‘I’m like the slut of literature’: Fran Lebowitz speaks at NYU’s Casa Italiana

Renowned author Fran Lebowitz discussed style, her career and her annoyance with NYU students.

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Abby Wilson

Renowned author Fran Lebowitz spoke at NYU’s Casa Italiana on Nov. 11. She shared her experiences as a writer and expressed her annoyance with NYU students. (Photo by Abby Wilson)

By Abby Wilson, Contributing Writer

Known for her scathingly honest commentary, renowned author Fran Lebowitz graced the NYU community with her signature dry humor on Nov. 11. It was Casa Italiana’s first in-person event since the onset of COVID-19, and Lebowitz delivered. Between her rambling and the audience’s laughter, the event felt more like a comedy show than anything else. 

“I was always opinionated,” Lebowitz said. “When I was young, by which I mean a child, I was punished for it constantly. So basically, what I got punished for as a child is how I pay my bills.”

Lebowitz, 71, grew up in New Jersey, but was expelled from high school and moved to New York City at 18. She drove taxis and did other odd jobs before beginning her career as an author. She’s known for her strong opinions on feminism, politics and New York culture. Her most recent publication, “The Fran Lebowitz Reader,” is a collection of essays from her previous works, “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies.”

Fran Lebowitz expressed her opinions on contemporary urban life. (Photo by Abby Wilson)

Though Lebowitz has never spoken at an NYU event before, she shared opinions on the school during a 2012 visit to SoHo bookstore McNally Jackson.

“I don’t love NYU,” she said. “I didn’t hate it before. I just never thought about it. It’s not of interest to me. And it really should be stopped from being called NYU, because it really has nothing to do with New York. The worst thing about being around these people, about these students, is overhearing their conversation. For that alone, I walk around my neighborhood in a constant rage.”

I’m such a promiscuous reader. I’m like the slut of literature.”

— Fran Lebowitz

Ironically, Lebowitz has a certain favorite bookstore in common with NYU students.

“If you’re downtown, The Strand, if you’re uptown, the Argosy,” she said.

When asked what she likes to read, she said, “everything.” 

“I’m such a promiscuous reader. I’m like the slut of literature. I like everything,” Leibowitz said.

Lebowitz also expressed strong opposition to the way writing is taught in school. 

“You can’t teach this,” she said. “This is not teachable. You cannot teach people to be talented. It’s like having tall school. I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do about it.” 

Recently, Lebowitz was the subject of Martin Scorsese’s 2021 Netflix documentary film series “Pretend It’s A City,” in which she discussed living in New York City with Scorsese, a close friend she refers to as “Marty.” Previously, she starred in his 2010 documentary film “Public Speaking.”

“I always loved movies, but knowing Marty, it makes watching a movie, even without Marty present, so much richer,” she said. “It makes you see movies in such a deeper way. I would really suggest that you spend time with him.”

Fran Lebowitz admitted that she reads and enjoys all kinds of literature. (Photo by Abby Wilson)

In addition to Scorsese, Lebowitz is close with many other renowned artists. One of note was the late Toni Morrison, whom she attended the Nobel Banquet with after Morrison won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. 

“I was so shocked at how fun it was,” she said. “I cannot recommend strongly enough that you have a friend who wins the Nobel Prize.”

Lebowitz’s NYU appearance was part of Addressing Style, an event series created by former special project editor of Italian Vogue, Grazia D’Annunzio. D’Annunzio is a long-time friend of Lebowitz.

“She knows everybody, but she’s also selective with her friends,” D’Annunzio said. “She’s a very loyal friend and when she’s a friend of yours, she’s a friend forever.”

D’Annunzio thought that Lebowitz would be a perfect addition to the list of people that she has interviewed so far for Addressing Style because of her contributions to the fields of fashion and intellectualism.

“In general, from an intellectual point of view, Fran is an outsider,” she said. “Fran has the courage of speaking out and to tell what she really thinks.”

“Fran is very curious and she has a very peculiar style,” D’Annunzio added. “She’s not frivolous but she knows a lot about fashion.”

Lebowitz, whose sense of style is notoriously distinctive, often dresses in blue jeans, a white dress shirt and a dinner jacket. 

“That’s what I like,” she said. “I found what I like, and I like it. One thing that never occurs to anyone anymore is that you say something just because you think it. Or you wear something just because you like it. I’m not that organized.”

When an audience member asked about how young people should address climate change, Lebowitz puzzled over the lack of resentment toward her generation. 

“This is the fault of people my age and older,” she said. “I would be angrier. Why do you love your parents so much? It’s their fault. And why is Joe Manchin allowed to be in the Senate?”

Though probably reluctant to speak at an institution that represents everything she resents, Lebowitz was happy to answer students’ questions — including mine. Starstruck by the opportunity to speak with her, I asked if her thoughts on NYU have changed. 

“Why don’t you move it upstate instead of taking all our real estate?” she asked. “NYU used to be, when I was young, much less of a physical presence here. And you took up a lot of nice houses that rich people could be living in.”

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 15, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]