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Glenn Ligon – The Bronx

Your Hometown
Your Hometown
Glenn Ligon – The Bronx
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Glenn Ligon is a renowned artist who gives us new ways of seeing American history, literature, and society. How can we see him better through the lens of childhood? In this episode of Your Hometown, Glenn speaks with Kevin Burke about his experiences growing up in the South Bronx in the 1960s and 70s, including his hour-and-a-half commute each way to Walden, the private school he attended on the Upper West Side from the first grade on. His mother made going to Walden possible for Glenn and his brother, and it involved sacrifices and risks. A commute is one thing. Where it can lead, another.

How would this change the landscape for Glenn and his family? Where would Glenn most feel at home, outside and inside, in his New York? Where would he feel safe, or watched, or like a stranger? And how does a city like New York, with its layer upon layer of construction, class, and culture, define not just the literal paths we take growing up, but the existential ones?

“My mother was my role model. She’s the one that lived at home. Yes, as much as she said, ‘Go talk to your father about that,’ I knew that she was the final authority. My sense of … how to move in the world was coming from her. She taught me how to be a man, basically.” ”

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Show Notes

Archival:
Music:
  • Beastie Boys – Shake Your Rump (1989)
  • Carl Douglas – Kung Fu Fighting (1974)
  • Mahalia Jackson – Silent Night (1962)
  • Cool Change – Streets of The Bronx (1993)
  • Cher – Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves (1971)
  • Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – I Put A Spell on You (1956)
Artwork
  • Charlotte Yiu
  • Nick Gregg
Poem
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Part 52, Leaves of Grass (1855)
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood.
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
Jonah Groeneboer and Lisa Koli at Glenn Ligon Studio; and Tate Dougherty and the team at Hauser & Wirth.
A special thanks to our partners this season the Museum of the City of New York; our lead funder, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and all our financial supporters for their commitment to this series. It’s because of them that we’re able to bring this series to you.
For more, including information on live events, check out our NYC series page at mcny.org/yourhometown-podcast

Glenn Ligon – The Bronx

Kevin Burke (VO): This episode is part of a special feature series on New York City and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York, with generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Find us at YourHometown.org or on your favorite podcast app.
 
Glenn Ligon: I distinctly remember from the living room of our apartment that you could see one of the runways at LaGuardia, but you couldn’t see enough of it to actually see the planes land, so in my child’s mind, I just thought, ‘Ok, there are planes crashing there all the time.’ I just saw them approach and sort of glide over the runway, but never actually saw them land.
 
Kevin Burke (VO): ‘Where did you grow up,’ is a question we’re all asked a lot, but the answer is never as simple as a place on a map, is it? It’s about the kid inside of us. What happened to them there before we met the world and the world met us? I’m Kevin Burke and this is Your Hometown.
 
My guest is Glenn Ligon, an artist whose work has been in all the major museums
you can think of, including the White House, when the Obamas lived there. He’s
worked in so many different ways. But what I’m drawn to is this gift he has for
taking materials that already exist in the world – in history, literature, old magazines, photos, ads – and turning them into pieces of art that feel entirely new and different. When you stand before a Glenn Ligon, you know he’s going to show you a new way of looking at the past and the present. How can we see him better, I wondered, through the lens of childhood? As a kid growing up in the South Bronx, in the 60s and 70s, Glenn was seeing a lot every day and not just the planes coming and going at LaGuardia. His commute to the private school he attended on the Upper West Side took longer than a lot of those flights. We’re talking an hour and a half each way on a bus and subway from the first grade to the 12th grade.
 
As you’ll hear, his mother made going to that private school possible. And it
wasn’t easy. It involved a lot of sacrifices and some pretty big risks. A commute
is one thing. Where it takes you, another. How would all of this change the landscape for Glenn and his family? Where would Glenn most feel at home, outside and inside, wherever he was in his New York? Where would he feel safe, or watched, or like a stranger? And how does a city like New York with its layer upon layer of construction, of class and culture, come to define not just the literal paths between here and there as we grow up, but the existential ones?
 
As you listen, pay close attention every time Glenn’s mother comes up – to what
he learned from her, to the history he met through her, and to where their
relationship landed in his own journey of becoming an artist. To set the scene a little bit here – until he was about 13 or 14 years old, Glenn and his family lived in a place called the Forest Projects. It was on Trinity Avenue in the South Bronx. It was a two bedroom apartment on the 11th floor – hence, the planes. Glenn shared a room with his older brother, Tyrone. ‘What was it like?’ I asked him.
 
Glenn Ligon: When you entered the room, that was my side, quote unquote. And it just meant that I had half of a room to put up posters or, but we did have a fish tank in that room, which was mostly my responsibility.
 
Kevin Burke: Would we have seen a contrast between your posters and your brothers’?
 
Glenn Ligon: The contrast would have been that my brother was more of a sports guy, so I think he would have had basketball posters and things like that. Also, our musical tastes were different, so he was more into hip hop and rap. I mean, we grew up in the South Bronx, so I guess I was by default, although my mother was very against us going outside when there were neighborhood block parties and things like that.
 
Kevin Burke: You could hear them?
 
Glenn Ligon: Oh yeah, you could hear them. But she just thought they were hoodlums scratching up records. So why were you going outside to watch people scratch up perfectly good records?
 
So even though I was in the midst of the South Bronx, in the 60s and 70s, I missed, you know, the birth of hip hop. By, you know, by the time I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was interested in books, you know?
 
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
 
Glenn Ligon: So that’s one thing my mother did, you know, ridiculous sneakers for hundreds of dollars? No. Any book we wanted? Yes.
 
Famous family story, you know, that involves reading and writing, when I was in kindergarten doing an alphabet book and the principal of the school calling my mother because I filled in words for the entire alphabet instead of for the four letters of the alphabet that my teacher assigned, which was supposed to take up the entirety of the class, 45 minute class to fill in four words. And she said, the principal said, “Well, you know, your kids are really bright, both of them. But you know, this alphabet book, I had to look up some of the words that are in it.” The principal of the school said this, and you should really think about getting your kids into private school. But my mom thought, “Well, you know, I live in a housing project across the street from this public school, so I don’t have extra money to do that.”
 
