Lopate, Phillip 1943–
LOPATE, Phillip 1943–
Born November 16, 1943, in Jamaica, NY; son of Albert Donald (a reporter) and Frances (an actress) Lopate; married Carol Bergman, 1964 (divorced, 1969); married Cheryl Cipriani, 1990; children: (second marriage) Lily. Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1964; Union Graduate School, Ph.D, 1979.
Home—Brooklyn, NY. E-mail—[email protected]
Teacher of creative writing with Teachers and Writers Collaborative program, in New York City Public Schools, 1968-80; freelance writer, 1960—; also taught creative writing at University of Houston, Columbia University, Bennington College, and New School; Hofstra University, Adams Chair. Judge for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, 1985, and the National Book Award in Fiction, 1990; selection committee member, New York Film Festival, 1988-91.
Christopher Society Medal, 1975, for Being with Children; New York State Creative Artists' Public Service Grant, 1976; National Endowment for the Arts literary fellowships, 1978, 1985; best nonfiction book of the year award, Texas Institute of Letters, c. 1981, for Bachelorhood; Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, 1988.
In Coyoacan (novella), Swollen Magpie Press (Putnam Valley, NY), 1971.
The Eyes Don't Always Want to Stay Open: Poems and a Japanese Tale, Sun (New York, NY), 1972, 2nd edition, 1976.
Being with Children (nonfiction), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975, Poseidon (New York, NY), 1989.
The Daily Round: New Poems, Sun (New York, NY), 1976.
Confessions of Summer (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
(Editor and contributor) Journal of a Living Experiment: A Documentary History of the First 10 Years of Teachers and Writers Collaborative, Teachers and Writers (New York, NY), 1979.
Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis (essays), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981, Poseidon (New York, NY), 1989.
The Rug Merchant (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1987, Penguin (New York, NY), 1988.
Against Joie de Vivre (essays), Poseidon (New York, NY), 1989.
(Editor) The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, Anchor (New York, NY), 1994.
Portrait of My Body (essays), Anchor (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) The Anchor Essay Annual, Anchor (New York, NY), 1997, 1998, published as The Art of the Essay 1999, 1999.
Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Essays and Criticism from a Lifelong Love Affair with the Movies, Anchor/Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor) Writing New York: A Literary Anthology, Library of America (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor and author of introduction) William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.
Getting Personal: Selected Writings, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Rudy Burckhardt: Photographer and Filmmaker, essay by Vincent Katz, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2004.
Seaport: New York's Vanished Waterfront: Photographs from the Edwin Levick Collection, Smithsonian Books (Washington, DC), 2004.
Waterfront: A Journey around Manhattan, Crown (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor) American Movie Critics: An Anthology from the Silents until Now, Library of America (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of introductory essay to Bridge of Dreams: The Rebirth of the Brooklyn Bridge, photographs by Burhan Dogancay, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1999; contributor of fiction to Paris Review and Columbia Review, and of poetry to Village Voice, Yale Literary Review, Sun, and Liberation; also contributor of film criticism to various journals and newspapers, including Moviegoer, New York Times, Film Comment, Vogue, Esquire, and Cinemabook.
Phillip Lopate is a versatile writer of novels, poems, essays, nonfiction, and film criticism. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s he spent twelve years working in New York City schools under the auspices of the Teachers and Writers Collaborative program, teaching street-wise black, white, and Puerto Rican children to write poems, plays, and stories. His third book, Being with Children, is both an account and a celebration of his experiences in the classroom. Lopate writes of his students' decision to put on the play West Side Story and his own reluctance to produce that particular play. He describes the difficulties he encountered in communicating with his students and the practices he discovered to keep his job from becoming a rote exercise rather than a meaningful experience. In the second half of the book, Lopate includes writings by his students along with his commentaries on their works. What surfaces in Being with Children, according to critics, is Lopate's flexibility and willingness to try any, and all, methods of teaching. Vivian Gornick observed in the New York Times Book Review: "What sets Phillip Lopate apart from other poets who have gone into the schools is neither his preoccupation with the liberation of that famous children's 'imagination' nor his ability to turn the children into poem factories but, rather, the enormous love and pleasure with which he feels the force of life persisting in the children."
Lopate dedicated his second volume of poetry, The Daily Round: New Poems, to Boris Pasternak. In it he examines the rituals of everyday life in New York City. His subjects are people, like himself, who walk the streets, stop for coffee in all-night cafeterias, and live in furnished rooms. Critic Aram Saroyan, writing in the Village Voice, contended that Lopate ultimately discovers in human pettiness "an accepting, humane realistic self"—the self that Pasternak "found to be sustaining in the years of Stalinism and after." Hayden Carruth wrote in the New York Times Book Review that the poems are "lucid, consistent in tone, well and simply written, and—the acid test—they work. They move us."
