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Hi, I'm Elaine Petrocelli and on behalf of all of us at Book Passage I want to welcome you tonight to meet Gay Talese and hear him speak. Gay Talese is not one of those writers who has a formula and pumps out a book every twelve months. He is not a guy that you can count on having a book from every February. It takes years for him to research and craft each book and each book shows all of the care that goes into it. His books, such as The Kingdom and The Power: the Real Scoop on The New York Times, boy would I love to have him do an up-to-date version of that, Honor Thy Father, about the mafia and the mobsters who came to California, Thy Neighbor's Wife, in which his dedication to research was so intense that he found that he had to visit a nudist camp and do some work in some massage parlors and Unto the Sons, the beautiful story of his family and the immigration of the Talese family to America. He is considered one of the leaders of what used to be called The New Journalism and I think a lot of us still remember the great the article "Frank Sinatra has a Cold" which my son was a student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and they studied that as one of the perfect articles, but this man has done so much. A Writer's Life is not a memoir, it is a book of true stories about some of the most important events of our time, such as the Selma March and some events you probably haven't thought a lot about at all, but you will after tonight. Now I told Gay that one hundred percent of our customers are writing a book, and if I'm wrong you tell me which ones you are, but if you are interested in the craft of writing or you know someone who is interested in the craft of writing, the book, one book that insist you read, and I have shelves of these books on how to write a novel, and how to do this and how to do that but the one book you have to read is the Art of Writing by Gay Talese. Thank you, Mr. Talese, for being here tonight. Thank you so much. My famous wife, Nan Talese said that she does regret not being with me on this trip because she regrets not being here tonight. She's been in this store, she thinks this, and many agree with her in the book publishing business, this is the greatest book store in the history of book selling (Do we need to raise the mic?) I can do it. Thank you. I am glad to be here 'cause I have been here before and Elaine's introduction is welcome, but what it is that I intended to do in this book, she said not a memoir, and that's true, its not the traditional me, me, me narcissistic memoir, it is a book that very much reflects me however. It is enough about me, my background, why I became a writer but its also about people that I feel connected to because everyone I write about has kind of an identity with me. I so choose to establish that identity. My whole beginning as a writer, however, did not have to do with courses that I might have taken in writing, it really has to do with my origins as a very, very young person when I was ten and eleven and twelve in my mother's dress shop. I was born in Ocean City, New Jersey, its near Atlantic City, it's a Methodist community founded by ministers in the 1880's, conservative then and now, can't get a drink there. It's a place where if you get a drink and you want to get drunk you have to go over the bridge to a city called Atlantic City, its not far from Atlantic City, but um I was born there in 1932. My father came from Italy, a tailor, prideful man, took weeks and weeks and weeks to make a suit, took such time and was probably, he didn't over price, but the cost of his kind of work did not allow him to be commercially successful. But he did take tremendous time in what he did and each stitch, each shape of every shoulder was, in his mind, the greatest suit ever made and I learned something not about tailoring so much, as pride and craft from him. But it really was my mother who was the defining person in my boyhood and shaped me in a way that made me into the writer I am today, which is a writer of inordinate curiosity and a wonderment about other people. She had this wonderment about other people and she'd indulge her curiosity as she was a proprietor of a dress shop the main and best one in the town. The one that had the best dresses to sell and she was not a very aggressive sales person, but she was as I said a very curious person who came to this town, which I was born in 1928, I was born in 1934. She came from Brooklyn and she married my father some years before, met him at a wedding in Brooklyn my, my cousin Nick Pellegi who's married to Nora Ephron, Nick Pileggi's a very good writer, but has been a screen writer, he did the screen writing with Scorsese and one film called "Good Fellas" and another called "Casino" featuring Las Vegas. And Nick is married to Nora who ya know has written and also directs, directs. But Nick's mother and my mother were sisters of Calabrian parentage reared in Brooklyn and Nick's father and my father were first cousins and from, from a place called (unidentified) in the southern tip of Italy. When they settled in Ocean City they really were assimilated and did to the point of not ignoring their past, but really wanting to know something about the America that was surrounding them in a small town, this island resort of Ocean City. So my mother was the sort of person who would, would ask people questions about themselves and the people who were her clientÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¨le were mainly middle aged women who had a lot of time on their hands and not, and quite a bit