But she said something that one of my homeroom teachers said made her so mad that she determined to do it. Her, my homeroom teacher said, “Your kids may be bright here, but in a real school, I suspect they would just be average.” And that made my mother so furious that she decided that she’d rather us be average in a real school than given up on in kindergarten and first grade in this public school across the street from my house.
 
So that’s when she literally called around and found the school that offered the most scholarship money. I don’t think she knew it was the most liberal school in the city side, but I suspect that that was one of the reasons they gave us scholarship money because they were committed to having an integrated school. Marginally integrated, but more integrated than many of the other private schools in the city at the time, and also because it was a school— name was Walden— that was committed to the civil rights movement.
 
Kevin Burke: Yes. Andrew Goodman had gone there.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yes, exactly.
 
Kevin Burke: Pretty remarkable. And then your brother, it affected him, too. So you both went?
 
Glenn Ligon: Right and well because they had had him out in the hallways. They basically invented a job for him, called milk monitor. So he literally was out in the hallways doing God knows what because he had outgrown his first grade lessons so quickly.
 
Kevin Burke: So how did this get rolled out to you?
 
Glenn Ligon: I’m sure it was terrifying. I mean, I have no memory of, you know, I totally blotted that out because I’m sure I was terrified.
 
[tape] Clip from “Early 1970s New York Subway,” Kinolibary archive
 
Glenn Ligon: So from first grade to 12th grade, I left the neighborhood every school morning to go to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Literally got on my bus and a train for an hour and a half to go to this private school. And I do remember it had consequences, like when Co-op City in the Northeast Bronx opened up, one of my relatives was, you know, we went to the meetings, I remember going to the meetings with my Aunt Rose and she was going to move in there and my mom just decided she couldn’t afford it if we were going to this private school.
 
Kevin Burke: Oh.
 
Glenn Ligon: So that was a huge thing. This was a wealthy private school, so, you know, I remember one of the many courses I signed up for was an art course and that involved going to galleries. So it’s the first time I’d been to Soho, you know, first time I had brown rice. But one of the things we did on that trip was go two blocks from the school to someone’s duplex apartment and—which was full of art— and in the bathroom I remember an abstract drawing, but it was signed to the Diamonds, which was the family— they were art dealers— from Bill, and much later I regret I realized like, Oh, Bill as in de Kooning, which is in the bathroom because the Léger mural, the Picassos, the Jackson Pollock were in the living room.
 
Kevin Burke: [laughs] My goodness.
 
Glenn Ligon: Now this is, the kid whose family we’re visiting, is named Mike Diamond and Mike Diamond is Mike D—
 
Kevin Burke:  Of course.
 
Glenn Ligon:  —from the Beastie Boys
 
[tape] Clip from “Shake Your Rump” by Beastie Boys (1989)
 
 
Kevin Burke: When you think about those subway rides, those long Subway rides from your house, your neighborhood to the Upper West side, what stands out? What are you seeing in your mind?
 
Glenn Ligon: I didn’t want to be in my brother’s shadow, so we would leave the house together and go to the bus stop, but I would wait for the bus after the one my brother got on. So we essentially arrived at school five or 10 minutes later, you know, I arrived five or 10 minutes later, but my mother never knew this because we would leave the house together
 
Kevin Burke: She would’ve been horrified.
 
Glenn Ligon: Oh no, she would have been totally horrified. Yeah.
 
Kevin Burke: And it was your decision as the younger brother to do that?
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, because I was in his shadow of, you know, in my head. My mother says at some point she stopped giving me his hand-me-downs because I said to her that when I wore them, I didn’t feel like myself.
 
Kevin Burke: What stays with you from those journeys?
 
Glenn Ligon: I do remember one day, I must have been in third or fourth grade, getting to the bus stop and I didn’t have my pass and the bus driver said to me, ‘That’s all right, you get it to me the next time. You look like a rich kid.’ And thinking about it now, I was getting on the bus at 163rd Street and Trinity Avenue in the middle of the South Bronx. And the bus driver says to me, ‘You look like a rich kid.’ Bizarre.
 
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
 
Glenn Ligon: And let me on the bus for free.
 
I don’t know if I was so conscious of what that meant. I just knew that Upper West Side was a quote unquote ‘white neighborhood’, but now that I think about it, that wasn’t even true.
 
When I went to Walden, we had karate classes. The karate dojo was on Columbus Avenue and 88th Street.
 
Kevin Burke: Okay.
 
Glenn Ligon: But the school made the karate teacher come to Walden, which was on 88th Street and Central Park West, because Columbus Avenue at that moment was considered dangerous. So it was ‘too dangerous’, quote unquote.
 
Kevin Burke: It’s one avenue over.
 
Glenn Ligon: One block. It was literally one block away. For these mostly white, private school kids to go to Columbus Avenue, so we made the karate teacher come to us, and he just thought, ‘Bunch of spoiled private school kids,’ So I think the first lesson we had, he said, ‘We’re going to go outside,’ but we were in the gym in our karate clothes and bare feet and he’s like, ‘No, we’re not putting on your shoes. We’re going to go outside.’ And he made us run around the block in our bare feet just as a way to say, like, ‘You’re tougher than you think,” but also kind of ‘fuck you’ to the parents.
 
[tape] Clip from “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas (1974)
 
Kevin Burke: Your parents split up when you were very young, and so I want to just ask you, how’d that break shaped your world and your sense of place and kind of sense of presence and absence as a kid?
 
Glenn Ligon: There are many reasons my parents split up, but part of it was over what kind of education we were going to have. You know, my father was supposed to be paying child support and a lot of that was going to private schools and he just didn’t believe in them. You know, so that became a contentious thing in their marriage, or their divorce, or separation, actually separation. They were never actually formally divorced. I do remember actually going to the courts in the Bronx with her.
 
Kevin Burke: Really? To enforce the—
 
Glenn Ligon: To enforce the child support, yeah. He had other kids. So that was part of the issue is that he had other children to support outside of my brother and I.
 
Kevin Burke: Who were older than you?
 