Lopate explores the eternal love triangle in his first novel, Confessions of Summer. Washington Post critic Joseph McLellan praised Lopate for approaching "his time-worn subject with acute perceptions and mastery of style. The result is a psychological novel of considerable distinction…. What Lopate is really writing about is how an unhappy experience becomes a kind of wisdom….Asa good novelist should, he presents the whole experience, raw and ragged at the edges." Lopate's second novel, The Rug Merchant, has as its central character Cyrus Irani, son of an immigrant Iranian family. After dropping out of graduate school in art history, Cyrus inherits his uncle's rug shop. The shop faces bankruptcy once its landlords triple the rent, however. Cyrus drifts passively through the events of his life, unable either to define himself or summon the energy to save the failing business. Cyrus is a Zoroastrian, a believer in an ancient religion that Lopate describes in detail, yet when his mother suggests he take a Zoroastrian girl for a wife in exchange for money that will save the rug shop, he rejects the idea. Instead, he idealizes and falls in love with a woman he meets at a swingers' club. Jerome Charyn characterized The Rug Merchant in his New York Times Book Review assessment as "a quiet descent into an urban hell, where Irani confronts the mask of his own anonymous existence … one more superfluous man, an emigre who can find no culture, no environment, to fit into." Campbell Geeslin observed in People: "Since the homogenizing gentrification and upscaling of Manhattan is rampant today, Lopate's novel suggests that men such as Cyrus and their distinctive way of life are being made obsolete. With this loss, the city is a poorer place."
Lopate is well known for his personal essays. Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis, his first collection of essays, explores the subject of its title from a variety of perspectives, most of them autobiographical. In "Willy" he relates a painful childhood memory of his mother's affair with a fellow war-plant worker and the tragic consequences for his family. "My Drawer," which begins with an inventory of seemingly worthless objects that Lopate cannot discard, evolves into a portrait-reminiscence of a liberal Jewish New Yorker in the 1960s. "Bachelorhood and Literature," which Village Voice contributor Seymour Kleinberg singled out as the richest essay in the collection, explores the work of other bachelor writers such as Charles Lamb and Roland Barthes, and suggests that bachelor literature can be seen as its own genre. Reviewing Bachelorhood for the New York Times Book Review, Richard P. Brickner stated: "Anybody eager for the performance of an adult, rich and animated intelligence will be grateful for Phillip Lopate's display of personality and experience." Kleinberg, however, while granting that the collection is rich in "elegance and eloquence," felt that an "emotional evasion hovers over many pieces, and finally the reader is unwilling to accept as a substitute the excellent prose, sentence after graceful sentence."
Two other collections of personal essays, Against Joie de Vivre and Portrait of My Body, also present a mix of the autobiographical and the literary, incorporating both memory and imagination. The essays in Against Joie de Vivre range from an attack on the idea of picnics to the tale of a fellow teacher's suicide. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Herbert Gold stated: "The tone is located someplace between comic spritzing monologue, in which the reader is simply invited to listen, and the summons of a lonely soul, hoping to engage his readers in dialogue in order to save their lives and his…. prickly and combative, also shrewd and with a supple street-poet elegance, Mr. Lopate defines some of the deep issues of his life."
The thirteen essays in Portrait of My Body continue Lopate's self-exploration in much the same vein. No longer a bachelor, he contemplates his newfound domesticity and the birth of his baby daughter. He offers tributes to and meditations on several of his colleagues, most notably the late Donald Barthelme. In the title essay, Lopate presents "a gossip column" on his body. Insight on the News reviewer Rex Roberts felt that Lopate is both the "house authority on the genre [of the personal essay] and its best practitioner," yet he still faulted Portrait of My Body for being "candid about … trivialities," while often "dodgy about the big issues—women, for example." In contrast, Booklist critic Donna Seaman offered the collection unqualified praise, stating: "These are entertaining and revelatory compositions by virtue of their candor, exactitude, and implicit faith in confession." Essays in a less personal vein can be found in Lopate's Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Essays and Criticism from a Lifelong Love Affair with the Movies. The book includes film reviews, reflections on the medium, and interviews with directors, and covers thirty-five years of cinema with an emphasis on foreign films. A Publishers Weekly reviewer credited it with "considerable style and substance."
In his role as an editor, Lopate has compiled a number of well-received anthologies. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present brings together more than eighty essays from fifty different writers, including Plutarch, Seneca, Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, Junichiro Tanizaki, James Thurber, James Baldwin, and Henry David Thoreau. Donna Seaman, writing again in Booklist called it a "groundbreaking volume….an invaluable and dynamic selection." Writing New York: A Literary Anthology celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the unification of New York City's five boroughs with a collection of poems, essays, fictions, memoirs, and letters by 108 different writers who portray the city throughout its history. Selections by Washington Irving, E.B. White, Henry Miller, Langston Hughes, and Frank O'Hara are included. According to Cathy Sabol in Library Journal: "This unique collection is a bargain and deserves to be in every library."
