Tag Archives: The Morning News

Just Talking: My “Conversations with …”

30 Dec


 Looking back to the mid-Eighties when I stumbled unto the opportunity to publish a hip downtown magazine  I am not clear on how I fell into the habit/practice of arranging conversations/interviews with contemporary writers, photographers, film directors, cartoonists, poets, painters and all manner of creative individuals. Though it is not exactly an explanation for ‘why’, I have come to look upon this habit, which has persisted these twenty odd years, as a grand post-graduate education.

Many of these confabulations were first published in Stuff magazine before 1998. In 2000, I found a regular niche at the nascent literary magazine (of sorts) Identitytheory. And, over the fullness of time, I  found myself contributing to cultural news venues such as The Morning News, The Millions, The Virginia Quarterly Review on -line, The Daily Beast, and the LA Review of Books among others.

Along the way, some of these countless ( have lost count on how many I have participated in) dialogues have been anthologized (mostly regularly )in the University Press of Mississippi’s “Conversations with…’ series.  These I am proud to list below (click on the name to go to Publisher’s page for each book):

I expect to continue with these gabfests though I  am ruminating on ways to refresh my methodology. So, let’s see what happens…thanks for reading all the way to the bottom


7 Apr
Stupid 'award' from stupid Boston Magazine

Stupid ‘award’ from stupid Boston Magazine

7 April 2015

Spending various of his formative years in a number of the tribal territories of Chicago Robert Birnbaum’s initial journalistic models were the inestimable Mike Royko and celebrity gossip reporter Irv “Kup” Kupcinet. As Birnbaum encountered the complexities of the tainted Viet Nam era,Izzy IF Stone and Hunter Thompson assumed prominent roles as guide posts. After a number of career missteps,Robert began publishing downtown tabloid Stuff magazine. After 15 years in the enviable role as a publisher in a major metropolis, he encountered a few more career missteps and ultimately began squatting on his own 40 acres of the Internet,Our Man In Boston.Among other publications Robert Birnbaum has contributed to are Stuff Magazine, Boston Magazine,Boston Common, The Improper Bostonian, Bark magazine, The Daily Beast, LA Review of Books, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Morning News, The Millions, Identitytheory.

Autobiography/Memoir in 365 Parts (10.0)

25 Mar
Young Isadore with his father (circa 1947) [photographer unknown

Young Isadore with his father (circa 1947) [photographer unknown

25 March 2015

The only son of Alfred and Rachel Birnbaum was born in a displaced persons camp in Bamberg, Germany in 1947. Named Isadore (after his murdered paternal grandfather), his parents— given their horrific recent experiences— viewed him as a miracle. In 1956, when Isadore became a naturalized citizen, he took the opportunity to change his birth name to ‘Robert’, thereby accelerating his Americanization process and also removing a prime cause of being teased by his peers(“Isadore, are you a door or window”). From the age of 12 until he was 20, Robert lived in Chicago’s 50th Ward, known as the Golden Ghetto. He attended several mediocre colleges and has achieved a Master’ degree in History from Boston University.Robert has written for Stuff Magazine, Boston Magazine, Boston Common, The Improper Bostonian and on line for Identitytheory, The Morning News, The Virginia Quarterly Review,Los Angeles Review of Books, the Daily Beast and innumerable obscure literary venues.He is currently Our Man in Boston.

This and That

20 Apr

One of the more cherished legacies of Spy Magazine is the coinage of the phrase and its attachment to New York real estate huckster Donald Trump. These days there is an inglorious din in the media shitstream coming from the attention paid to Trump, grugged psycho Charlie Sheen and congressional viper and Ayn Rand devotee Paul Ryan. So much so, that you may have missed some interesting items that actually can be categorized as news.