Glenn Ligon: Younger. There were a lot of them, there were like five or six of them. So, but we were the ones that kind of ‘worked out,’ in quotes. So, which I guess meant that we didn’t ask him for money. My brother and I were, you know, when my mother got exasperated, she would say, ‘Go talk to your father about this.’
 
Kevin Burke: Where was he in relation to your house?
 
Glenn Ligon: He moved up to Soundview into an apartment complex that I believe was maybe a co-op is, sort of near the Bruckner Expressway.
 
Kevin Burke: Okay.
 
Glenn Ligon: And that seemed rather glamorous. I mean, my father was a bit of an aesthete. So he had, because he worked for General Motors and had an employee discount, he had a Cadillac, which I was very proud of. And his apartment, too, was very bachelor pad. So red shag carpeting, which I remember him proudly raking as we would end our visits with him and he was going out to drive us home, he would rake the carpet.
 
Kevin Burke: I don’t think, I don’t recall having seen one of those, but I can understand if it’s shaggy, you’d need to—
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah—
 
Kevin Burke: —a vacuum wouldn’t do the job.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, yeah.
 
Kevin Burke: So when you were in those two different spaces, did it feel like different worlds to you, even though this is your mom and your dad?
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah. You know, my mom was, if you’re raising two kids by yourself, essentially you eventually have to give in to, you know, especially to boys. And so her attempts at decorating and things like that had to hold up to our childhood, my brother and I. Not that we were wild kids, but we were just kids.
 
Kevin Burke: To think a little bit about your mom, her jobs are interesting that she has in New York. I was fascinated when I was reading about them in terms of the Cold War hospital on Roosevelt Island, and the Museum of Natural History aside, and then the Bronx Psychiatric Center. Those are all different places and I was wondering how you sort of met the city through her eyes and the stories that she would tell, if she told them when you were a kid, the places that she’s moving in?
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, she grew up on a farm in South Carolina and moved to the city with an aunt who ran a fish store in Harlem. So her memories of being in the city, early on are of Harlem and walking the streets of Harlem on New Year’s Eve, but being in a church at midnight. But by the time I knew what Harlem was, I couldn’t imagine being out all night in Harlem, you know, because the Harlem I knew was a place that my relatives had moved out of.
 
Kevin Burke: And did she ever, did you ever see her at work?
 
Glenn Ligon: I remember my school ended at three, and I would take the train up to Bronx Psychiatric because her shifts ended around four, so I would sort of get their route right around the time of her shift was ending, and we’d go to the Woolworth’s in West Chester Square to have grilled cheese sandwiches, which is where also I bought all the plants that took over her bedroom, but that’s another story.
 
And, but Bronx Psychiatric at that point had some wards that were called open wards, I believe the term was, which meant that the patients could go out during the day for rehabilitation, or some had jobs, or to visit family. So in the walk from the hospital to West Chester Square, invariably my mother would run into somebody and have these to, my adolescent mind, long, boring conversations with someone. But I realized that I couldn’t tell the difference between if it was, I couldn’t tell it like if it was someone she worked with or someone that was on the ward.
 
So I invented this game called patient or employee. So as they were talking, I would try to guess if it was a patient of the hospital or an employee, and I was never very good at it. So I always got confused, but I realized in a way that was, you know, much, much later actually seeing images of Diane Arbus, she took a lot of photographs at mental hospitals and seeing those images that sort of triggered my memories of that game, patient and employee, and I thought, ‘Oh, the reason I couldn’t tell the difference is because he talked to them the same way.’
 
Kevin Burke: Wow.
 
Glenn Ligon: And so they were the same for her.
 
Kevin Burke: I understand that growing up, your brother, Tyrone, was the social one. You mentioned he likes sports, he was more into the music of the neighborhood, it sounds like there was emerging, and you were more of a homebody. You liked being inside and to the point where your mother would have to send you out and say, you know, you have to at least go out for an hour and play, you cannot be in all the time.
 
Glenn Ligon: I think my mom just thought, you know, I needed to be well-rounded and being well-rounded meant, I think even though she didn’t say that, having black friends because I was going to a private school that had mostly white kids.
 
So that was maybe her unstated agenda. But it was also just some idea about masculinity and, ‘Boys go out to play and your brother goes out to play, why can’t you?’ So when I became old enough to realize that I had other priorities like I rather read a book than go outside and run around. But, you know, it’s not like I never went outside.
 
Kevin Burke: Sure.
 
Glenn Ligon: But when I became old enough to realize that reading was super important to me. I’d rather just do that than be outside. So she did that thing that adults can do, which is order you to do something. But I took her at her words. You should go outside for an hour and play. So I would go down to the base of our building and there’s a maintenance worker area in that building that had a time clock.
 
And I would sit and watch that time clock for one hour and then go back upstairs. And then sometimes she would say, You haven’t been out enough. Go back downstairs. So that’s when I also realized that adults were not fair and stick to their words.
 
But also, you know, this was the South Bronx in the 70s, so there is a certain risk to being outside. You know, I just, my head was in books. You know that that was a way of traveling. I didn’t really need to be outside in a certain way. So I saved all my friend-energy for school and didn’t really have much of it left over for the neighborhood.
 
You know, my brother is much more social in that way. So many more, he knew many more people around, but it just was not so interesting to me. Also, you know, by that time, I knew I was gay and I feel like there was a kind of division about what I wanted to do, you know, with my life versus what being in the streets was, you know, like athletics and playing tag and you know, all of that was, yeah, I could do it, but it wasn’t where my head was, really.
 
[tape] Clip from “Halihmuhfack” sung by Zora Neale Hurston
 
Kevin Burke: One of the pieces that you’ve quoted from in your work is a 1928 essay by Zora Neale Hurston, which she talks about the fact that she was most conscious of her race and her blackness when she was thrown against a sharp background of, a sharp white background, and she gives Barnard as her example of that. Was Walden that for you?
 
Glenn Ligon: Yes, because I think predominantly it was white kids who became more integrated in the upper grades, but in the lower grades, predominantly white kids and predominantly well-to-do white kids who lived in the neighborhood. So there was always this sense of, you know, separation. You know, they weren’t coming to my house, you know?
 