of a sum of money to spend on dresses. They were people who did not go to the beach, it was a resort community, as I said, but they liked to talk about themselves and my mother liked to listen and I was boy who had a job after school in the store of folding the boxes and then putting tissue paper in the boxes that would later on hold the dresses that my mother sold and also I would dust the counters and I would just do whatever had to be done. Sometimes I was sent out to get tea or other soft drinks for the women who were her regular clientele and who came into the shop and sat there, after browsing through the shelves would sit there and talk about themselves and my mother would have these chats, it was like a talk show. But it was really revealing in that I as an eavesdropping boy would listen to the stories of the town. The women would be talking about their lives, talking about their concerns. It wasn't necessarily a worrisome group of people, but there were people who were engaged with my mother as an interested party would talk about themselves in ways, it seemed to me with a type of stories that were not really important in the sense of news stories, they were not stories that would ever make public print, but they were stories that revealed a good deal about the town and the tenor of the town and the time of the town. And when I first used to listen it was World War II and I'd hear these women talking about, you know about, maybe rationing was such an important part of life, and they'd talk about their sons in the military and their daughters working in defense plants. They would talk about issues that we even talk about today; women's rights, subject of racism, immigration, the general conversations that might be heard on a talk show had there been talk shows. But I was learning as a boy, overhearing across the counter what was being said, and I thought they're good stories and I learned a lot about my little town and about the people who were the affluent element of my town the people who bought dresses and talked about, sometimes joined by their husbands, and my whole, my whole life was really shaped by that store, because when I was old enough to go to college and write for a college newspaper I would write about students who would sort of were the children of such women. I would later on, when I went to The New York Times and got a job there, I was writing feature stories, I did not want to write the news. I was working for a newspaper but determinately did not want to write the news. The reason is I wanted to evoke some of the spirit of small town America, even in such a sophisticated super city such as New York, a towering city, I wanted to write about the people in the shadows or the ordinary people that were rather characteristic of the clientele of my mother's dress shop. It was very hard, when you worked for The New York Times, to write about what is considered not very significant by the definition of news or the judgment of those in authority on such a paper as the Times. But I managed, with at least some frequency; to write about ordinary life in a big city and my first book which is called "NewYork: A Serendipiters Journey" was really and it was published by Harpers back in 1961, is a book about people I sort of saw in neighborhoods, overheard talking about themselves in drugstores as I was an eavesdropper from the time of my adolescents I would listen in and then I'd sometimes get the chance to talk to people and I would write about them, and this book called Serendipiter is my first book and it is very much like this last book. I was twenty-four when I wrote "Serendipiters Journey", I'm seventy-four now and I'm the same curious kid behind the counter in the way I see the world. I see the world as a place that is worthy of people who have something to say about history, but are the people our historians ignore. Throughout this store there are the covers of books, there are many people that you would recognize immediately, they are the Presidents, they are the powerful people in government, they are movie stars, they are public people, I wanted to write about private people or private thoughts about people, or the incidental facts of their lives in ways that are indicative of the larger society we are all apart of if not always sought out as reflectors of. The second book I wrote after Serendipiter, again reflects me. Its about bridge building. Bridge building means a lot to me. I was coming over here looking at the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, Golden, Golden Gate Bridge, and I, I remembered I watched a bridge being built called the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and I wrote a book called "A Bridge" and like this bridge here, that bridge is a suspension span and when I saw the Verrazano Bridge going up in 1964 I spent days and days watching the riveters and the cables going up and that beautiful rainbow work of art that is a suspension bridge as you have here. I thought ever man who has a job with a hardhat swinging from the cables doing rivets, doing little kind of needlework, not unlike my father, those, the cables remind me of thread and the whole structure of a bridge is so precise, as his tailoring was, in yet it is so enduring great tailoring, great bridge, they last forever, but what is, what the people ignored in anything such as a bridge in construction is the high aerial workers, and, and even, I mean I don't know if there is a book on the Golden Gate, but if there is I suggest it probably doesn't tell you who those people are that the hundreds of people who did swing from high places