Stringer, Lee 1952(?)–
STRINGER, Lee 1952(?)–
Born c. 1952, in New York, NY.
Writer. Co-owner of graphic design company, New York, NY, c. 1970s.
Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street, foreword by Kurt Vonnegut, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Kurt Vonnegut) Like Shaking Hands with God: A Conversation about Writing, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Sleepaway School: Stories from a Boy's Life, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Editor and contributor of column "Ask Homey" to Street News. Contributor to periodicals, including Nation, New York Times, and Newsday.
A former homeless drug addict, Lee Stringer rose above his troubles in large part through a natural talent for writing. A native of New York City, he describes the unseen side of 1980s Manhattan in his 1998 volume, Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street. In this autobiographical work, Stringer provides an unflinching, unsentimental account of himself and his street comrades and describes the hardships many of the city's homeless must endure to stay alive. Introduced to the author as he sits in his "hole"—"this long, narrow crawl space in Grand Central's lower regions" where he makes his home atop a pile of cast-off blankets surrounded by a wall of cardboard positioned to keep "any rats at bay"—readers follow Stringer on a tour of his old haunts, including Central Park, Central Booking, and Grand Central Station.
John Jiler characterized the work as "born of pain but delivered with style and heart," in a review of Grand Central Winter for the New York Times Book Review. "Love, pride, pity, compassion, dignity, hatred, longing," declared Colum McCann for the San Francisco Chronicle; "It is the confrontation of these contradictory human elements that makes Grand Central Winter … such a provocative and haunting memoir." Despite such high praise, Stringer remains modest about his work, telling CNN International interviewer Peg Tyre: "I didn't know what I was doing. I just kind of fumbled my way through it."
Stringer, who once co-owned a graphic design business, suffered greatly when his brother and business partner died. Shortly thereafter, he went into a tailspin of drinking and drugs, was evicted from his apartment, and landed on the street, where he languished. After several years on the street, Stringer discovered he had a talent for writing, composing his first story with the pencil he used to clean his crack pipe. He began writing for a homeless newspaper called Street News, and his writing became so popular that he was eventually appointed editor of the newspaper. His confidence boosted, Stringer began to work on compiling his columns into Grand Central Winter, a work Kurt Vonnegut dubbed "beguiling and seductive" in his foreword to the work. Stringer's book, noted Vonnegut, proves "that writers are born, not made."
Stringer's second book, Sleepaway School: Stories from a Boy's Life, is a memoir of the author's earlier life, when his future as a homeless person could scarcely be foretold. As the son of a single black woman, Stringer's youth was spent among the sharp divisions between the haves and the have-nots after his mother placed him with a foster family who lived in a wealthy, white suburb in upstate New York. After six years his mother retrieved him, yet his hard-scrabble life had infused him with an anger that continued to mount until an incident of racial violence landed him in a school for at-risk youth, the "sleepaway school" of the title. Even at the school, a majority of the students were Jewish, and once again Stringer faced the reality of being a minority—a Catholic, black, welfare child in a world of middle-class, white Jewish boys. Through the unapologetic tones of a boy, the book is told in present-tense vignettes that are strung together to create a raw and holistic picture of a young man confronting numerous social forces without the tools to handle them. Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, called Sleepaway School "an unforgettable coming-of-age" story, and Charli Osborne, writing in School Library Journal, praised Stringer's "episodic yet eloquent writing style."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Stringer, Lee, Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street, Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Booklist, June 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Sleepaway School: Stories from a Boy's Life, p. 1696.
Independent, September 3, 1998, Damian Fowler, "The Pen Is Mightier than the Rock," p. S8.
New York Times Book Review, June 28, 1998, John Jiler, review of Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street.
San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 1998, Colum McCann, "Tunnel Vision: Homeless Man's Memoir Captures the Beauty and Bitterness of Living on—and under—the Streets of New York."
School Library Journal, November, 2004, Charli Osborne, review of Sleepaway School, p. 179.
USA Today, August 12, 1998, Bob Minzesheimer, "Writer Goes from Homeless to Homage," p. D1; December 9, 1999, Bob Minzesheimer, "Former Crack Addict Shakes Hands with Fame," p. D6.
CNN.com International,http://edition.cnn.com/ (July 1, 1998), Peg Tyre, "Homeless Author Finds Home in the Pages of His Book."
Lee Stringer Home Page,http://www.leestringer.net (May 8, 2006).
Salon,http://www.salonmagazine.com (July 1, 1998), Matthew Flamm, "From Crackhead to Literary Star."*