I was more often than not going to their house, but in a sense, the school was their house, you know? You know, there was a kid who was always late to school and I thought, ‘How can you be late to school? You live around the corner,’ you know. Literally, around the corner. He was always late and I thought, ‘OK,’ because it’s just, you know.
 
Kevin Burke: It’s his backyard. What would you say? Again, thinking about Zora Neale Hurston’s quote, what was that for your mother?
 
Glenn Ligon: I think the problem with sending a child to a school like that is inevitably, the child’s experiences diverge from the parents.
 
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
 
Glenn Ligon: My mom didn’t finish high school. She got an equivalency degree. She had to work early on. So at a certain point, I realized, like my experiences, you know, going to this wealthy private school, were things that she couldn’t help me with, you know. Some things she could help me with: moral guidance, a sense of right and wrong. Yes, she had all that left down.
 
But just on some of our day to day stuff that went on in a school like that and the experience that I had, they were not her experience, you know? And so I kind of had to figure stuff out on my own a lot.
 
Now, one could argue that’s a good thing for a kid to learn, how to figure out stuff on their own, but it also meant that a lot of things that I was going through were just my things. You know, I didn’t discuss them, really.
 
Kevin Burke: And, in terms of answering these questions for yourself, was it really an inner journey for you or did you find mentors? Did you find people that you did confide in?
 
Glenn Ligon: My English teacher Marty Sternstein is the one that had the after-school poetry classes in his house. So that was my excuse to be in Greenwich Village, you know, after school, and I would slow-walk myself back to the subway because, you know, I was in the middle of like, you know, one of the gayest neighborhoods in New York and I needed to soak that up.
 
Kevin Burke: What are your again, visual, sensory memories of that neighborhood at that time?
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, just that there were gay men on the street, you know, and there certainly weren’t that, you know, I’m certain there were gay men in the Bronx, but they weren’t open like, that, you know. There is no gay-men hang out there where there was at the Christopher Street piers, you know. Or just being, you know, affectionate with one another, you know, in a public way that just didn’t happen in the South Bronx, you know, that was dangerous.
 
So to be in an environment where that was OK, I mean, it scared the shit out of me, I think because I was just coming to grips with my own sexuality then, but it was also important, you know, to see it and to have that experience, I mean, not something, I went home and told my mother about.
 
Kevin Burke: And what about, you mentioned going down to the village to the poetry, teacher who had poetry in the village, how did you feel yourself changing there, or did you?
 
Glenn Ligon: I wasn’t really aware of myself in that world as a possibility. You know, like, being gay. You know, that came really in high school.
 
Kevin Burke: And you mentioned before that you were on one level scared of it because it was so different. I mean, it partly was exciting, but it was also scary.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, well, this was a moment when like, I was nervous to go into Barnes and Noble and look in the gay section, back when they had gay sections, and they probably still do. I don’t go to bookstores anymore, but not like not ones like that, at least.
 
So that was a big thing. Am I going to go to the gay section just to look at the books? It became a choice. And who’s going to see me in a neighborhood that nobody would have know me or cared, there is still this internalized sense that, you know, surveillance, you know, but am I allowed to look? Am I allowed to look at boys? You know, like that was internal.
 
Kevin Burke: You know, you spent, as you mentioned, so much time inside books and those were your portals to other worlds and you have to make things. What were you aspiring to find? What, I mean before you can name it, what was the feeling? What were you going for? Were you reaching for?
 
Glenn Ligon: I just knew that there were things I was interested in art and architecture. I didn’t really know any artists. My mother said the only artist she’s ever heard of were dead. You know, Picasso and Matisse, and they were in fact, dead at that point. So there wasn’t a role model in my family to be an artist. It didn’t seem to be something that made sense.
 
But I also was interested in architecture, and so that became the default. You know, it’s like, ‘Oh, I want to be an architect.’ It was a profession versus being an artist, which was just an aspiration or something. But I was too stubborn for that.
 
[tape] Clip from “Un Étranger dans le Village” by James Baldwin (1962)
 
Kevin Burke (VO): In his essay Stranger in the Village, James Baldwin wrote about his experiences as the first known black man to enter a small village high up in the Swiss mountains. Glenn made art out of Baldwin’s piece, transposing the text onto panels with oil sticks and coal dust. It made me wonder, where did Glenn most feel like a stranger in his hometown?
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, certainly in that transition from home to school, because my emotional life kind of centered on school pretty early on. So maybe in some ways, I was more estranged at home than I was at school, but that caused some issues too, because most of my friends in school were white because most of the kids were white. And so there is inevitably some, you know, misunderstandings and not so much with the kids, but more with their parents, you know what they imagined black kid from the ghetto to be and the sort of limit of their imaginations.
 
But I think I also kind of, you know, in a way, sheltered my white friends from my home experience, you know, because I just knew that they weren’t going to share it, you know, they weren’t coming over and frankly, their experience seemed more appealing, you know, despite the fact that I was missing out on the birth of hip hop, you know. Which, to this day, friends are like, “Oh my God, you grew up in the Bronx, so you must’ve, like—” No, not one single, like, party in a playground, no, like basement jam, you know?
 
Kevin Burke: Sticking with that Baldwin essay, one of the really striking lines in it that resonated with me and made me think of your work too is, he says that people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. When, as a kid growing up, an adolescent teenager, did you feel most the presence of the past in your world and your physical spaces or the people that you were around?
 
Glenn Ligon: I probably felt that most when I was visiting my cousins and my grandfather and grandmother in Washington.
 
Kevin Burke: Ok.
 
Glenn Ligon: Because they were kind of a gathering place for my extended families, some of whom still lived in South Carolina, Virginia. My father’s family’s from Virginia, my mom’s family from South Carolina, so my contact with those relatives from the South was
through my grandfather and grandmother’s house in Washington, but also because they’re grown up there.
 
So the stories that I would hear, being around my aunts and uncles, were often about their childhood, but I would hear those, you know, in this kind of nostalgia, but just matter of fact. My mother’s saying like, ‘Oh yeah, we would, you know, get an orange for Christmas.’ And I said, ‘Oranges?’ She’s like, ‘Orange,’ you know?
 
Kevin Burke: Wow.
 
