Monday, January 14, 2008

Interview: Kurt Andersen, New York Writer, Broadcaster, and Entrepreneur

In the world of multi-media competition, few have thrived so successfully at it as Kurt Andersen. Host of the weekly radio show Studio 360 (where he interviews anyone and everyone in the arts), writer of the regular Imperial City column in New York Magazine (where he dissects American politics with surgical skill) Kurt has also worked in theater, television, the movies, and on the web. In addition, he's written the novels Turn of the Century and Heyday which examine American society past and present.

Oh, and if that's not enough, he's one of the founders of the vastly influential Spy magazine that was a full decade or two ahead of its time (what Jon Stewart and The Onion are doing today, Spy invented in the 1980s).

Kurt's resume goes on and on, and you should check out his website to see the full extent his accomplishments. He is one of those only in America, only in New York success stories: a Nebraska boy turned New York legend, a sophisticated urbanite who feels the pulse of the heartland. Kurt was generous enough to share Mr NYC readers his thoughts on his work as well as on writing, politics, and, of course, New York City.

You've written books and for magazines, television, theater and the movies, you host a a radio show on NPR, launched websites, curated exhibits, and hosted documentaries and TV shows (please let me know if I'm missing something!). How do you juggle your time working across so many different media? Are you the true King of All Media?

I've done a lot of things because I've been lucky, and I'm eager to try to do things I'm not absolutely sure I know how to do. And I'm able to do a lot of things because I'm pretty disciplined with my time. When I'm working on a novel (or screenplay or theater piece), my writing time of 8:30 to 1:30 is pretty inviolate, and my journalistic work -- Studio 360, my monthly New York magazine column, the very occasional other magazine or newspaper piece -- happens after lunch. Also, I don't watch sports, never have, so that gives me an extra 6 or 10 hours a week right there. (For the record, Studio 360 is not technically an "NPR" show; it's a public radio show, but not produced or distributed by NPR.)

What are the special challenges of jumping back and forth between writing for print and broadcast, fiction and non-fiction?

I don't see it so much as a matter of "special challenges" as I do a good opportunity to give each of the different sets of writing and imagination muscles a good workout. Novel-writing is its own, splendidly solo, long-term adventure; the non-fiction I do is short, generally engaged very much in the present moment; and radio is entirely collaborative. The different parts of my writing life feel complementary.

You were one of the co-founders of the great Spy magazine in the 1980s. Tell us about Spy and if you think The Onion, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report owe it a debt.

Spy was insanely fun to do, and remains a proud, um, er, legacy. And yes, I'm happy that we were pioneers of a certain kind of satirical journalism and journalistic satire, and happy too that bits of the Spy DNA seem to be thriving in the cultural gene pool.

The 2008 Presidential election is shaping up to be the most expensive, divisive, and historic one in American history. In a nutshell, tell us your thoughts about it and what it says about America in the 21st century.

I'm not sure it's so divisive. As of 1:03 pm on January 14th, at least, the favorites to win the major-party nominations are centrists, relatively speaking, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Either of whom would probably make a fine president. Although I'm an Obama man. And might perhaps be persuaded to vote for Bloomberg. I've been saying for years that 2008 would be the most interesting presidential election of my lifetime, and so far I'm more right than I could've imagined.

You grew up in Nebraska, went to Harvard, and now live in Brooklyn with your family. What brought you to NYC and how has it changed or stayed the same over the years?

Growing up, my mental gyroscope was somehow pointed northeast by the time I was 10 or 11; my Nebraska-born parents raised their four children to live on the coasts -- not consciously or deliberately, but that was the de facto result of a house full of books, music, and smart conversation. Sometime during college, I came to know, lemming-like, that New York was my destination. I remember the first time I visited the city, when I was 16 going on 17, and it (the subways, the Village Voice, the signage ) seemed so thrillingly smudged and gritty and dense and strange. And it's still all those things in comparison to most of the rest of America. The big changes -- the remarkable drop in crime, the gentrification -- have more or less tracked with my own embourgeoisment, so I can't say I'm one of those people full of regret about the spiffing-up of places like Times Square and the Lower East Side.

What do you love most about New York City?

The vastness and density in all senses. That it makes boredom and complacency difficult and inexcusable.

Tell us about any upcoming projects and something about Kurt Andersen we might not know.

I'm working on a new novel, and (with some cultural heroes of mine) on the book for a musical theater piece. And I have become a huge fan of a certain species of electronic music -- Harold Budd, Kieran Hebden, Boards of Canada, etc.

Thanks Kurt!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep it civil, intelligent, and expletive-free. Otherwise, opine away.