PHOTO BY BLAKE ASHMAN-KIPERVASER
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
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“I’m the very last one of us still living here.”
So says 5th-generation New Yorker Tara Clancy in reference to her and her exactly 40 first cousins. She seems to be left behind in another way, too, and thus “pretty much an endangered species.” For on a daily basis she hears comments like: “Wow, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard that accent on someone under 60!”
Clancy comes with a lot of identities, such as: daughter of a cop, Queens native, playground brawler (ret.), performer, Moth GrandSlam storytelling champ (see www.taraclancy.com for videos) and daughter of a big-hearted social worker with a millionaire boyfriend.
But the first among equals may well be “working-class woman,” and, as she reveals in her answers below, getting into print a perspective that’s almost never heard has been a big motivator in her writing career.
Clancy described her debut book, now out in paperback, as a “coming-of-age memoir that’s both the strange tale of my social-strata hopping childhood—Queens during the week, then, thanks to my mother’s 22-year tryst with a wealthy Manhattan businessman, Bridgehampton come Friday night—and a larger look at my upbringing: toddling at the foot of my Irish father’s barstool at his favorite pub, learning to curse and hoard canned goods with my Brooklyn Italian grandma, and spending the ‘90s in a thugged-out, teen-girl version of ‘Lord of the Flies.’”
It was a high-school encounter with William Shakespeare, though, rather than William Golding that helped set her on current path, as she revealed in a 2013 essay in the Paris Review Daily.
“Huh. Must be some Knights of the Round Table type-a-thing,” she wrote, recalling her teenage reaction to the title “King Lear.”
“Maybe there would be pictures, or some chivalric bit of nonsense to help me pass the time. But there on the page was line after line of language as beautiful as it was bizarre, and I was mesmerized.”
If the Bard mesmerizes, Clancy “dazzles us with her authenticity, hilarity and insight,” according to fellow writer Andrew Solomon.
Another, Vivian Gornick, commented: “This memoir is blessed by a narrating voice of such vivid originality the reader cannot help but relish the life it details.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis said: “Tara Clancy is my new favorite bad ass. ‘The Clancys of Queens’ is a hilarious love letter to my favorite city and to working-class families everywhere.”
“In this laugh-out-loud memoir,” Booklist said about the New York Times contributor, “Clancy’s writing crackles with wit and candor.”
“The memoir might contain the funniest coming-out story ever,” said Elle magazine, adding that it’s a “winningly sunny tribute to the strong ties of kinship” and “Clancy has the literary prowess to do it justice.”
Date of birth: May 29, 1980
Place of birth: Queens, N.Y.
Published works: “The Clancys of Queens”
What book are you currently reading?
I’m reading an advanced copy of “Educated” by Tara Westover (It comes out this February) and it’s amazing! Don’t miss it!
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“Preparation For The Next Life” by Atticus Lish. Published in 2014, this was my favorite novel of the last decade. It’s a dark, raw, and thoroughly original love story between a white working-class American war vet and a recent Chinese immigrant, two demographics that hardly appear in literature. It’s also set in Flushing, Queens—a place where I spent a lot of time as a teenager—and features a native New York Irish-American family who, for better or worse (they’re some pretty rough folks), bear strong similarities to families I grew up with. Lish’s writing is phenomenal, and the story is one that needed telling.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Dorothy Parker. I think we’d have one helluva time telling stories and wisecracking!
What book changed your life?
“The Wanderers” by Richard Price changed my life, both because of its unvarnished storytelling and for how it influenced future decisions I made. It’s Price’s very first novel—a partially autobiographical story about a group of working-class Bronx guys in the ‘60s. Reading it transported me right back to being a kid in my own kitchen in Queens, where I used to eavesdrop on my father and uncles telling raunchy stories from their youth. But, as much I loved this book for what was in it, I was equally struck by what wasn’t: the stories of New York’s working-class women. In fact, after I read this book, I went to a bookstore, found a clerk, held up my copy and said, “I want a book just like this, but by a woman!” The clerk thought about it for a while, then said, “Me too!… but it doesn’t exist.” “So,” I said, “what was the last book written by a working-class New York woman?” And he replied, “I guess it’s ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!” And we were both shocked.
The thing is, Betty Smith’s novel about growing up as a second-generation Irish-American girl in Williamsburg, though deserving of its lasting legacy, was published 73 years ago! That’s my mother’s lifetime; it’s unreal to me. Immediately after leaving the bookstore, I started relaying this bonkers fact to everyone I spoke to. I often added the joke, “Well, shoot, maybe I’ll have to write the next book! I’ll call it, “A Tree GREW in Brooklyn, A Long Effing Time Ago!” Eventually, it went from being a joke to being a real motivator for me.