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Lynne Tillman's East Village

The New York denizen takes TONY around her neighborhood as new collection What Would Lynne Tillman Do? grows her cult (following).

Photograph: Erica Gannett
Lynne Tillman in the East Village
Photograph: Erica Gannett
Lynne Tillman in the East Village
Photograph: Erica Gannett
Lynne Tillman in the East Village
Photograph: Erica Gannett
Lynne Tillman in the East Village
On a dreary Friday afternoon, author Lynne Tillman sits by the window at Tarallucci E Vino, looking out onto East 10th Street. She waves at someone she recognizes as he passes, telling me that he’s an amazing choreographer.

“That’s the city, you know?” Tillman says.

That is, more accurately, Lynne Tillman’s city. She’s an East Village institution—she has lived there for years with her partner, bass player David Hofstra—and is deeply connected to New York, having written here since she debuted with the 1987 novel Haunted Houses. Since then, the city has helped to inspire four more novels, nonfiction books about Warhol’s Factory and local bookstores, three short-story collections and one essay collection prior to the new What Would Lynne Tillman Do?

Though Tillman is short, below 5'5", her voluminous head of hair makes her an unmissable figure on the street. She laughs often and hugs everyone with whom she has spent more than five minutes. Her casually cool manner makes her feel like someone at ease with her place in the world.

The new title reinforces the sense that Tillman is not only comfortable, but confident in her life. WWLTD?, whose title reflects the literary community’s admiration for her, distills her nonfiction writing from the past 15 years. Though the range of topics is wide—from Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti to Being John Malkovich—Tillman draws connections with her spare, referential style. To read her is to feel like you’re an intimate part of a certain type of social history, to be submerged in a world of associations it seems you’ve just missed. And the accessibility of WWLTD? may just bring her to an audience beyond a certain sort of highbrow reader. 

We leave the café and walk under the gunmetal sky to Tompkins Square Park, another of her favorite haunts. She writes about the park in WWLTD?—a brief story about a tree-planting dedication to Allen Ginsberg gone wrong. Her parents have tiles memorializing their lives there, next to a drinking fountain. She points to a concrete Ping-Pong table across the park and tells me that she played with James Yeh, the publisher of the literary magazine Gigantic.

“I’m torn sometimes between my involvement with people and my writing life,” she says, when the subject of companionship comes up. “It’s not about being social. I have a desire to have intimacy with a lot of people. And I don’t mean sex. Although maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.” She laughs. “My mate wouldn’t like it, I’m sure.”

We walk to St. Mark’s Bookshop, whose shelves are depressingly bare; they’re having a stocking issue and looking for a new location. As Tillman says, “Literature, books, have always struggled for their place in culture. [Bookstores] were always going out of business. Publishing has always been a difficult, not necessarily profit-making venture.”

After some browsing, and talk about Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Supremacy, I depart her company on the corner of 10th Street and First Avenue; she walks down 10th and, to my thinking, into a few more chance street encounters with people she knows. It is, after all, her city.
Lynne Tillman reads from What Would Lynne Tillman Do? at 192 Books Thu 10.