Glenn Ligon: Sharecropping family, yeah. An orange was a big deal, you know. You got one at Christmas.
 
[tape] “Silent Night” by Mahalia Jackson (1962)
 
Glenn Ligon: My mother grew up as a, you know, daughter of a sharecropper. My mother worked as a physician’s aide in a hospital and sent me and my brother to private school. My niece, my brother’s daughter, is getting her Ph.D. at Duke in Anthropology. So that’s the trajectory.
 
But mostly my relatives I saw in urban contexts, so in D.C. So even though they’re telling me stories about growing up on the farm, it wasn’t real to me until I went back there, family reunion, probably when I was 14 or 15, we took a bus from Washington down to South Carolina and stayed in the motel, all my relatives.
 
And we went to the site of a church they had gone to when they were young and suddenly in Bishopville in South Carolina or one of these little towns, maybe wasn’t even a town. And there was the remains of this church, you know, wooden church and suddenly everybody had little jars as they were digging up soil from around this church. And I realized, oh, they, my mother hated being on that farm, but she was still connected to that land.
 
Kevin Burke: And one of the things I also wanted to ask you is because you are a visual artist and one of the giants of our time in terms of art, the experience of memory in the mind’s eye of an artist, as someone who is expressing yourself in a visual way, what your experience of memory is like itself, particularly of childhood.
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, yeah, I’m not very good at, you know, dates. That’s my brother, he’s very good at remembering, you know. But I do remember emotions, yeah, things that stand or how it felt, you know. Yeah, just how it felt missing New York so much when I was in summer camp, you know, in the Adirondacks that I would literally just start walking down the road as if I could walk home, you know. Now lots of other things. I must have had fun sometime that summer. You know, I was there for months, but I remember that part of it much more clearly than the other parts of it.
 
Kevin Burke: And if you think about your own personal map of the city at that time when you were growing up and the emotional overlay of it, where would you say, for example, was your happiest place?
 
Glenn Ligon: I had relatives that lived in the North Bronx, 227th Street. I guess that’s Wakefield, is the neighborhood. It was my aunt, Celeste Dean and her son lived in the apartment above, it was a two-family house. And they had a dog. You know, relatives with a dog and a backyard in a two-story house, you know.
 
Now the journey up there was actually fun in a way because it was getting out of my neighborhood, but it was often we would take the 3rd Avenue L because it was still existing—
 
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
 
Glenn Ligon: —back then, when I was a kid, which is a scary train, you know, besides being old, the tracks were very windy, just scary.
 
But I liked being out of my neighborhood. I liked playing with dogs in the backyard, and I liked that you could play out on the street. You know, that’s where I supposedly learned to ride a bike, though it didn’t ever take. My cousin had a bike. You know, my uncle tried to teach me it didn’t really work, ut you know,
 
Kevin Burke: And on that map, what would you say is the most haunted place for you?
 
Glenn Ligon: I don’t know if it’s a place, particularly, it’s a memory coming from Washington back to New York, my Uncle James was driving. We drove through the intersection of 116th Street and 8th Avenue. And this must have been late 60s, early 70s and there were dozens, if not a hundred people out on the street and on the corner.
 
And my memory is that my Uncle James stopped the car and got out and left the door open and went over to someone. And got into something with this person. And then got back to the car, kept driving.
 
And I figured out later that that was where the open-air drug market was. And he’d seen his son out there among all the dealers and junkies. Now, my brother was there, he may have a different version of the story, but I literally remember him leaving the car door open.
 
I mean, it says something else about like, you know, I said earlier about the sort of class trajectory in my family. You know, I have cousins that went to prison, I have cousins that went to college. You know, others that just work for the post office, you know, lived in the suburbs. It’s all the same family, you know.
 
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
 
[tape] Clip from James Baldwin on Love and Sexuality
 
Kevin Burke: One of the other Baldwin essays I wanted to ask you about was in ‘85, he wrote a piece— later in his life, he died two years later— called Here Be Dragons and in it he talks about how the American idea of sexuality is really rooted in the American idea of masculinity.
 
Glenn Ligon: Mm-Hmm.
 
Kevin Burke: And I was just going to ask you how you were seeing masculinity performed in your immediate world and how it impacted you and how you related to it.
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, it was complicated. You know, I had uncles who were, you know, rough guys, you know. Some had been in prison, you know, some were just kind of like, you know, sit down in the chair and the little leg would come up and you’d see the holstered gun around the ankle.
 
My dad was a bit of a playboy, so there is that version of it, though he worked for a numbers parlor that was run by the mafia in the Bronx.
 
Kevin Burke: This is before or alongside General Motors?
 
Glenn Ligon: Alongside. He worked at this pizza parlor that was close to our house. So you would come to the pizza parlor and say, ‘Is Clarence, you know, Clarence in today?’ and some large Italian would say, ‘No, he’s not in today,’ in that kind of voice. He’s not in today.’ Well, his car’s outside. ‘No, he didn’t come in today,’ which we found out later. That was code for they had been raided that morning by the police and his mob lawyers hadn’t bailed them out yet.
 
Kevin Burke: Wow. But you did not really know this as a kid. I mean, you found out later?
 
Glenn Ligon: I knew something was up because they never had good pizza. [laughs]
 
Kevin Burke: In New York.
 
Glenn Ligon: But I didn’t know it was a numbers parlor, but I realized a couple of things. One is, you know, when I was old enough to talk to my father about it, it was just extra money. You know, he worked as the General Motors plant, but he had all these other kids and the lifestyle he sports, he needed another job. And everybody I knew played the numbers.
 
In fact, he once, when I was in college— he’s long dead— but when I was in college, he had the first of many heart attacks and he, I went to visit him in the hospital and he was all agitated and I was like, Oh, well, you know, ‘Is it something the doctor said, or what’s the prognosis?’
 
He’s like, ‘No, I owe this guy some money.’
 
I’m like, ‘Who?’
 
‘Dizzy.’
 
‘Dizzy? Well, how much money?’
 
‘$300.’
 
‘OK, I’ll go pay Dizzy. Where does Dizzy work?’
 
‘Up at the club.’
 
I was like, ‘What club?’
 
