of testimony, recorded and transcribed, by witnesses to major events and periods in the history of the former Soviet Union.

    Oral history is an important research tool, but it has not often been treated as literature. Although it obviously

  • Camera Obscura

    Vivian Maier was an ambitious and prolific photographer who conducted her work in the open but kept its results almost entirely to herself. No one has any idea why that is. We know about her work only by chance, and through cultural and economic circumstances specific to the early twenty-first century. Had her end come even a decade earlier, it is quite likely that her photographs would have been destroyed and her name relegated to a mere census entry and a dim memory in very few minds. Instead she has been propelled to posthumous fame, and fortune by proxy. She has attained that rarefied

  • Artist in Extremis

    If David Wojnarowicz were alive today he’d be turning fifty-eight in September. Who knows what his art would look like by now? But there is every reason to think he would have been one of the relative few to have graduated from the hit-or-miss East Village art scene of the 1980s and gone on to greater glory. His stencils, icons, symmetry, hot colors, homoerotic imagery, and street art all remain visible in the work of others now. His ghost is just about discernible around the edges of stuff by Gilbert & George, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee, and I’m sure you can think of more. Of course,

  • The Quick-Change Artist

    A writer who actively resists categorization these days might seem to be deliberately flouting common sense. Writing is a lame-duck art form at best, since readers go for data, preferably without having to chop their way through encroaching idiosyncrasies such as style. For all we know, the pursuit of data will soon enough be free of the encumbrance and ambiguity of words. In the meantime, the writer should be building a brand identity and hitching it to a neatly delimited subject area. If you’ve written a successful memoir about fishing, Manitoba, and suicidal ideation you would do well not