CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Category — Richard Price

Become a Sponge

(this post was in my drafts, I had never published it. oops!)

Since moving to the Lower East Side around three months ago, part of me has come to think of the area as my own. The mismatched graffiti, musty vintage clothing stores, and quaint cafes are a part of my everyday. I was wary, then, to hear someone else speak of the area as if it was theirs.

When Richard Price first stepped onto the podium and began speaking, I must admit that I judged him immediately. His yellow polo shirt and thick New York accent made me think he was a stereotypical rich Jewish New Yorker, the kind who thinks he or she knows lower Manhattan because they go to Chinatown to bargain for scarves, or transfer trains at Delancey and Essex without actually leaving the station.

I am pleased to say that I was wrong. Although Richard Price may dress the part of a yuppie, he certainly does not play it. He grew up in a housing project. He knows cops. He knows criminals. Richard Price is real. He cut to the chase with everything he said. He has strong opinions, and evidence to back them up. He knows what he is talking about. He knows the Lower East Side. His ability to observe is almost eerie. It is almost too good. He soaks up everything, every little detail, and is able to morph these tiny visions into words, both out loud and on paper, that truly capture an audience’s attention.

December 10, 2010   No Comments

Richard Price

As we all take our seats, I look around the room to see familiar faces. I see my classmates from IDC, a few friends from high school, and Professor Bernstein talking to a main in jeans and a yellow button-down. He looked like Richard Price, but I knew that this could not be the case, because Price would have to be really dressed up. I kept looking for the author of Lush Life, but gave up after a few moments of no success.

It came as a great surprise to me when Richard Price was asked to come to the stage, and that man in the yellow button-down came up. In an atmosphere where everyone tried so hard to look nice, the most important man in the room was wearing casual clothes. It became quite clear to me very quickly that this man tries hard to impress no one with his looks. I greatly admired that his values rested in impressing his audience with his rhetoric, and not his presentation. Momentarily, he started his reading of a chapter from Lush Life. We read this same chapter in class, so the ending was spoiled in a sense, but Price still managed to hold my attention. He was a very good reader, and I noticed some key differences between the way he read his story, and the way I read it for the first time. Following the reading of the excerpt from Lush Life, Price read an excerpt from his latest work, which featured the repetition of the word “God” at the end of every sentence. It started off as a humorous piece, but quickly became too repetitive and predictive.

Then came the questions. There were only two types of questions asked. The majority of them focused on how Price writes, and it was obvious that he was getting annoyed at these questions. “Write about what you know” seemed to be the answer to most of the questions in this category. The other questions were about the police encounters and how he knew so much about them. Admitting that he had some connections to the police departments in the tri-state, Price answered them all with a hint of pride.

Pride seems like a characteristic that many people take too far nowadays, turning it into arrogance. Price, being modest about his achievements, appealed to me greatly, and I admired his excellent writing skills. “Tell me another one” was not just a sentence that his niece kept telling him, but a line that stuck with me for a long time, serving as my goal when writing captivating stories. Of course, I cannot capture an audience’s attention as well as a renown author, but by adopting his style and techniques, I might come close one day.

November 14, 2010   No Comments

Ghosts of the Lower East Side


As I step out of my dorm every morning, I don’t really think of the history.  I just take in the immediate things that the streets of the Lower East Side have to offer me on my daily walk to class. I don’t think of who lived in these same buildings around me, who walked these same streets before me. But after I began hearing the stories that Richard Price told, I was opened to a world of rich history and wonder.

The Lower East Side is filled with what Richard Price called “Ghosts:” remnants of people’s lives in old tenements and buildings, memories of those who made their way through the dimly lit streets. But what separates the time they lived in from ours? Sure, these “ghosts” lived lives filled with hardships that aren’t often a present day problem, but what has changed the streets? Richard Price attributes the downfall of a neighborhood to the presence of “cappuccino”—but is that all that has brought our time to be so starkly contrasting with the past? It seems that although the pavement may have been re-done, and although the buildings may have been re-surfaced, the ubiquitous history isn’t out of sight—it is all around us. When Richard Price spoke of ghosts, my first thought was of specters and apparitions—but now, I imagine the past people of the Lower East Side, and what they did on these streets: bustling through their daily routines, chastising children, meeting new people at markets, greeting fellow neighbors in their travels…it’s amazing how easy it is to visualize the wonders of the city that have been covered by only a few layers of asphalt.

October 26, 2010   No Comments

A Little Pricey

Yesterday, I took a stroll around the Lower East Side. Well, rather, I walked out of the dorms and got myself lost. But in getting lost, I found a lot more than I had expected.

I was on the lookout for E Houston St, and instead found Chinatown and Fuji-town, a few solemn synagogues, a few empty lots and a lot of ghosts. I took Richard Price’s advice, and looked up at all the history. Right now, if I look out my window, I see high-rise tenements with “For Sale” signs in Chinese, English, and who knows what. I see advertisements for leases, coca-cola and others amid weather-beaten bricks.