‘You know, the pizza parlor. You know, the numbers club, you know.’
 
I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll go pay Dizzy. I’ll go on the weekend.’
 
‘No, you got to go sooner than that. Compounds interest daily.’
 
And Dizzy was a loan shark who was attached to this numbers parlor and the same Italian guys are there and I say, ‘Where is dizzy?’
 
‘Oh, he’s out in his car.’
 
‘What’s the car?’
 
‘It’s a Cadillac. It’s parked’ [laughs] ‘around the corner.’
 
So Dizzy, a very nice guy, so I give him this money and he’s like, ‘Oh, how’s your father doing?
 
I’m like, ‘He’s doing better. I think he’s probably going to get out in a couple of weeks.’
 
‘I really should go down there and visit him,’ you know, Dizzy says to me and I was like, No, please don’t go visit my father in the hospital. [laughs]
 
Kevin Burke: He just had a heart attack.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, he just had a heart attack, he doesn’t need to see this numbers parlor loan shark.
 
But also dizzy had several fingers on his right hand missing, like the middle fingers. So I didn’t ask him about it then. So I was just like, Hmm. Mm hmm. Loan shark with missing fingers, OK, you know.
 
And then Dizzy ws like, ‘How’s, you know, how’s your grandma doing?’ How do you know my grandmother?
 
And I was like, ‘She’s fine. Hasn’t been in New York in decades, but she’s fine.’
 
So I go back to visit my father and I was like, ‘I paid Dizzy,’ and I was like, ‘Well, what’s the story? He must not be a very good loan shark if he’s got missing fingers.’
 
He’s like, ‘Oh, no, no, no. That happened in a plant accident. He worked at General Motors with me.’
 
And I was like, ‘Oh, so how does he know my grandmother?’
 
He’s like, ‘He knows your grandmother because your grandmother plays the numbers. Like, Dizzy was at my wedding. I’ve known him for 40 years.’
 
And I was like, oh, this is not criminal activity. This is just like extra money. They don’t see it as criminal because your grandmother plays the numbers, your mom plays numbers. [laughs]
 
[tape] Clip from “Streets of The Bronx” by Cool Change (1993)
 
Kevin Burke: You mentioned the guy in the pizza parlor saying, ‘He’s not here today,’ not what you were trying to emulate and trying to be.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, but also I was getting my masculinity from my mother, too.
 
Kevin Burke: Say more about that.
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, because she was my role model. Like, she’s the one that lived at home. Yes, as much as she said, ‘Go talk to your father about that,’ I knew that she was the final authority. And so my, you know, sense of the word all how to move in the world was coming from her. So she taught me how to be a man, basically. You know, I’m more. She had more influence than, you know, my gun strapping uncles.
 
Kevin Burke: And for her, what did being a man mean to her?
 
Glenn Ligon: Responsibility, working. You know, I always had an afterschool job. You know, I made my own money. You know, being truthful, you know, being kind, being you know, those were her values. So this that’s what was in part it, you know.
 
But also, I think, you know, it didn’t, that sort of, you know, not that any of my relatives were thuggish. I mean my father, you know, had paintings of mine in his house, you know?
 
Kevin Burke: And you said that he was very hardworking, too.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, he missed a day of work at General Motors because when he was driving up to the plant one day, he didn’t feel well. If you made a left turn, you went to the General Motors plant. This is in Tarrytown on the highway. If he made a left turn, you went to the General Motors plant, if you made a right turn, you went to the Tarrytown hospital. He made a right turn and had a heart attack in the parking lot. So that’s why he missed work that day. Otherwise never missed a day of work.
 
Yeah. So that was there to hear that kind of ethic. He made my brother miss my high school graduation because my brother was working at the General Motors plant. And that was his shift. And he’s just like, You’re not missing your shift.
 
Kevin Burke: Wow.
 
Glenn Ligon: My father was hard core.
 
Kevin Burke: And so, you know how hard both of your parents worked and sort of the steeliness of your mom too, when you mentioned that you were drawn to art as a career, and she mentioned that she’d only known that artists, you know, what did you think was her expectation of you? What journey was she placing you on when she sent you, do you think to, Walden and what did she expect of you?
 
Glenn Ligon: I think she just expected me to be middle class. I don’t think it really mattered. I mean, she said, you know, kind of I don’t want you to be an artist and not so many words, except the only artist. She just didn’t know anything about it, so it doesn’t make any sense to her. But when I said I wanted to be an architect, she was like, ‘Great, you know, that sounds like I can understand that,’ you know?
 
But I think she just I don’t think in the end, that really mattered. You know, like, I have an uncle who was, I think, her younger brother and he was great. I loved him. But he said, like, ‘Do what you like. The money will follow later.’ Didn’t really matter. You know, he worked at the Post Office because, like he liked to work at the post office. Do what you like.
 
Kevin Burke: It was more that the art world was something that she couldn’t imagine doing because she was foreign to her in that way.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, but it wasn’t forbidden. She didn’t, you know, I was like, ‘Oh, if you didn’t want me to be an artist, why did you send me those drawing classes at the Met? You know, when I was in high school,’ like so, her actions sort of weren’t contradicted. The feeling, you know, that like, Oh God, he wants to be an artist. He’s not going to make any money, you know, like, there was that, but then I was like, teah, but you sent me the pottery classes in Greenwich Village.
 
Kevin Burke: And Glenn, when you were thinking about what she can add in for you or not. What were you imagining? You’re imagining you in the art world, what are you imagining?
 
Glenn Ligon: I didn’t imagine myself from the art world until I got a grant from the National Endowment and that was into my 30s. I always said I was going to be an architect, and when I wasn’t going to be an architect, I told my relatives, you know, I worked as a proofreader in a law firm, but like, I didn’t know anything about being an artist.
 
So it didn’t become real until, you know, it’s kind of a joke, but I’m kind of serious, like, I didn’t become an artist ’til the government sent me a check, you know, [laughs] and said, here’s the grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. You’re an artist.
 
