Five Questions, One Drawing: Emma Straub

Today we’re kicking off a new series, Five Questions, One Drawing, in which artist Steven Weinberg will interview and draw a well known Brooklynite each month. We’re thrilled to start with the charming and talented Emma Straub.

Name: Emma Straub

Occupation: Writer (Straub’s new novel, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is at the top of our holiday gift list)

Neighborhood
: Prospect Lefferts Gardens

Brooklynite since: I commuted from Manhattan to high school in Brooklyn, starting in 1994. Moved to Brooklyn in 2004, left for grad school in 2006, moved back in 2009, and have been here ever since.

When you leave Brooklyn and come back what’s the first thing you do? If I’ve been gone only a few days, I kiss my cats and proceed about my day-to-day business. If I’ve been gone a week or more, I might be craving some foodstuffs: bagels, really good pizza, etc. I believe it to be a coincidence that all of my favorite foods are New York City staples, but perhaps that’s not actually true. Certain mythologies are sacred. Either way, I will quickly work my way back around to all my regular haunts: BookCourt and WORD, BAM, my sofa.

You commute by train/bike/car/walk/other? Why? I take the train into Manhattan, except maybe on the weekends when parking is less annoying, and then I might drive. I often drive around Brooklyn, because it’s more direct. Because I’m a terrible person, that’s why. I do like taking long walks, but not usually as form of actual transportation. I think people who ride their bikes around Brooklyn are insane. The ones who don’t wear helmets are triply insane, with an added death wish on top. I would ride a bike down an empty country road, and that’s it.

How many different places have you lived in Brooklyn? Which is your favorite? I used to live on Smith Street, in Carroll Gardens, and now I live in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, which is right by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which would all make you think that I have some kind of a green thumb, but sadly that is not the case. There are other neighborhoods in Brooklyn that I fantasize about: Greenpoint, near Franklin Street; the cobblestoned blocks in Red Hook; the grand, slightly ramshackle mansions in Ditmas Park; the Mailer family manse along the promenade in Brooklyn Heights.

What’s your ideal Brooklyn date? Walk to Franny’s, eat so much pizza, walk to BAM for a showing of a Cary Grant movie, hop on the subway home. Simple and perfect. There is also wine and chocolate involved. And my husband, of course.

Your new novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is about the rise and fall of a Hollywood starlet beginning in the 1920s and must have required a ton of historical research. What are your favorite historical spots in Brooklyn? Any places you see as great seeds for stories? I think I wrote a historical novel about Hollywood because I could never write one about New York. It’s my home, where I grew up (albeit in Manhattan), and my personal connections to the physical locations are too strong to be ignored, or fictionalized, at least for now.

Most of my favorite historical spots in Brooklyn have to do with my youth–places where I drank beer and ran wild as a teenager, mostly in Brooklyn Heights, where I went to high school. There was UTB, and Squib Hill, and the insides of many fabulous houses. Those are all wonderful places for stories to begin–the moment when you’re standing on the threshold, about to walk into a party, and there’s only one person you really want to see. The moment when you smoke your first cigarette and you feel your world change from one to another, expanding to allow this new avenue to open. Brooklyn is full of those stories, as it has always been.

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