possibly perished in their work and those are the sort of people that I pay attention to and I recorded in this book called "The Bridge". The name, some of the histories of the people who built the bridge, where they come from, I wrote about the eighty-five year old engineer Othmar Ammann who designed the Brook- the Verrazano, the uh, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, he also did the George Washington Bridge in New York, Bridge in new York others I was really ambitious in the sense that I wanted to deal historically with people that the historians would ignore, its really the refrain of my work. After that, as Elaine mentioned, I wrote about The New York Times. I had left the Times in '65. I was writing some pieces as a freelancer while still at the Times, Esquire, New York Magazine other places but in 1965 I left journalism, I was thirty two and I had really wanted to write about the people I had worked with. I wanted to write about copy readers, and reporters, and copy boys and the elevator operators and all those people who work in that fourteen story building, The New York Times Building 229 West 43rd, its still the home of the paper, and I wanted to write about this building, this building, this miracle building that everyday would turn our a paper that was supposed to reflect events in the world far from New York, in New York, the capitols of the United States the whole national picture, and I took about four or five years and um there was, I had a hard time finding a publisher because it was said that who cares, who wants to read about this? But I wanted to read about it and I wrote about it. And remarkably the book became a number one best seller, astonishing to my publisher and to myself as well. But it again, the sort of people I knew in the store were the same people that worked in the building, the building was a store. I always locate the building, the bridge was like a, like a platform, like a stage and my people, it sort of like a setting, a location. And within that location I then want to write about major character, minor characters and how, how they interact and create something whether it's a newspaper, whether it's a bridge, whether it's the backbone of a city. After the book on the Times, I wanted to write and did write and I lived in Northern California much of the time wrote a book about a mafia family. This was in 1972 that I lived in San Jose for a while, and San Francisco, I was in and out of San Francisco and I was in and out of Tucson because this Mafia Family I chose to write about was called The Bonanno Family, Joseph Bonanno was the godfather. The son, the lieutenant of the family was my age and someone I could speak to because he was American born but his background, Bill Bonanno's background, with his father Sicilian born mafia, was the same age as my father and Calabria is very, just across the straight of Messina from Sicily. And I, being that I had a gangster of my age whose father was well known as a mafia leader because of the notoriety of the Bonanno family, I though I can relate to this guy. Again, I'm identifying with the people no matter what they do, even if they're in organized crime. And that book was called "Honor Thy Father". I wrote a lot not about gangsters, I really was interested in the domestic life and I wrote about the wives and I wrote about the children and now its interesting that on television the Sopranos is really the same approach that I took, you know Carmella Soprano and the two kids, one is in college, one is in high school, the wailing of other wives of mafia people. Its really what I found in real life way back in the seventies when I wrote what would be called "Honor Thy Father". After that I was in Southern California, Elaine made reference to my snappy, beautifully dressed fella, but there was a time that I was a nudist in the interest of research of course and I lived in various places in California. I lived at a place called Sandstone, its in southern California and Topanga Canyon overlooking Malibu and I did run massage parlors as Elaine said. And I was very interested, really in the subject of sin. I was interested in the subject of obscenity, I was interested in how, when I was a boy in my Ocean City town and I was an altar boy, on Sunday I was one of the altar boys, and I remember in the 1940's the railings of the priest. The priest would tell us on Sunday don't read this, dirty books, dirty films, obscenity and the definition of obscenity or sin, sin was so different during the time of my upbringing to what it would be that I wanted to write in the 19 mid 70's , after I did "Honor Thy Father", I wanted to write about how America has changed in the generation, the time I knew when I was growing up, kid in a Jersey town in a small parish and how by the 1970's, 80's so much of what had been considered unseemly, language that had been considered disrespectful, pictures that are considered obscene were not obscene, films were not obscene that were obscene, books, places like this back in my youth, Lady Chatterly's Lover was pornography. The Henry miller's book Tropic of Cancer, pornography. A book called, the book by Kathleen Windsor was pornographic, you know it was amazing how, what, I mean there were so many people, comedians would go to jail for saying things that twenty years later you could almost hear in a neighborhood library. And I wrote about this trend, but again it was from the vantage point of some people who were considered obscene. I went to the Supreme Court a number of times to watch the justices of the Supreme Court determine what is obscene and that was the