[tape] Clip from “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” by Cher (1971)
 
Kevin Burke: And you described how even to this day, having to go out into the art circuit and the dinners and the shows, you’re still shy about it. It’s not something you enjoy having to do, but it’s part of the business of art.
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, because it’s not all that. [laughs]
 
The world is full of amazing people, but it’s also like, you know, gypsies, tramps and thieves, as the song used to go, you know. It’s full of hustlers and grifters and psychopaths to set up after a while, it gets tiring. You just want to make your work and not have to deal with the business of being an artist, which is the social part of it partially.
 
Kevin Burke: You mentioned there was a bookstore, Gay Treasures, that you would go into and that you would do research there. Sounds like a very interesting, curated collection if you could tell us more about the scene and the characters and people in that bookstore.
 
Glenn Ligon: It wasn’t right on the West Side Highway or near Christopher Street, but right around there. And it was, it maybe even billed itself as a bookstore, but really, it was like a high-end gay magazine publication store, as opposed to like Oscar Wilde Bookstore, which is a bookstore-bookstore, proper bookstore.
 
But they also have archives where you could basically go through pictures of, you know, organized like a clipping file almost, but like little polaroids and organized by categories. You know, Black men was one of the categories, you know, bodybuilders, you know,
 
[tape] Clip from “The Naked Civil Servant” (1975)
 
Glenn Ligon: And I think actually Gay Treasures might have had readings, too. I have a memory of seeing Quentin Crisp read there, Naked Civil Servant was a big thing when I was growing up.
 
Kevin Burke: And for those who don’t know what it is, quickly, briefly.
 
Glenn Ligon: The Naked Civil Servant was this biography of growing up gay in England in the, I guess, 40s, 50s. I remember watching it with my mom on PBS when it came out. She didn’t say a word. It was hilarious.
 
[music]
 
And he probably had a book out, you know, so he came and is reading. But he did it as a performance, so he did this entire kind of talk about his life. And then he literally started over and did the same talk again. It was amazing.
 
Kevin Burke: Thinking about you talking earlier about, you know, scanning and thinking about going to the Barnes and Noble. And should you go into the section in the gay section and making that choice, eventually, you’re going to the Gay Treasures bookstore. So, do you remember when you started to feel free to do those things and not to be as worried?
 
Glenn Ligon: Oh, probably after college. Definitely not during college, though, I was out during college, I had boyfriends, but after college it became more normal.
 
Kevin Burke: Coming back to New York?
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah. I lived with a boyfriend. You know, Upper West Side. [laughs]
 
Upper, Upper West Side, 110th Street and Riverside Drive. So that sort of normalized it a bit more, you know. That was the early 80s.
 
Kevin Burke: And did your mom just think it was a roommate?
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah.
 
Kevin Burke: Again, unspoken.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah. Because I had straight roommates, too.
 
Kevin Burke: Sure.
 
Glenn Ligon: After and before. So just a roommate.
 
Kevin Burke: Your mom passed away, it was, I want to say the late 80s or before kind of one of your first big shows, but she knew you were on that road. But did she ever get to know the full you in the sense, did you, had you come out before she died? Did she know the full you in that way?
 
Glenn Ligon: No, no, I didn’t have the big talk, but no. But I think she knew because there was never really. I mean, I had girlfriends in high school, but none she would have approved of, or did approve of, but—
 
Kevin Burke: Why not?
 
Glenn Ligon: White, for one. But I think, you know, I remember her saying, probably in response to one of her relatives saying something about me not being married or something and my mom saying to me like, ‘Oh yeah, your Aunt Celeste even asked me about your being married, but I was married. It’s not so great. You know, it’s not like you and I have a happy life if you’re married. Like, I married your dad.’ You know, I was like, well.
 
So I think that was her way of saying, like, you don’t have to pay attention to all these things, you know? But we never talked about, like, you know. She said stuff about being gay and her disapproval, but it wasn’t hard core, you know, like she was just worried for me. But it didn’t, you know, there wasn’t a fire and brimstone like kicked you out of the house kind of talk. We never had that talk.
 
But also, I think, you know, when she became ill, she died of cancer, I was telling her friend that relationships with an ill parent often organize around gender, but they also organize around sexuality. So there were, you know, I had a brother, but I was the one that was going with her to the doctor visits and, you know, talking to, you know, the nurse. And, you know, so it’s very like the gay man was put in the role of like the helper character, caregiver in the way that my brother didn’t and wasn’t expected to really.
 
Kevin Burke: When your mind wanders, Glenn, do you find yourself going back to specific, like, a few or even just one or two specific moments in childhood that are the ones that you just keep going back to, to retell, to investigate, to interrogate, to want some answer to?
 
Glenn Ligon: Well, I think that, you know, there’s a lot of questions I didn’t ask of relatives and sadly, if you don’t ask sooner or later, you can’t ask because they’ve passed away so you don’t get the direct knowledge.
 
I want to know more, you know, for example, I want to know more about the South, and I have relatives who were still alive that I can ask, but you know, it’s sort of getting around to it, like, what was your childhood like?
 
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
 
Glenn Ligon: But I think, I remember talking to an aunt. I think I was over at her house for dinner, and she’s one of my one of my mother’s sisters and she makes a particularly good fried chicken. And I guess I was eating a lot of it and she said, not to me, but I was present, ‘Oh, he just misses his mom’s cooking.’ So there’s a lot of gaps in my childhood.
 
You know, also, my mom wasn’t really a picture taker. Not the way that everyone takes pictures of everything all the time. I want to know more, you know.
 
I know I have nicknames. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was one of my nicknames when I was a kid and I didn’t know what that meant. And certainly by the time I was aware of it as a nickname like, I was older, so it’s like, ‘Oh, we used to call you Sceamin’ Jay Hawkins,’ but I never knew what that meant. Then I saw the movie, Down By Law— I think it was Down By Law— and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is the guy that sung I Put A Spell On You and he screams a lot. And it’s because I used to, like, nobody could pick me up except for my mother when I was a baby.
 
Kevin Burke: Really?
 
Glenn Ligon: So they used to call me Screamin Jay Hawkins, but it took me ‘til, like, adulthood to figure that out. Yeah. Of course, I could have just asked, or yeah, but it never occurred to me to ask anyone, what does that mean?
 
