Slave of Ithaca: Tama Janowitz Moves Upstate

Tama Janowitz. (Photo Jakub Kollárik)

Jay McInerney is reviewing wine for the Wall Street Journal. Bret Easton Ellis is in post-production on The Canyons, a film he wrote that stars Lindsay Lohan opposite porn star James Deen. Meanwhile, Tama Janowitz, the third corner of the pop-lit trinity that defined New York in the ’80s, is now living in Ithaca as she tends to her eight poodles, two horses and one ailing mother.

Wait, eight poodles?

“It was part of a midlife nervous breakdown,” the Slaves of New York author told the Transom. “I kept thinking, one made me happy so I should get another one. Then I was going to start showing them as a hobby, but that world is too dreadful to contemplate. Then I thought I’d breed them and that would give me a nice income. Then I wound up with eight of them, and I couldn’t bring myself to sell them. They’re all spayed and neutered now.”

Ms. Janowitz made a rare trip downstate last week for a dinner party hosted by Wantful, a new gifting site flush with $5.5 million in VC funding that wanted to introduce itself in splashy fashion to the likes of gallerist Tony Shafrazi, actress Rain Phoenix and Ms. Janowitz, along with her husband Tim Hunt, a print and photographic agent for the Warhol Foundation.

The party—also sponsored by the Cool Hunting website—was at 632 Hudson, a new event space that looks like the home of an overfunded bohemian eccentric. We found ourselves sharing a bench at the dining table with Ms. Janowitz and three others, a slightly awkward setup when it came to eating soup or ducking out to the bathroom. After the bench-sitters failed in several attempts to scootch the seat forward en masse on a count of three, Ms. Janowitz sat back and resignedly brought the bowl of Fat Radish pumpkin soup to her chest.

Ms. Janowitz, by her own admission, has been a bit depressed up in Ithaca, sorting through a lifetime of books, poems, coverless Harper’s magazines from the 1890s and Frank Zappa LPs piled high in the home of her mother, a retired Cornell English professor.

She didn’t look the slightest bit glum at the gathering, however, gamely posing for party pics in a shimmery red pantsuit and gold disco boots, her hair a big, punky platinum shag with taupe tips, in homage to Debbie Harry. We guessed that Ms. Janowitz did not achieve that look at an Ithaca salon. “No, I did it myself,” she said, explaining her technique: “You dump the whole bottle of color on your head, and you sit there until it’s done.” Ms. Janowitz had taken the Cornell bus down to the party, held just a few blocks away from the converted 10-by-13-foot meat refrigerator where she wrote Slaves of New York, her 1986 collection of stories about 20-something artists trying to make it in Manhattan.

Speaking to her now, you get the sense that even a meat refrigerator would beat the lonely chill of Ithaca, where “the men are all unemployed and the women are all supporting huge families by working in nursing homes,” she said. Plus, the kitchen in her mother’s home—once a gardener’s cottage for a mansion long since torn down—has not been renovated since the 1940s, by her account. “Instead of a dishwasher, there’s a radiator under this tiny enamel sink.”

Ms. Janowitz hasn’t lived in Manhattan since she moved to Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 14 years ago, along with Mr. Hunt and their daughter, Willow. That borough, of course, is the inspiration for another writer credited with capturing the grand aspirations and romantic woes of young New York.

We asked our dining companion what she thought of comparisons between herself and Lena Dunham, the Girls auteur and soon-to-be-$3.7-million author. “I don’t know who she is,” Ms. Janowitz said. “I only know about deer hunting.” Slave of Ithaca: Tama Janowitz Moves Upstate