So naturally, my mind raced back to the reading. Richard Price’s quirky, sarcastic face popped up right in to my consciousness. His head floated around in my head as he pointed out all those little things I had never seen before, and soon I saw myself pointing them out to the friend I was with as well.

His face and advice are unforgettable to me. Not just because his hilarious story resonates so close to home, but for other reasons. The tone of his voice and his overall demeanor fascinated me. He seemed so familiar to me: a coach, a dad, a neighbor. Something about him was so odd to me; maybe it was how alike he was to my own father (in a complete opposite universe where my dad is a millionaire writer. I wish), and some of my friends as well.

It was apparent that Richard Price had a strong sense of community and that old-style Brooklyn (in his case, Bronx) sense of a close-knit neighborhood. I could see the subtle sadness in his eyes as he answered the questions about LES, and how this communal closeness has gone right out the window.

Tis a shame, but I still love LES just the same.

October 26, 2010   1 Comment

The Price is Right

Photo from:

The excerpt from Richard Price’s Lush Life gave me a taste of his fast-paced storytelling. The narrative instantly gripped my attention when it took place right off the Williamsburg Bridge, where my home is in the Lower East Side of NYC. But I didn’t know what to expect from the reading; maybe he would just read a few passages monotonously and then be on his way. When I saw him at the reading, I was surprised by how much of a normal guy he was. Actually, he was so normal that he was wearing the same shirt I had seen him wearing in the LES tour video! His manner of speaking seemed very nonchalant, yet he never spoke nonsense. Even when going off on tangents, he made his words count.

I admire when a respected artist is comfortable poking fun at his/herself, and I knew Richard Price was this kind of person when he introduced his piece by saying the first couple of pages might have to be translated. He knew his heavy use of slang might leave the reader confused. He captured the essence of my neighborhood eerily accurately and it made total sense that he had to write about a murder to get these different groups in the same neighborhood to come out of their bubbles and interact with each other.

After the reading we were all dying for him to “tell us another one.” The second piece he read was written from the perspective of living in Harlem. Price seemed to me like an Anthropologist who wrote his etymologies in poetry. He lives with and studies different groups of people and how they interact, then he writes about it. The storyline needn’t be factual because the culture and the types of people he depicts are truth.

October 26, 2010   1 Comment

Richard Price

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to hear a celebrated novelist and screenwriter speak, so I was particularly looking forward to attending Richard Price’s talk last Tuesday.  Relatively unfamiliar with Price’s work, as I was going into the night I was expecting an organized, laid out and serious talk; what we got however was anything but.

At first, I thought that describing his style (at least in public forum) as laid-back or nonchalant would be a criticism or an injustice to his writing ability. Yet as I gave it further thought, I came upon the realization that his blasé demeanor isn’t something to ignore but instead an important part of his personality to understand. It is that same disposition that is likely to credit for his successful works, which often times center around character interactions and dialogue from average people. Whereas many writers of his level of success may be inclined to raise themselves in status among the normal folk, Price seemingly refused to do so. Why? Possibly its because so much of his achievement comes from chronicling the normal, the average, and the less than fortunate, or maybe its just because Price is a little bit normal himself.

Either way, his material makes for great reading (as showcased by his reading selection that night), and I hope to find the time to read one of his novels in the weeks, or months to come.

October 26, 2010   No Comments

Richard Price Review

Richard Price has a natural ability to capture and entertain an audience. Utilizing media ranging from paper to screen he knows what a character needs to say, what a narrator needs to share and how best to keep a crowed transfixed. This ability clearly translates from his oratory skills. Price is fundamentally a storyteller and hasn’t lost the ability to share a captivating story with an open audience.

He held true to his “story teller” title this past Tuesday, as he shared with us not just snippets of Lush Life and a preview of a work in progress on Harlem but also dozens of personal interactions he had with people all over New York City (and Jersey). Price is not by any means show offish- in fact his appeal is subtle. He shares stories of familiar major and minor interactions between people but he does so from a dryly-amusing voice, including vividly minute details that make the story more personal.

Price’s decision to depart from screenplays and return to print is encouraging for he long ago proved his skill in seemingly every creative vehicle. I haven’t read Lush Life but as is often the case, his performance reading made me want to. Furthermore the peek of his work on Harlem sounded hysterical. His talk certainly gained him a bundle of new readers, and allowed him to further establish himself in the Baruch College community as a great writer and a likely equally good teacher. I look forward to reading his works, and perhaps more so to seeing what he comes up with next.

