“I told Jerome Charyn, ‘You escaped the Bronx by writing about it. I escaped by never going back.'”
With My Young Life (Simon & Schuster), Frederic Tuten had to get over his notion that memoir is a cheap shot in order to look back at the beginning of a career in writing, teaching, and art criticism in the New York of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. We get into what started him on this book, how he’s haunted by his childhood in the Bronx, his emphasis on quality over quantity in literary output (while coping with the cautionary example of his writing teacher, Leonard Ehrlich, who only published a single, well-acclaimed novel), his mentorship by artist and convicted murderer John Resko, the joys of cafe culture (and his favorite haunt, Cafe Mogador), and how he got two-timed by “the Elizabeth Taylor of the Bronx” with Jerome Charyn. We also lament today’s celebration of the mundane, celebrate his friendships with Herge, Lichtenstein, Resnais and Queneau, and talk about the books he wants loaded in his casket when he dies, the great allure of Juan Rulfo’s sole book, Pedro Paramo, why future pod-guest Iris Smyles’ first novel is better than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, how fact-checker Anne Stringfield corrected some virtual memories in My Young Life, how poverty shaped his later life, what he learned from sobriety, Gaugin and The Magic Mountain, and plenty more! Give it a listen! And go buy My Young Life!
“In my 80s I feel like I’m just beginning life. Beginning to learn how to live, and to work, and to enjoy.”
“Live in the dream of the work and rest easy. Something will come. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you’ve done it. And you can always fix it.”
About our Guest
Frederic Tuten grew up in the Bronx. At fifteen, he dropped out of High School to become a painter and live in Paris. He took odd jobs and studied briefly at the Art Students League, and eventually went back to school, continuing on to earn a Ph.D. in early 19th century American Literature from New York University.
He travelled through Latin and South America, studied pre-Columbian and Mexican mural painting at the University of Mexico, wrote about Braziliian Cinema Novo, and joined that circle of film makers, which included Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira dos Santos. Tuten finally did live in Paris, where he taught film and literature at the University of Paris 8. He acted in a short film by Alain Resnais, co-wrote the cult film Possession, and conducted summer writing workshops with Paul Bowles in Tangiers.
Tuten’s short stories, art and film criticism have appeared in such places as ArtForum, the New York Times, Vogue, Conjunctions, Granta and Harpers. In addition, he has written essays and fictions for artists’ catalogues including John Baldessari, Eric Fischl, Pierre Huyghe, Jeff Koons, David Salle and Roy Lichtenstein. He has published five novels: The Adventures of Mao on the Long March; Tallien: A Brief Romance; Tintin in the New World: A Romance; Van Gogh’s Bad Café: A Love Story; The Green Hour; and most recently, Self Portraits: Fictions, a collection of stories.
Tuten received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Fiction and was given the Award for Distinguished Writing from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His new book is the memoir My Young Life.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Frederic’s apartment on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Tuten by me. It’s on my instagram.