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Author shares memoir of life, friendship in city

By Laura Garcia
Feb. 16, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.
Updated Feb. 17, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Author Vivian Gornick signs autographs for her memoir "The Odd Woman and The City" for the UHV/ABR reading series.

Author Vivian Gornick signs autographs for her memoir "The Odd Woman and The City" for the UHV/ABR reading series.   Laura Garcia for The Victoria Advocate

Anthony Madrid sat behind the lectern at the American Book Review reading series Thursday frequently nodding his head in agreement, occasionally cracking a smile.

"She's an excellent storyteller," Madrid said even though he had heard all of these stories before.

The 96th featured ABR speaker was accomplished author Vivian Gornick, who fascinated the audience as she read passages from her memoir, "The Odd Woman and the City."

Gornick is an essayist and memoirist whose 12 books include the memoir "Fierce Attachments" about the difficult relationship she had with her mother and the essay collections "The End of the Novel of Love" and "Approaching Eye Level."

Madrid, a visiting lecturer at the University of Houston-Victoria, was once a student of Gornick in Arizona.

He introduced his former teacher to a crowd of about 75 people at Alcorn Auditorium.

"I have all of her books, and I've known Vivian for 22 years," he said.

Madrid talked about the suffering involved in writing, and Gornick echoed the sentiment during the Q-and-A session when a student asked about her process.

"There's no process. Just stay with it," she said.

The self-described "odd woman" said she often gets up in the morning and sits at her desk for four hours until the words come and then throws them out and starts all over again.

The 81-year-old's vivid description of interactions and experiences with people in New York City come off the pages of her memoir. Her work evokes a positive response from the audience, even as some of the cultural references are missed.

She reads "The Odd Woman and The City," and it's as if she's telling a witty story deserving of a chuckle.

This book took 30 years to write because for some time, the story just eluded her.

"I just put it off, and it never really came about," she said.

Fortunately for her readers, she realized the story is about her intimate friendship with a gay man she calls Leonard and about New York City itself.

The pair would always meet once a week for a walk in the city, dinner and a movie in his neighborhood or hers.

He's single, and she's twice divorced. She says they are both glass-half-empty kind of people.

She describes the moment in an elevator after spending an evening in conversation that was full of irony and negative judgment.

She recalls feeling "nothing serious, just surface damage - a thousand tiny pinpricks dotting arms, neck, chest" and needing to recover before their next meeting.

Still, a few days later, she feels the urge to call so they can meet up again.

Gornick, a feminist and lifelong writer, said she participated in the Women's March last month.

"I marched," she said. "I'm not an activist, really. But sometimes, you gotta get out there."

It's on the big city streets that she documents her experiences, trying to make the reader feel what she feels in those moments.

"Downtown was a magical world when I was a girl," she said.

In one passage, the author talks about feeling captivated by the street merchants and potential customers talking at each other.

She also writes about overhearing a woman say, "When I was young, men were the main course. Now they're the condiment."

Another notable interaction is of a 90-year-old neighbor named Vera and the time they talked about lousy lovers while waiting at the pharmacy.

A man sitting next to the women was pulled into the conversation, and in the end, they were all howling in laughter.

Having taught all over the country, Gornick said she is always drawn back to New York City street life.

"It's what makes me feel alive and good," she said.


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