When I saw the first few episodes of 2021’s “Pretend It’s a City” on Netflix (made by Martin Scorsese), I was struck by Fran Lebowitz’s acerbic wit and savvy sense of humor. By the end, I knew that I would be interviewing her, or at least I would try.

My friend warned me that Fran didn’t like technology. “She doesn’t have a cell phone, she doesn’t use the computer, she doesn’t even use a typewriter!” I was told. (Due to my blindness and hearing loss I rely heavily on technology when doing interviews.) This was going to be a challenge, and I was groping for the best way to execute my plan.

A minor obstacle, I thought. I found her agent and sent my first query. She was cordial and responsive: Fran’s schedule is tight. No wiggle room.

Then I learned Fran had a Boston gig, so I emailed again. This time I landed “on a list.” Things were looking up for a 10-minute talk with Fran. That was before major media journalists won favor and my request was declined.

A slightly bigger obstacle, I thought. I had already spent seven months trying to reach Fran and I wasn’t ready to give up. That’s when I decided to write her a personal note. It was hand-delivered. No technology involved. The agent called me the next day. Fran was ready to talk. I had 10 minutes.

The original interview was set for a week following the agent’s note. Then it was changed. I had 48 hours to get ready for Fran. Without hesitation, I agreed to do the interview. I stayed up late trying to figure out what to ask her. I pounded out my questions on my braille typewriter, which sounds loud, almost aggressive. I had typos that no one would notice.

Because I was limited by an iPhone and Fran’s landline, I needed to improvise and turned my closet into a sound booth. I took a deep breath and called her the minute the clock closed in on the exact time. I was calling Fran Lebowitz from my closet. I couldn’t believe it.

My heart was pounding. I was nervous. Then she answered. Her voice was deep, resonating over the landline. (Deep voices are easier for me to hear; I had lucked out.) But Fran wanted to make sure I could hear her OK. Someone was vacuuming her apartment. She was concerned. Could I hear over the noise?  Yes, I said. I had a cochlear implant in one ear. I didn’t mention her deep voice. Then I asked her if she could hear me. “My speech isn’t going to be great,” I warned her. “It’s fine,” she replied.


Fran’s concern had put me at ease. Things were moving smoothly until we were almost at the end; that’s when I realized three of my braille-typed index cards had fallen to the floor. She didn’t realize my hands were sweeping frantically across the floor in search of the missing cards. She was patient. “Wait, I lost a braille question,” I admitted. “Please hold.” “I’m holding,” she said. “Oh, my, forgive me, Fran,” I said as I continued to run my hands across the floor. “That’s OK, I’m here, I’m here,” she said.

The 10 minutes she had offered me had grown into almost 20, with the index card mishap eating up just a few seconds. Just before I ended the conversation, I asked Fran if I could send her the lost questions. “You could because I actually have to leave now,” Fran said. “But if you send them, I will try to get back to you.” We both said our goodbyes. Fran hung up the phone. I heard a sound I recognized from decades ago, the click of a headpiece landing in its cradle. A rare sound as authentic as the woman who uses tradition to set her own trends. A revolutionary whose words continue to be the bellwether of who she is.

So, what should people know about you before meeting you?

“I don’t care [laughter]. I actually don’t care! Now, because of the internet, I have noticed that people know a lot about you because they Google you before they meet you. One thing is people think they know things about me that are not even true. I don’t have the internet, so I don’t do that.”

When you were a child, did you know you were going to be famous?

“I never think about that. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I think when I was really, really young, I didn’t realize that people wrote books. I thought they were just in the world like trees. When I realized people wrote them, I thought, I could do that. You know, I’m going to write a book! I never thought, I can do that. I am going to make a tree, so… [laughs].”

When did you think you could actually do this?

“Really young, when I was 7 years old. I told my parents one day, ‘I’m going to write a book.’ So, I wrote a book.”

What did they say?

“You know, they barely paid attention and said, ‘That’s nice.’ At that age I was reading these Nancy Drew books. I was completely obsessed with them, so I wrote a book that was very much like a Nancy Drew book in a notebook, and I started to read it to my father. I said the name of a character in the book and my father said, ‘Where’d you get that name?’ And I got really scared because I said, ‘I made it up.’ The one thing we were never allowed to do was lie. And so, I thought, is that a lie, that I had made up this name? You know, I was really worried. Once I realized you were allowed to do that I calmed down.”

When I had sight, I remember you had your own sense of style—Levi’s, shirts, boots and blazers. But I’m going to ask something different: Do you wear a bathrobe and slippers?

“You mean in the house? When I am alone in the house, I wear blue jeans, but I wear ripped-up blue jeans that I couldn’t wear outside the house unless I was 18! I wear old, ripped-up shirts and I don’t wear boots in the house. I usually wear moccasins.”

What do you like most about yourself? And what would you say you like the least?

“About myself? I don’t know. Well, I guess what I like most about myself is that I like myself enough to be alone. I love to be alone. So, you know, I never annoy myself! What I like least about myself? It is the large number of things I am absolutely unable to do. I can hardly add and subtract. I only have half a brain. So there are tons of things I can’t do. And people say, what do you mean? I can’t do it. So, I need help with many practical aspects of life. I am very bad at a lot of practical things in life.”

Fran Lebowitz in “Pretend It’s a City” (Courtesy: Netflix)
Fran Lebowitz in “Pretend It’s a City” (Courtesy: Netflix)

What’s the one thing you always need when you leave the house?

