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Calvin Trillin and Adam Gopnik at 92Y

Filed under: On the Spot   Tagged: , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

I'm back in New York after a few months in Cleveland, Ohio (which I vastly enjoyed); one of the consolations of my return to the East Coast is the ability to visit New York's indomitable cultural center, 92nd Street Y.

On Sunday, November 7, I went to see Calvin Trillin and Adam Gopnik discuss "The Writing Life" in Buttenwieser Hall on the second floor. The two writers, both closely associated with The New Yorker, opted (for the most part) to jettison the given theme and trade anecdotes about Manhattan and their shared Jewish heritage, which was fine by me.

Though they were billed as equals, Gopnik subtly played moderator to Trillin's guest, giving Trillin a chance to spin some entertaining yarns—and intermittently to return the favor. As Trillin is something of a national treasure, this seemed only sensible. The session resists chronological narration but did yield a good many gems.

Trillin was wearing a handsome blue tie with red buffalo (pl.) on it, which he described as his "tribute to Carl Paladino."

Apparently both men trace their ancestry to Ukraine. Gopnik's forebears went to Canada via Ellis Island, whereas Trillin's grandfather entered elsewhere: "We wouldn't have anything to do with Ellis Island, so we went to Galveston." Trillin spoke of the Galveston Movement, a pre-WWI project designed to bring Russian Jews to the American heartland. With a proviso: the newly arrived Jews were barred from staying in Galveston itself: "My family did not come here on a wave of acclamation." So they moved to Missouri: St. Joseph and later Kansas City.

Trillin cited an article—was it in a MoMA publication?—that purported to establish that all those stories you hear about people's names being changed by helpful and ignorant Ellis Island staff are false! I'd love to read more about this—if anyone knows of the article, please post a comment.

Trillin described his own childhood as "Leave It to Beaver as played by a troupe that had just completed a run of Fiddler on the Roof."

Both Trillin and Gopnik grew up rooting for baseball teams that no longer exist: the Kansas City Blues and the Montreal Expos, respectively. Most of our audience, including myself, will presumably have a better command of the details of the latter organization.

During the QA section, an audience member asked the two writers to name a favorite piece they had written. Trillin named "Remembrance of Moderates Past" (3/21/77 issue), written on the occasion of the Carter administration's arrival in Washington, D.C. (Gopnik's favorite Trillin piece, by the way, is "Buying and Selling Along Route 1," from the 11/15/69 issue.) Gopnik's favorite piece of his own is "Angels Dining at the Ritz," one of the late chapters in Paris to the Moon, but I haven't established if or when that appeared in The New Yorker.

There was much more in the way of witty repartee, but my energies flag. Watch this space for more on 92Y events past and future.

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