Lopate gathered twenty-nine of his previously published essays for the 2003 title Getting Personal: Selected Writings, a "superb literary account," according to Joyce Sparrow in Library Journal. The retrospective collection includes pieces detailing Lopate's childhood in Brooklyn, his parents' troubled relationship, his college years when he suffered from depression, his difficult relationships with women, his time spent as writer-in-residence in public schools, and his roles as son, husband, and father. Sparrow went on to call Lopate a "consummate poet, novelist, editor, film critic, and essayist." Similar praise came from Booklist contributor Seaman, who dubbed Lopate the "master of the personal essay," and commended his "impressive and relishable collection." For Troy Patterson, reviewing the same collection in Entertainment Weekly, Lopate is the "essayist's essayist."
Lopate's 2004 title, Waterfront: A Journey around Manhattan, is a "perceptive and valuable" work, according to Nation contributor John Palattella. The book follows Lopate as he walks, meanders, and wanders around the waterfront of Manhattan, presenting at once a travelogue and cultural history of the city. Elizabeth Barlow Rogers noted in New Criterion: "The entire circuit that this walker in the city makes around Manhattan's waterfront, narrated as the story of one man's love affair with the greatest city on earth and the incomparable estuarine harbor that set its dynamic development in motion, is fascinating and timely." Palattella further observed: "Lopate takes us nearly everywhere as he meanders up and down the banks of the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers, from the Battery in the south to Inwood Park in the far north, and from South Street Seaport to Highbridge Park in East Harlem." For Palattella, Waterfront is a "vivid blend of history, guidebook, white paper and urban sketch," and with this work "Lopate has enriched and refined his style by taking it quite literally to the vortex's watery edge, and for anyone wandering along that shoreline, his book will be a lively and trusty compass."
Lopate also created the text for a 2004 book of photographs of the Manhattan waterfront, most of them taken by the English photographer Edwin Levick in the first decades of the twentieth century. Seaport: New York's Vanished Waterfront is something of a companion volume to Lopate's own Waterfront, and provides "an elegant visual record of the busiest port in the world in its heyday," according to Booklist critic Seaman.
Lopate displays his versatility and wide range of interests with another title from 2004, Rudy Burckhardt: Photographer and Filmmaker. Burckhardt, who died in 1999, was Swiss born and made his name both in photography and film. Lopate includes a couple hundred black-and-white photographs by Burckhardt—from street scenes to still lifes. Though Library Journal contributor Michael Dashkin felt Lopate did not pay enough attention to the man's film work, the critic still believed that Lopate's book does a "wonderful job of showing the range and quality of [Burckhardt's] still photography."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 29, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Phillip Lopate, Being with Children, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
Booklist, January 15, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present, p. 894; August, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Portrait of My Body, p. 1875; November 15, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Getting Personal: Selected Writings, p. 564; April 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Seaport: New York's Vanished Waterfront, p. 1344.
Entertainment Weekly, November 7, 2003, Troy Patterson, review of Getting Personal, p. 74.
Insight on the News, November 25, 1996, Rex Roberts, review of Portrait of My Body, p. 32.
Library Journal, November 15, 1998, Cathy Sabol, review of Writing New York: A Literary Anthology p. 68; December, 2003, Joyce Sparrow, review of Getting Personal, p. 119; September 15, 2004, Michael Dashkin, review of Rudy Burckhardt: Photographer and Filmmaker, p. 54.
Nation, April 12, 2004, John Palattella, review of Waterfront: A Journey around Manhattan, p. 23.
New Criterion, May, 2005, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, review of Waterfront, p. 78.
New York Times Book Review, November 2, 1975, Vivian Gornick, review of Being with Children, p. 8; August 7, 1977, Hayden Carruth, review of The Daily Round: New Poems, p. 25; October 11, 1981, Richard P. Brickner, review of Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis, pp. 7, 35; March 8, 1987, Jerome Charyn, review of The Rug Merchant, p. 12; May 4, 1989, Herbert Gold, review of Against Joie de Vivre, p. 13.
People Weekly, May 25, 1987, Campbell Geeslin, review of The Rug Merchant, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, October 26, 1998, review of Totally, Tenderly, Tragically: Essays and Criticism from a Lifelong Love Affair with the Movies, p. 54.
Village Voice, January 24, 1977, Aram Saroyan, review of The Daily Round, pp. 73-74; October 14, 1981, Seymour Kleinberg, review of Bachelorhood, p. 44.
Washington Post, July 16, 1979, Joseph McLellan, review of Confessions of Summer, p. B9.
Hofstra University Web site,http://www.hofstra.edu/ (May 18, 2006), biography on Phillip Lopate.
Phillip Lopate Home Page,http://www.philliplopate.com (May 18, 2006).