“I hesitate to say this to you, but I have very bad eyesight. I am blind in one eye and my other eye’s not so great. I have at least two pairs of eyeglasses when I leave the house.”

Did you say you are blind in one eye?

“Yes, in my right eye. I was born without eyesight in that eye. I never had that sight, so I don’t miss it. The other eye used to be better because, of course, I used to be younger! Someone called me a few weeks ago to ask, ‘Did you leave your eyeglasses at someone’s house?’ There was a dinner party. I said no. And he said, ‘They were sure they’re yours.’ I said, ‘That would be impossible.’ I could never leave my eyeglasses! I need them. I could leave something else, a scarf, but not my eyeglasses. That’s my eyesight. A lot of people have bifocals, which are not strong enough. So, I have two pairs—far-away glasses and near glasses, and then in my house I have very strong reading glasses. I can read a menu without them, but I couldn’t read a book.”

What’s the one thing you cannot live without?

“Books. Definitely books”

How many books do you have in your library?

“I have about 12,000.”

Have you read a lot of them, most of them or all of them?

“I would say I’ve read all of them. But because I have more than that in my house—a lot of books come here unbidden; people send them to me—they’re in piles waiting to be taken out of the house! But the ones I keep, I’ve read. And I do have, for instance, a lot of dictionaries. I collect dictionaries. I probably have at least 30 or 40. So, I would not say I read the dictionaries. I have several [sets of] encyclopedias, and I wouldn’t say I read the encyclopedias. The books that I have that are reference books, I wouldn’t read them the way you read a novel. The other books I have, yeah, I’ve read them.”

How high is the tallest bookcase in your home?

“I am looking at it—it’s probably 10-and-a-half or 11 feet. So, if I want to get something off the top shelf—I only have one bookcase that high—I’ll get a ladder. I have numerous bookcases, but they are all cases; they are not shelves. They all have glass doors because the dust eats your books in New York. It’s filthy.”

Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz in “Pretend It’s a City” (Courtesy: Netflix)
Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz in “Pretend It’s a City” (Courtesy: Netflix)

Is there one book that has a memory that’s stayed with you?

“Truthfully, I have the actual book that I believe is the first book I ever owned. When I was a little kid, my mother went to like a sale, like a house sale, and bought me this little book called ‘Six Little Cooks.’ It’s from the 19th century and was a privately printed book that she paid, like, 25 cents for. It’s about a woman who spent a summer teaching her niece and her friends how to cook and it has recipes in it. When my mother gave it to me, I couldn’t believe that I would own such a thing, because it looked to me like something too important for me to have, like this is the kind of thing that would be in a museum or a library. So whenever people are looking at my books, I say, ‘This is the first one.’”

Do you read while you travel—whether it’s by plane or by car—and have you ever been car sick?

“You know what, I cannot read in a car, ever since I was a child; it makes me sick. I mean, I tried when I was a little kid because my mother always read in the car when my father was driving. I also get sea sickness. I have a lot of motion sickness. I only read on a plane because you don’t feel the plane moving.”

Would you consider yourself a spiritual person? Do you observe the High Holidays or go to temple?

“No, I am not at all a spiritual person. I don’t even know what it means. I do not observe the holidays. When I was younger, when my parents were alive, I did, and when I was really young and my grandparents were alive. My grandparents were much more observant than my parents. It’s gotten less and less as more of the religious generations have died off. So, for myself, I do not, no.”

What’s your favorite dish?

“My grandfather’s potato pancakes—no potato pancake on the planet is as good as his.”

Favorite coffee?

“The coffee I make.”

How about a favorite bagel?

Russ & Daughters.”

Fran Lebowitz in “Pretend It’s a City” (Courtesy: Netflix)
Fran Lebowitz in “Pretend It’s a City” (Courtesy: Netflix)

What age were you when you left your family?


Do you have hobbies that you do in between your speaking engagements?

“Not really. I don’t do things like ski or surf, whatever people do. Hike? No, I don’t do those things.”

So, what’s your idea of relaxation?

“Well, my idea of real relaxation is sleeping. I have horrible insomnia and I sleep very poorly; I have my whole life. So, next to that, I would say reading. But the one new habit that I acquired, I acquired during COVID. I started doing crossword puzzles. I never did them before because I don’t like games and I always thought, ‘Why would you do that? It’s a game; it’s silly.’ But I started doing them during COVID and now I do them and I find them very relaxing.”

Do you have any plans to write another book or perform in a film, or write a play?

“I never thought about writing plays, although other people have thought about me writing plays, people who are in the theater business. I hope to write a book, but we don’t know yet. As far as doing another [series] with Marty [Scorsese], we might, but it won’t be this year because I am traveling almost the whole year and Marty is editing a movie that he made last year.”

When you’re out walking, are you often recognized?

“Quite often, especially since [my series on] Netflix.”

Are you cool with it, with people approaching you?

“They say, ‘I know you hate this, but I loved your books, I loved your Netflix [series].’ And I say, ‘I don’t hate this. I hate it when people come and tell me they hate me, which people also do!’ I know sometimes you are running; you are racing to something, like I am racing to the subway, racing down the stairs, and someone is coming up to me and says, ‘Oh, can I take a selfie?’ I always say, ‘Obviously, I am racing to the train. If you want to come back into the subway station and go back in…’ [laughter]. Believe me, there are worse things that people can say to you than, ‘I loved your series, I loved your books.’”

“Pretend It’s a City” is streaming on Netflix.

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