October 26, 2010   No Comments

“Write What You Know”

As I walked down Allen Street on my way back to the Ludlow dorms, I couldn’t help but look up.  I’d never really thought to do so before, until Richard Price, dressed in a yellow and black gingham button down, jeans, and comfy loafers, said that was the place to look and where one could see the history of the Lower East Side.  Having watched a Lush Life promotional video beforehand in which Price describes how it used to be the red light district where “truck drivers would come by and see some, you know, Jewish lady in a bathrobe and they’d go inside the tenements” and the street developed in order to “shed light” on the area, made it so much more interesting just to stop and look.

In the rooms of the dorms, there are floor to ceiling windows in which one could see up and down Delancey Street from the Williamsburg Bridge to the left and a few streets to the right; and with Price’s descriptions I try and imagine what the crime filled streets, the dirtinesss, the poor.  I imagine the ghosts he describes that suffered and his description: “the Lower East Side is vast and shallow; you could scoop up [history] with a teaspoon.”   His knowledge and observations of the LES were related to us in such a fascinating way; I think it was in part because he didn’t talk down to us and he was at ease with what he decided about the neighborhood.  He was just so laidback and engaging that made his presentation so much more exciting.  In contrast to his laidback character, it was amusing to hear his process in deciding to write about the LES: “And I’m an OCD writer, you know, so I had to find out how people in 1912 wiped their butts and if they used napkins and if they used napkins what kind they used…”

He was such a quotable yet unpretentious character and made the whole room laugh when he wanted to.  But this comedic quality didn’t show in his demeanor; he delivered his statements so matter-of-factly.  From his explanations that “the smell of cappuccino…kills a neighborhood” and that he pretends he’s James Joyce at times to his cultural descriptions about the stereotypes associated with different parts of America, one can tell that he is just genuine and so attuned to the world around him.  After spending so much time describing the LES and his history there, this is my favorite quote of the evening:  “And now I want to write a book about Harlem…because I’m black obviously.  Just like I’m an Orthodox Jewish Dominican.”

October 26, 2010   1 Comment

First Impressions Are Not Always Lasting Ones

As I was going up in the elevator of the library building, a man stepped in who looked vaguely familiar. I realized that he was Richard Price from the videos we had watched earlier in class and I whispered this excitedly to my friend. I stole a glance at him and was not too impressed. He looked very serious and aloof as he leaned against the back wall of the elevator with his arms crossed. He did not look excited to be at Baruch and I feared a boring and dispassionate lecture ahead. However, when Richard Price got up on stage my impression almost immediately changed as he cracked the first of many hilarious jokes to come. Richard Price did not laugh, or even smile, at his own jokes, which made them so much more effective. He was funny without particularly trying to be. When he started to read from Lush Life, I was surprised at how engaged he was in the reading. He delivered the lines of the characters perfectly and the way he read them helped me catch on to humor that I had not noticed when reading Lush Life on my own. Price was just as passionate and engaging in his second reading about a prophetess preaching to God, revealing his talent for role-playing. During the talkback session, Richard Price answered the questions in a very straightforward manner. He did not try to “spice up” his method of capturing the voices of the characters in Lush Life but rather answered the questions about how he researched for the book by simply saying, “I just hung out with the cops.” Though this answer did not seem to please some people who kept bringing up the topic of his research, I think this was yet another impressive aspect of Richard Price, as someone who can capture the essence of a certain group of people in his writing just by “hanging out” with them.

October 26, 2010   No Comments

Richard Price

A man walks in with a plain look on his face, plain pair of shoes, plain pair of pants, and a Hawaiian shirt walks to the front of the room. He puckers up, as he gets ready to read his story. Richard Price is a peculiar man who stands out from the crowd and he does so extremely well. He began the evening with a short read from his book Lush Life, but not before cracking several jokes that result in a riotous burst of laughter from the crowd-this would be one of many.

Richard Price spoke with such eloquence and dictation that many other people lack in their reading. He spoke with a rhythm that represented a drumbeat; every word and noise that he made had a certain flow to it. Richard Price rarely stopped to catch his breath, so as to not to detract from his rhythmic speech. He also is able to bring life to the characters because he knows who the characters are and he knows what kind of persona each one takes on.

The best part of the evening was after his reading. As the questions formed and bombarded Richard Price, he responded with witty remarks, interjecting humor whenever possible. During the question period of the night I noticed Price’s wit when he made several social commentaries as he answered a question. At one point he commented on New Jersey cops stating that all you needed to do was buy them a drink and they will probably shoot someone for you. Price used humor and even a little bit of sarcasm to answer the question in an entertaining way; however, most profound was the way he comments on the morality of New Jersey cops.

The night was a success and not as dull as I had imagined it to be. I had the idea that authors were people who revolved their lives around their novels, Price proved me wrong tonight. The way he engaged the audience in his reading and the level of depth he put in his research showed me another side of writing. Writing is much more than a skill; it is a trade that involves knowledge from various fields.

October 26, 2010   No Comments