basis of the book that would be called "Thy Neighbors Wife". After that I became interested in who I was, more or less, because I had parents that are getting along in age and I though before they are unable to communicate fully, I better get their story. And in getting their story I get mine. And I then, I interviewed my parents for a long time, months and months, where they came from, what their grandmother was like, because they're old in Italy and after that a sort of internal quest for information, I decided to go to Italy and I spent a better part of four years. I don't speak the language of Italy, but I did have interpreters and I hired some person in Rome that spoke perfect Italian as well as perfect English and I went down to the villages, the hillside villages of Calabria and I started interviewing my father's brothers and my father's aunts and my mother's relatives and I thought how strange it is, I'm able, I have to talk to an interpreter to my blood kin. What's interesting about them is my father's brothers, he was the only immigrant who became an American citizen, whoever came over here, but my father's brothers had been in the Italian Army, they had been fighting the Americans during the 1942, '43 period of the invasion and I really was getting a sense of myself as I was writing about these other people. I was getting a sense of myself because I remember when I was boy in the store, when I was helping my mother, I remember at night my father at night would listen to the radio and he'd be listening to the war news and he would be concerned about the ally invasion from North Africa, through Sicily up through the boot of Italy, right through his village and I thought this little store has in the floor below, the women talking about their lives and we lived above the store in an apartment at night here's this tailor who tunes into the war news and is concerned about the war that was on the other side and I thought this little building has the ramifications of and the connections with international events upstairs at night, downstairs the meanderings, conversations of women in the afternoon to my mother, the supreme seller of dresses. And I thought you know in a small space you can get the larger world, if you reach out, almost like, its almost like the bridges that have those wires that hang on and they connect parts of the world, parts of the land Brooklyn, Staten Island over here in this part of our nation with this great Golden Gate it is, it connects people, it allows people to go across, back and forth, connect, the bridges connected, people become more interconnected because convenience is permitted through such things as bridges and this glamorous way, and not a narrow way either, of seeing life through the smaller perspective with the connections that people bring to one another. And then after that book, having written about journalism and having written about the New York Times I wanted to write about writing about a writer and the one I knew best was myself. Much of it that's in this current book that Elaine introduced is my story. But much of it is my curiosity and it draws the reader into other people's stories. It deals with the Civil Rights curiosity and it draws the reader into other people's stories. It deals with the Civil Rights movement and how in the 1950's it started, how in the 1960's it culminated and Civil Rights, Voting Rights Act after the Selma and what it is like today. I followed up on that story for forty years. What is the Deep South like with regard to what it was supposed to be like when King was singing "We Shall Overcome" and "I Have a Dream". I write about restaurants in this book, not the front but the back of restaurants, I write about kitchens because kitchens of restaurants are the place you see the new immigrant often working illegally with this whole question that concerns the nation now about immigration and the rights of individuals and whether we want to have too many or not enough and all the conflicts between those working below wage who shouldn't be here and those who are here but they are the backbone of the future because all of us have immigrants that shouldn't be here. I my, I had two uncles on my mother's side who were thrown out of the country in the 1930's, they were laborers, they were illegal, they were bounced back to Italy. And when I went to do the work on, in 1980 on "Unto the Sons" they were now close to eighty and I said, "Why did you get deported?", "well we weren't supposed to be there, but we loved New York" sounds like the slogan, "I love New York" and they were thrown out of New York, but I thought that story, the story today, I am apart of that too. The conflict, people that are here shouldn't be here, yet the country's not while we're removed a generation or so of people who are marginal American's or who are not even Americans and will never be Americans. "Writer's Life" is my story but its about my sources, the people I choose to write about, and how I think they give a meaningful picture of the country that for me was, came in a consciousness in the mid nineteen fifties when I was leaving my hometown to get a college education and then fifty years later I sort of thought back what it is that I see, what did it mean, who were the people who can best reflect the story of the last half century, mid twentieth century to the new century we are all now embarking on. I would like to thank you for listening and I would like to invite since Elaine said we could, she said we could have some questions. I would be very happy if you have something to talk about even if it wasn't anything I said.