Jeff Glor talks to Andrew Blauner about "Central Park: An Anthology"
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to put together this collection?
Andrew Blauner: Love of Central Park.. But I was harboring the idea for a long time, after it first came to me, waiting for something to help hatch it, and it was only when I decided that I was going to be moving out of the City, leaving New York for the first time in my life, that I realized just how much I adored and have treasured Central Park, how much it has meant to me, what a miracle it is, really, and how much I would miss it.
I grew up just a couple of blocks from the park, and spent so much of my life, there, as a child and as an adult. My family lived on the Upper East Side, and I went to Collegiate School on the Upper West Side, so, every day, twice a day, for 12 years, I took the 79th Street crosstown bus [and, OK, occasionally, the odd taxi] through the park. After school, well, Collegiate sports teams often practiced in the park, and it was so often our home field advantage for games. Then there were countless other joyful afternoons in the park with Cavaliers Athletic Club, a phenomenal after-school sports organization [something akin to the group portrayed in the Salinger story, "The Laughing Man."]
The park is where we would take our family dog, dear Drummer, the collie who was a doppelganger for Lassie, in the '70s, and whom I trust is enjoying life, to this day, "in the country." Which always reminds me of Susan Cheever's story in the book, called "My Little Bit of Country," which refers to Andy Warhol's line about how it was better to live in the city than the country because in the city one can find a little bit of country, but in the country, there was no little bit of the city....
The park is where I heard Simon and Garfunkel play on The Great Lawn. The park is where I had my first real date--part of it, at least-- with my first girlfriend, after going to see "Ghostbusters." Well into adulthood, I lived very close to the park, and it became less a place a to play, as it had been, and more of a sanctuary, among other things. It's where I found myself magnetically drawn on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.
And/but in some ways, that's just it. It's a place that plays so many different and important parts in so many lives. It attracts almost 40 million visits per year, from people from all over the world. It's what so many New Yorkers name as their favorite part of the city, though, within the park, so many have such very varied pet places, favorite stories, memories, so many so closely associated with family.
So many stories and feelings and more. I could write a book....but instead, I assembled and edited one, hoping to try to channel some of sentiments, memories, and more into a book that would be an homage to the park, that would be a tapestry, of a kind, that, at least, in some ways, would get at what is so special about it. So, as I prepared to make the exodus from New York, I fell in love with the park, all over again, and I wanted to pay tribute, give something back to a place that has given so much to me, as it has to so many people, in ways, I think, we often don't even recognize or appreciate. And beyond that, I had the opportunity to ally with The Central Park Conservancy, the organization which has played the seminal role in making the park that we know and love today, and for that reason, among others, I'm donating part of my proceeds from the book to the CPC.
Now, when I come back, Central Park is ever-more magical than ever. I ran my first New York Road Runners race, the Race for Central Park, not long ago; it was through the park, and it was a most powerful, beautiful, sorrowful, and unexpectedly emotional experience. One of the best I have ever had in the park, in the city, anywhere. Just as the race was about to begin, Mary Wittenberg, head of NY Road Runners, said into the loud speaker words to the effect, to paraphrase: "Today, we are running for a friend..." and she went on to talk about Central Park, and it was all very resonant, moving, more, for all kinds of reasons
I'm a literary agent, representing other peoples' books, but once in a great while, as a labor of love, I'm compelled to put together an anthology [which, Iearned, along the way, derives from the Greek for garland, or bouquet of flowers] about a subject for which I have a true passion. Ironically, perhaps, while the first two volumes were about people ["Coach" and "Brothers"], this one is, in many ways, even more personal, intimate, emotional. And that seems apropos, since the park engenders so many feelings, such primal, Proustian feelings for so many people.
JG: What surprised you most during the editing process?
AB: Many things. The paradoxes of the park that emerged, for one thing. How it is a place that so many go to be with others, and yet, other times, to be alone. How it's a home for celebration and meditation, a place where people play and pray, exercise and relax, a place that, somehow, manages to defy and define the city.
Another surprise, really, was how many of the contributors, some of the country's best writers, who were at the top of my Wish List, said "Yes," when I invited them. They seemed to relish the chance to tell these stories, and in so many instances, they did it with such great emotion, and, again, so many connecting to family, to childhood, and so many tracing the trajectory not just of their own lives, but the life of the park, from the pre-Conservancy days to today. And doing it with such humanity, humility, and humor.
And maybe, too, I should add that what was surprising during the editing process was, to be candid, how easy it was, if only in the literal sense of how precious little editing I had to do. After all, for me, it was like being the coach in an all-star game, given the writers with whom I got to work.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
AB: Well, switching hats, in my capacity as a literary agent, I am reading books that I represent which will be published during this upcoming season, including:
"Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope" by Tina Kelley, formerly of the NY Times, and Kevin Ryan, President of Covenant House
"Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work" by Jeanne Marie Laskas
"The Lincoln Conspiracy: A Novel" by Timothy L. O'Brien
JG: What's next?
AB: If you mean, by that, on the anthology front...good question, and one that I was just asking myself. I thought about several things, including: a second volume of "Coach"; a sequel of a different kind to "Brothers" [with brothers and sisters writing about each other]; or choosing another meaningful, iconic place such as Central Park [though it's one of a kind] as subject....but I'm leaning, now, toward going in a very different direction--stories by and about writers' favorite books/passages of the Bible, what they mean to them, and why. "The Good Book"?
For more on "Central Park" visit Andrew Blauner's Facebook Page.