For a woman who is one of the great modern symbols of writer’s block, Fran Lebowitz certainly has plenty to say. Her ongoing relevance speaks volumes about the influence of the corrosively funny essays Lebowitz wrote in the late ‘70s (collected in 1978’s Metropolitan Life and 1981’s Social Studies). An entire generation has come of age since those books established their author as the Baby Boomer’s clearest heir to Dorothy Parker, and the enduring appeal of Lebowitz now has as much to do with her ongoing battle with writer’s block as it does to anything she wrote 30 years ago.
Lebowitz has never really stopped talking, though, and the million-dollar question is how someone whose trenchant and seemingly effortless conversational style so closely resembles her voice as a writer could ever suffer from writer’s block. Judging from her frequent interviews and public appearances, however, Lebowitz doesn’t seem terribly eaten up by her publishing drought. And as Martin Scorsese’s new HBO documentary, Public Speaking, demonstrates, Lebowitz is as caustic, funny, and in tune with the weirdness (and aggravations) of the times as she ever was.
If nothing else, Scorsese deserves credit for shoving his subject back out into public, and the spate of interviews Lebowitz has given in conjunction with the film’s release have been a bonanza for longtime fans. Whether she’s talking about kids, pop culture, technology, or New York—the city with which she is inextricably linked—Lebowitz has a remarkable ability to give some fresh spin to everyone she talks with.
In a conversation with Bust’s Phoebe Magee, Lebowitz says, “I like to tell people what to think. I just don’t want to tell people things about myself. I also believe that I am the last person who knows the difference between think and feel. These are two different things. These days, everyone feels, and almost no one thinks.” And on the subject of her beloved New York:
What used to be called middle-class respectability looked like it was going to disappear, but it didn’t. It’s returned. It just returned in a different costume. If you do it in a loft instead of a split-level in the suburbs, it’s still the same. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be allowed to do it; I’m saying it’s suburban. This is why New York today seems suburban to me—all kids and babies in strollers. It’s 1950s domestic life. The sidewalks are the same size, but now you have twins and dogs….Are you under the impression that we need more New Yorkers? Does this place seem sparsely populated to you?