Cuba’s first Communist Party assembly in 14 years brought some attention to Uncle Sam’s feisty little nephew in the Caribbean giving the usual suspects the opportunity to trot out predictable and stale rhetoric. Which makes this an opportune time to mention Yoani Sanchez and her newly published Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today (Melville House).The much celebrated Sanchez is a young woman who has been hosting a Havana based weblog Generation Y which simply reports what life is like in Havana today—reportage which has made her troublesome to the current regime

And speaking of Cuba, my conversation with Havana born,Yale historian Carlos Eire revolves around his two memoirs—the award winning Waiting for Snow in Havana, and his latest, Learning to Die in Miami. You can find that chat over at The Morning News.

Jennifer Egan has achieved wide-spread laudation for her latest novel Visit from the Goon Squad—not the least is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I’ve chatted with Ms Egan a number of times over the years, latest being last summer. You can also find that tete et tete at the Morning News.

There is lots to be said about David Foster Wallace’s recently pots humously published opus The Pale King (Little Brown) And apparently everyone of a literary bent is trying to say it. I’ve had my say here and of all the commentary and ululating about Foster Wallace’s genius and whatever, his editor Michael Pietsch has some useful and valuable things to say about how he made sense out of the inchoate mass of papers David Foster Wallace left behind.

Brilliant Christopher HItchens, of course, plays out his role as an iconoclastic icon with much brio and alacrity. The maturation of his politic did cause him to be become alienated from his progressive comrades and his legions of lefty fans. Now, battling cancer, suggests that his body of work may be limited by his mortality (and thus cheating his readers and the public cultural conversation of a genuine and original voice. His recent piece on the upcoming British royalty nuptials is a wonderful reminder of his mastery of limber and sharp edged prose and a prodigious memory keenly attuned to the whole wide world. I spoke with HItchens over ten years ago, one before the crucible of 9/11 and once after.

These days there seems no end to the efforts to conceive and publish small literary journals. Thus bookstore chain bankruptcies not withstanding while it may be all gloom and doom for the commerce of literature. the ranks of commentators are swelling. The latest entry being the Los Angeles Review of Books which is a good thing especially since the neophyte journal has not yet offended anyone.

Chicago chef Grant Achatz, whose battle with cancer is well noticed has written about his experience in Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat with Nick Kokonas (Gotham Books). Achatz also recently made news by selling tickets to his restaurant Next sparking the headline,”Bidding Frenzy for Tickets to Eat at Next in Chicago” and an article in the New York Times.

My chat with Carlos Eire makes mention of the sad case of Alan Gross, an American recently sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison— this after spending a year incarcerated without charges. Gross’s family is leaving a seat open for him at their Passover seder as his wife Judy asks for her husband’s release. Good luck with that.

If you have any influence or concern about Gross’s imprisonment, by all means, do something. That’s all, folks.

From Russia with Love

17 Dec

If you are an admirer of Russian emigre author Gary Shteyngart (Super Sad True Love Story) or perhaps your hapless blabber (me) you will have already taken heed of my chat with
the super amusing Ruskie over at The Morning News.

After our conversation I did chance to come across this acute observation by Shteyngart:

What’s weird is that when I was growing up all my parents wanted to do was get the hell out of Russia. And they’ve never been back since they left. And I go back all the time, and they keep asking me, “Why do you go back? Life is so great here … Go to Spain, or Italy or something that’s understandable, but why would you go back to Russia?” America is—well things are about to get very interesting in America as the country goes to hell in a hand basket—but for the most part life has been fairly predictable here, in a way that there’s a sterility to life that makes people want to rediscover their roots. There’s a huge movement among Jews, Italians, certainly the Irish; there’s this constant movement to find authenticity abroad. I think a lot of it stems from very good impulses: the need to figure out how you became the person you are. But a lot of it also stems from a need to fetishize the past. The shtetl wasn’t a good place. It wasn’t fun. It sucked for most people. And if you go back to the Ukraine these days, it sucks still. [Laughs.] So I’m a little confused about the motivation for that. And more recent immigrants I think often shy away from that kind of stuff; unless you have relatives or friends [in the old country], most people don’t want to explore their past.

And if you are in need of a quick humorous pick me up here’s the book trailer for Gary’s latest novel, referenced in our TMN tet a tet.