Delighted to welcome Mary Clark to the Cafe with her latest release, a memoir – Community: Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen
About the book
An arts coordinator at a midtown church in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, Mary Clark began a fifteen-year journey through New York City politics. From the volatile streets to the halls of power, she experienced the triumphs and defeats of the Hell’s Kitchen community as it fought “development fever.” Her actions fed into the successes and failures of her community work, as this memoir describes in a nod to Rousseau’s The Confessions.
The AIDS epidemic was at its height. Homeless families were placed in midtown hotels, which resembled refugee camps. Crime associated with the illegal drug trade threatened one of the oldest communities in the city. Meanwhile, ambitious politicians vied for dominance behind the scenes. She had a grassroots view of the fall of Ed Koch, a working relationship with David Dinkins, and the rise of Rudolph Giuliani.
Three years into her years as a community activist, she met James R. McManus, Democratic district leader and head of the last Tammany Hall club in New York City. In a twist of irony, the “radical liberal” found with the McManus Club the opportunity to have the most productive time of her life.
There is a fire in Hell’s Kitchen, and you are invited to sit by its light and hear in its flames the prayer, the song, a cautionary tale, and an echo of love and rage.
Also by Mary Clark
One of the reviews for Tally; An Intuitive Life
When a young poet stumbles into the life of a Greenwich Village recluse, she meets a bearded old man living in a garret. Surrounded by manuscripts in which he has attempted to comprehend the meaning of life, PJ has entered a time of failing eyesight, physical frailty, and economic uncertainty. Quiet and observant, the young poet Erin, or “Eyes” as PJ soon calls her, begins to help him put his life in order.
“No one is ever conscious of what he is doing or why he is doing it,” PJ said, “even a person who is aware of everything he is doing and after pondering it, can perceive the reason or motivation for it.”
The above is just one of many sentences I underlined last February while I was doing a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center for the Arts. Anyone who makes her or his life in the arts risks winding up like PJ, which is to say not wealthy, except in matters of the spirit.
“PJ’s long bony fingers swept over drifting stacks of books, papers, paintings, typewriter ribbons, photographs and found objets, all jumbled together, everything melting into some other form…’Dali would have had an idea of the melodramatic squalor in which I live,'” PJ told her.
PJ’s intellect and humor makes him an utterly fascinating subject. Some of his musings are brilliant; others, wildly off-the-wall. Genuinely curious, Erin plays along, but occasionally she says, Hey, wait a minute. Her doubts often mirrored questions that came up for me.
As Erin pitches in and begins to go through boxes of PJs manuscripts, she learns about his intuitive approach to life, thus the subtitle. Several chapters develop his idea of the “perceptive intellect.” In others, PJ talks about one of his personas, The Professor of Love.
The book exposes the layers and contradictions.
I’ve reread this book twice since I purchased it, underlining or drawing new smiley faces. If you have ever had an elderly packrat-of-a-relative whose care fell to you, then you will surely love this book and understand the pull-and-tug that confronted Erin on almost every visit to PJ’s garret. It’s not a book you can race through, but one that will make you think a lot about how anyone assembles the flotsam of life into a coherent story.
Lest you think PJ was some kind of eccentric and amusing kook, a chapter near the end will prove you wrong. The book also made me wonder how any of us could explain the principles and assumptions by which we’ve lived our lives. I’m not sure I could do what PJ managed to do, and what Mary Clark has so lovingly presented in this biography/memoir.
About Mary Clark
Mary Clark was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1949, to parents who lived on the Rutgers University campus. Her family moved to Florida, where she spent her formative years, and was infused with a deep awe and respect for the natural world. She was also aware of the lives of migrant workers, segregation, and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Her book, Covenant, a coming-of-age, historical fiction novella, is set in Florida (Kindle only). Children of Light (Ten Penny Players’ BardPress) is a modern mythical chain of poems also set in Florida.
She graduated from Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She had a strong sense of being a misfit, which propelled her to find her own place and occupation.
Mary moved to New York City in 1975 and worked at the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s Church in the then outcast wilds of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. For many years she worked for community organizations. In 1993 she started a monthly community newspaper, combining her two loves: the neighborhood and writing. Her memoir, Community: Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen, tells that story. A creative memoir, Tally: An Intuitive Life (All Things That Matter Press), is the story of a Bohemian artist she knew in NYC’s Greenwich Village.
Thanks for visiting today and it would be great if you could share the news of Mary’s latest book.. thanks Sally.