“Who Town” : Cult Classic Status with Susan Kirschbaum

“Who Town” — the story of five ‘it kids,’ aspiring artists of sorts, whose private lives differ vastly from their public images — is loosely based on writer Susan Kirschbaum’s twenties in downtown NYC. The years span the early ‘aughts,’ before social media hit (including Facebook) when we all ended up nightly –unencumbered by smart phones —  at the Beatrice Inn.

“Who Town” — debuted originally seven years ago — with a kick off reading  at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC. First fans —  including author Jay McInerney, who dubbed it “a seminal coming of age novel” — spread the word so that the book sold out of its first batches at New York’s independent bookstores:  the Strand, Three Lives,  Spoonbill & Sugartown, and McNally Jackson, where it continues to sell out every other month.

As the book has grown in cult status in the past few years, producers have approached Ms. Kirschbaum to develop the characters for television . Thus, she’s written  a pilot and meetings are underway. Last summer, Kirschbaum was talking with Charlotte Gainsbourg  who became absorbed in the novel and was looking for a New York project. While she loved the book, she felt it was not a time in New York City that she knew well enough to take on. That said, she became completely absorbed in the characters — Roxy, Rick, Lola, Sarah and Darius — who continue to garner fans with many other actors, some who are vying to play them on screen.

Beyond “Who Town”, Susan Kirschbaum has written a second novel called “Cherry Picker,” still in manuscript form about a thirty-something American filmmaker — a Jewish Francophile — obsessed with finding a shiksa virgin bride.  She also curated and hosted theme oriented story telling salons that also drew cult followings. The performers included authors Tony O’Neil (former keyboardist of the Brain Jonestown Massacre), Elizabeth Wurzel of “Prozac Nation”, Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen; and actress Parker Posey.  She performs her own poetry  as part of “Poetry Electric: the Future is Female” at La Mama theatre in the East Village (www.lamama.org/women_resist/) She wrote: “FUCK: Equal Means Equal” which will be featured in Artists and Writers: Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art this Spring. (www.ncwca.org/f213-artists–writers.html)

Name : Susan Kirschbaum

Instagram : Private

Birthplace : Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Métier : Scribe

Sources of inspiration : Shakespeare. Rumi. Don Quixote (both the novel and the ballet.) Ella Fitzgerald  A great sixteen bars of jazz improv. “Hungarian Rhapsody” by Liszt No. 2.  Natalia Makarova. Leonard Cohen. Led Zeppelin. My father’s wit. My mother’s smile.

Sources of motivation :  I create from pain. I take the gravel at my feet, the sharp bits that make them bleed. I paint them gold, then build the ladder to a place where the air is clean and I can breathe again. I write to make sense of people, pain, life.

What makes you happy : Dancing. Music. Telling and sharing stories. True love.

Favorite reads : Dickens. Nabokov. Kafka. Philip Roth. Maria Tsvetaeva. Patrick Modiano.

Favorite tunes :  Summertime (Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.) Lover Man (Billie Holiday) Sing Sing Sing! (Benny Goodman) West Side Story Overture (Leonard Bernstein) Take Five (Dave Brubeck)  Kashmir (Led Zeppelin)  Back in Black (AC/DC) Moonshadow (Cat Stevens) Suzanne (Leonard Cohen) Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana) The Last Goodbye (Jeff Buckley) Hallelujah (both Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley)

Favorite foods : Eggplant in any form. Ravioli. Dumplings. Anything neatly stuffed into dough. Matzoh ball soup.

Beauty tips : Cold pressed organic green juice. Copious water. Sunscreen.

Favorite ways to unwind :Ballet class. I’ve been doing it all my life. It is my meditation. It awakens me body and soul. Then, some of the  choreography can wear me out so that I pass out at night.
What gets you in a working flow :  Quiet time in my magical writing chair. The chair is not really magical but before I put in 4-6 hours of fiction writing –which incidentally is always in this same 17th century design chair that I bought at auction — I need to sit and meditate on scene and character for a bit before I start writing.

What are you working on now : I’ve just submitted a short story to a lauded literary journal about a guy who violates a woman creatively. I’m still in a state of infatuation about that one, the heroine, how she turns out in the end. I’m also writing more episodes of Who Town for the television adaptation.

Favorite motto / quote : “It’s not what they tell you. It’s what they don’t tell you.”

“Beyond writing, I went back to ballet in my thirties. I originally trained at the School of the Pennsylvania Ballet, founded by George Balanchine in Philadelphia. It was my first love. I am happy to say that having gone back into professional class at Steps, my life turned around. The attached photo was shot a couple of weeks ago.”

“WHO TOWN” synopsis
Writing for the Tribune, Sarah Rosen launches celebrities like rote zombies. She describes them as her editor dictates, to anoint the next wave of “it” and “who.”

One afternoon Sarah covers the dinner party of Roxy — a sculptor who carves figurine replicas of herself — and something, literally, snaps. Roxy’s sculpture is decapitated by a rolling rack of designer clothes. Lola, Roxy’s haphazard lover — an erotic actress — smokes weed with her bar back boyfriend. And Rick, son of an iconic metal guitarist reluctantly participates in Sarah’s staged news story.

Questioning her journalistic role as the ultimate fabricator, Sarah crosses personal and professional boundaries when she meets Roxy for a drink. Through the revolving perspectives of Sarah, Roxy, Rick, and Lola, the reader travels the tenuous thread that links them. Sarah comes from a Jewish family on the poor side of the tracks and dry cleans thrift store designer cast offs so she won’t be found out. Roxy transforms herself from Waspy Connecticut prep into a goth narcissistic monster who lives rent free in her father’s Tribeca building. Rick hides his original collection of Shakespeare plays and his substandard penis. And Lola experiments with sex and drugs in order to forget a pup tent in Texas and a mother’s curse that ultimately drove her to New York City, the land of opportunity.

WHO TOWN is a world that blurs sexual identity with ego gratification, artistry and pornography, religious taboos and addiction, and an increasingly falsified media that perpetuates a soul killing cult of insta-celebrity.
**WHO TOWN has been registered with the Writers’ Guild of America and copyrighted.