The Mysterious Edges: On Jami Attenberg and ‘Saint Mazie’

1455599891.01.LZZZZZZZHannah Gersen at The Millions:

In 1940, Joseph Mitchell published a New Yorker profile of “Bowery celebrity” Mazie P. Gordon, a career ticket-taker at the Venice movie theater whose charity toward drunken bums was as legendary as it was mysterious. Seventy years later, the profile came to the attention of novelistJami Attenberg when her friend John McCormick named his bar Saint Mazie.

“He said she was the closest thing to a saint that he’d ever heard of,” Attenberg said. “So then I became interested in her, too, and did a bunch of research on her — although there’s not actually a lot to do.”

I met Attenberg in her Williamsburg apartment, a loft with an excellent view, a minimal kitchen, and a whole lot of books. Her dog, Sid, sat at our feet for the majority of the interview, and if you follow Attenberg on any of her online platforms (Twitter, TinyLetter, Tumblr, etc.), both Attenberg and Sid are pretty much as advertised: friendly, warm, curious, and easygoing. The only time Attenberg seemed even the slightest bit taken aback was when I asked her what made her think there was a novel in Mitchell’s profile “Mazie.”

“I thought there were like 10 novels in there! I mean, she was like, friends with Chinese gangsters. That is a novel. Like, right there. All of Joseph Mitchell’s work is one massive writing prompt. He’s so good at the most precise details and leaving a little mysterious edge to everything. So I read that and it was like, complete lift-off.”

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