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Savannah Book Festival: Tama Janowitz to discuss her exciting life in 1980s New York City

  • Tama Janowitz

Savannah Book Festival: Tama Janowitz to discuss her exciting life in 1980s New York City

15 Feb 2017

With seven novels, a collection of short stories and two works of nonfiction to her credit, Tama Janowitz is coming to the Savannah Book Festival in support of her new book, “Scream: A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction.”

As a young writer, Janowitz was considered a “brat pack” author, along with Bret Easton Ellis, Mark Lindquist and Jay McInerney. She became well-known in New York City literary and social circles, dancing at Studio 54 and socializing with Andy Warhol.

“Suddenly, I was on the cover of magazines,” Janowitz says. “Around the same time, other authors were also being read by people who might read only when something was being assigned to read.

“Suddenly, people were going out to read for fun. Our writing was appealing to people who wouldn’t ordinarily read.

“I didn’t quite know what was happening to me,” she says. “All of a sudden, I was asked to go out and go places. I’m glad I got to have that when it was fun, because it doesn’t appeal to me now.”

The fame led to several opportunities.

“I was asked to come do different advertisements,” Janowitz says. “I did magazine assignments, so I got to travel a lot.

“It was like winning the lottery, but at the same time, I was still just as isolated. And people were saying mean things about me.

“If I had been an actress, the coverage would have been different,” she says. “People would have been, ‘Doesn’t she have a wonderful life?’”

The sudden fame was a stark contrast to Janowitz’s childhood. After her parent’s divorce, she and her brother, David, grew up with their mother in Massachusetts, except for two years spent in Israel in the late 1960s.

“I think I probably would have liked to be a painter,” Janowitz says. “We were poor and paints cost money.

“You can write with a pencil and a piece of paper for nothing. I started my career on a manual typewriter.

“I was more curious than anyone else,” she says. “I grew up in the country, with no television or just one or two black-and-white stations. We’d go to the library once a week and I fell into that world of books.”

A desire to write came from those books.

“I think anyone I read inspired me to be like that or not be like that,” Janowitz says. “I read all kinds of books. I was inspired by the styles of Nabokov to Saul Bellow, Virginia Woolf to Marguerite Henry.”

Janowitz earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, a master’s from Hollins College and also studied at Columbia University School of the Arts.

With the publication of “Slaves of New York” in 1986, Janowitz became a literary star. The collection of connected short stories is about aspiring artists, gallery owners and their associates in Greenwich Village, a reflection of Janowitz’s own interest in art.

The book was adapted into a 1989 film directed by James Ivory and starring Bernadette Peters. In addition to writing the screenplay, Janowitz appeared in the film as Peters’ friend.

“Scream: A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction” was published in August.

Known for her satiric observations, Janowitz is the first to say her sharp-tongued social criticism and dark humor aren’t for everyone. She has been compared to writers as diverse as Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut.

“Humor is different if the book is tragic,” Janowitz says. “Not everybody gets my sense of humor.

“If you don’t like Howard Stern’s sense of humor, you don’t appreciate him,” she says. “I always found with a bleak outlook, it’s always better to laugh about it.”

Today, Janowitz still occasionally appears in the spotlight.

“Last fall, I got to appear on the television show ‘True Fiction,’” she says. “They had me come in for a cameo as myself.

“It continues to be tons of fun for me,” Janowitz says. “I just don’t get the offers I used to.”

Today, Janowitz lives in upstate New York.

“I came upstate to look after my mom,” she says. “Her condition rapidly deteriorated and she died in 2014.

“Mom was my best friend and biggest supporter. She was a professor emeritus and was always encouraging me.

“She would coach me along the way,” Janowitz says. “We had the same taste, and we’d swap books back and forth.”

After her mother’s death, Janowitz decided not to return to New York City.

“I just stayed up here,” she says. “Since I moved up here, I needed something to do, so I took up horseback riding. Now I have a new passion in life.”

In addition to discussing and signing her memoir, Janowitz will promote “Slaves of New York,” which was recently made into an ebook.

“I’ll talk about my life and living in New York at the height of the 1980s,” she says. “I’ll be very excited to be in Savannah, where it’s not snowing.

“It’s a fun thing to come to a literary festival,” Janowitz says. “Savannah is an amazing place. It’s so beautiful and so different from where I am in upstate New York’s six-months-of-the-year cold.”


Book: “Scream: A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction”

When: 4 p.m. Feb. 18

Where: Lutheran Church Sanctuary, Wright Square