Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Memories
In the Beginning Was the Word

All those years yearning for a TV were spent between these bookcases at the Seward Park Library.

Florence, seeking her own escape, parked me by a stack of Charles Addams books and disappeared into another row.   Those pictures were not macabre to me.  Oh no.  They were a glamorous call to adventure.  And perhaps an unsightly end.

Soon I graduated to being old enough to climb the stairs to the children's room on the second floor and books with more words than pictures.  Along with librarians eager to direct me and my friends to explicit and very well illustrated books on the facts of life, there were piles of biographies that taught me famous people like Thomas Edison or Jane Adams had once been a little kid like me.

And soon after that I graduated back down to the the first floor and the young adult corner where, as only it could be on the lower east side, there were shelves and shelves of books on young people surviving or not surviving the holocaust and one about a boy kissing another boy.  Gobbling up those books, three or four at a time, I felt so less alone with the difficulties I faced every day.  Sometimes life hurt and was frightening and confusing. Especially as a kid becoming a teenager.

Those years of curling up in wood and paper on East Broadway were as normal as breathing or walking or dreaming.  I had no interest to write my own book.  Nor did I have dreams of being a writer.  Just like Florence, I loved the relief of an escape, disappearing into a world I wished I could live in or one I was glad I didn't.

Perhaps all those words that poured off the page and into my heart had plans of their own.  Perhaps filling myself so full was what made all those words push into my fingers to tell my own story.  Who knows?

What is known more than fifty years later is that a library is a sacred place.  It holds for us a million stories from around the world, letting us know we are never alone in our experience, and assuring us of other doors to other ways we didn't know about.

And now the Seward Park Library is even more than that.  It is now a place that will hold and protect all the stories we don't write down.  They are collecting oral histories of us lower east siders.

So if you grew up below 14th Street and above the "bottom" and you know you are from the Lower East Side, join in.  Because every story, whether it is on a shelf or one we tell over dinner too many times, could be someone's door to a wonderful escape and other possibilities.

Tell your story and become a "book" for some kid, maybe one just like me, who needs to know about childhoods and challenges and other doors.

The Lower East Side Oral History Project

The Seward Park Branch of the New York Public Library aims to collect audio of memories and stories pertaining to the Lower East Side, including Chinatown, the Bowery, and the East Village. Stories may run 45 minutes to 2 hours long. It's a rather informal procedure, more of an extended story telling than an interview. Interviews may be done individually or as a group. We are hoping to gather stories from all ages, times periods, backgrounds, and outlooks--and you don't have to be a lifelong Lower East Sider to participate!
The stories collected will be a part of the Lower East Side Oral History Project, which will have its place among oral history initiatives throughout New York which the New York Public Library has been collecting for posterity.

Participants will need to sign a release form and have their picture taken, or send a picture they would like to use for the project's website.

To participate, please contact Andrew Fairweather via email ( or telephone (212-477-6770) at the Seward Park Library.

The Seward Park Library
192 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002

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