Recap: Gary Shteyngart Discusses ‘Little Failure’ at Tenement Talks

Posted on: April 1st, 2014 at 10:14 am by
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Amidst a whirlwind book tour for Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart made a pit stop on the Lower East Side, a neighborhood he called home for a decade. The Tenement Museum wooed the critically acclaimed author to speak about his new memoir during last night’s “Tenement Talks” series. He was joined in conversation by moderator-writer Suketu Mehta.

The talk followed a relatively forward chronology, from early childhood to present day. Not much in between, though. That’s what the book is for. We’ll just note a few things here.

Shteyngart began the intimate discussion by citing factors that contributed to a path to authordom. Two points in particular. First, all writers must be asthmatic; and in the same breath, writers require a grandmother who put pen to paper. With regard to the latter, he spoke candidly about the role model who encouraged writing at an early age, rewarding him with cheese based on pages written.

He read a brief excerpt concerning an interaction with Ms. Ess in Hebrew school. Apparently it was here that Shteyngart received his first captivated audience, as the teacher would read bits of his stories at the end of class each day. But the so-called Little Failure had some difficulties, mostly attributed to being a Russian immigrant – “You know things are bad when you have to convince the Hebrew school you’re German.”

Topics then wildly shifted, with the James Franco kiss getting some attention. The star-studded AV trailer for the analog book featured the pair lip-locked. Two facts about that commercial: there were 68 takes before the final cut and Franco’s lips were apparently quite moist throughout.

Most intriguing to us, though, was his brief recollection of living in the neighborhood, first a 100 square-foot apartment at the corner of Clinton and Delancey, and then in the East River Co-ops (aka “the vertical shtetl”). The tenement tenancy would ultimately result in the name of the memoir “Failurshka,” a nickname preferred by his mother. He also gave a quick nod to the Educational Alliance for whom he briefly worked.

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