[tape] Clip from “I Put A Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (1956)
 
Kevin Burke: You mentioned people passing, and I found this to be true to in my own family in life, which is you, there are versions of people that we lose that are in our own consciousness or memories. Most people you’re around day to day, they didn’t know them, so it only is one direction. You tell them about them and they can respond to them as if they might have known them if they didn’t. But then there are people who you are. You can be in their company and they also remember them. Yeah. So being in the company of people who knew that person who’s gone is a special feeling.
 
Glenn Ligon: I remember my aunt. It was my grandmother’s sister, my Aunt Minah. And she, I remember being over her house and my mother had already passed away. And we were talking something, like she had one of those, you know, very common black family of a certain generation, the coffee table with the glass on it, with the pictures underneath them, in the living room and there was a picture of my mother.
 
I was looking at and talking to my Aunt Minah and my Aunt Minah saying— me saying something about forgetting people or something and my Aunt Minah saying about my mother, ‘It seems like the good people you never forget,’ about my mother a little weepy right now, but yeah.
 
Kevin Burke: That comes through.
 
Glenn Ligon: your memories of people, you know, continue.
 
Kevin Burke: Yes.
 
Glenn Ligon: And they continue with other people as well. If the person was worthy of remembering, I guess, you know.
 
Kevin Burke: One of the things that I am captivated by that you, I shared before that I love Walt Whitman, is that in 2015 you were commissioned by The New School to essentially create a beautiful installation using Whitman’s words from leaves of grass in sort of a violent neon scroll around one of their big event spaces like then cafe. And it made an impression on me.
 
You actually are the first person I’ve been with who, who’s really lived inside of his words. So I’d like to ask you about your relationship to him, but maybe you can talk about that in the context of the question I’m going to  ask, which is— I’m going to read something that I ask you, something which is in Song of Myself. He writes these words:
 
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
 
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
 
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,

Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
 
 
And those words are so powerful they always remain with me, and I am the kind of show that growing up in hometowns and place and time, I like to ask each person I speak with sort of 50, 100, 200 years from now, in the way that Walt Whitman was thinking about the future, too, in the context of his past, if there’s someone comes along in the future and discovers a Glenn Ligon painting or a piece of art and wants to know you, wants to commune with you, where would you tell him to look for you in New York to say, if you want to know me or get a sense of me or commune with me, go to this spot or a series of spots because that’s where you’ll get a sense of me that you may not get from anything else?
 
Glenn Ligon: Ooh, that’s a hard one. I would say probably the Forest Houses because they were so much a part of my formative year. The temporary housing that is the Forest Houses, which I imagine will still be there 50 or 100 years from now, as public housing is such a dire need in this city that you can’t even imagine.
 
I know they do like tear down public housing, but I can’t even imagine it. So imagining that place is still there, you’ll know something about what it was like to be me at that moment.
 
Kevin Burke: Mm hmm.
 
Glenn Ligon: Walden, as a school, merged itself into lots of different other schools and the building isn’t there anymore. So that’s not really a landmark, but I would actually maybe point them to a text, too.
 
I wrote a text for a show called Greater New York, and it was a, basically a biography in the form of short text about every place I’d lived in New York. And it’s called the history, A Brief History of Housing in New York City. So if that’s still around as a chapbook, but maybe as a work too, because it was actually silkscreened on the walls of P.S. 1 Museum.
 
That’s a good marker of, kind of, who I was. You know what I was thinking about and my intersection with the city, too, because it literally is going through in chronological order all the places I’ve lived in New York up to date, so I should do an expanded version because I need to update it soon as I’m moving to Brooklyn eventually.
 
But yeah, and the kind of emotional tone of those places because you don’t you sort of get them from the buildings in the way because the buildings are part of a neighborhood, but neighborhoods change drastically. So one sense of the city as, as it appeared to someone who lived there at a particular time is very different here than— like I can’t imagine what New York’s going to be like in 50 years. It’s very hard to imagine.
 
Kevin Burke: And with Whitman in particular, just have close here, in spending time and kind of in living inside of his words and thinking about the kind of New York that he lived in, you know, leaves of grass in some ways is a celebration of the the density of the city and wanting to be one of many.
 
But one thing that’s come through, I think in speaking with you as an artist like Walt, is that your journey— I wonder if you would say it’s fair to say— seems to also have been more of an interior journey. It’s something that’s also inside. Inside spaces, but also the internal dialog of growing up, which is different than the extrovert, ‘I’m Walt Whitman, you know, have a beer with me. Ride the, ride the omnibus with me.’ He was absorbing, getting the energy from others and that was coming in. Yours seems to be much more of an internal New York, which I think is an interesting point about the city as well. You can be both things in New York.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, it can be an incredibly lonely city. It’s a city where you can be alone in the multitude, you know? I mean, that’s almost a cliché of New York, But I think it is actually, in my experience, true New Yorkers lack imagination because to live in New York is to feel like you’ve lived everywhere because everything comes here.
 
So I do have that feeling of, you know, this sort of aloneness. This experience of the city as a loner, but also the experience of city as, like, everything is here. Somehow everything’s come here, everything’s been through here.
 
So those two senses of the city kind of exist simultaneously. And you know, I do lack imagination as much as I, you know, I say, I’m tired of New York. I, you know, could live somewhere else. It’s been 60 years. Here I am, you know, so I think I am a New Yorker in that sense. Like there’s some deep pull here. As much as the city has changed over my lifetime, there’s some extraordinary hold it has on me that keeps me here.Maybe lack of imagination. Can’t imagine living anywhere else, you know? But yeah, there is something about New York as a place that has kept me, you know.
 
Kevin Burke: And I hope that gravitational force remains strong, as a New Yorker. Glenn Ligon, thank you so much for taking me to your hometown.
 
Glenn Ligon: Thank you.
 
Kevin Burke: It’s been a pleasure.
 
Glenn Ligon: Yeah, it’s been fun.
 
Kevin Burke: I really enjoyed it.
 
Kevin Burke (VO): Thank you for listening to Your Hometown, where the local is the epic.
 
This is a Kevin Burke Production. Visit YourHometown.org to subscribe to the podcast and our various social media channels. And wherever you’re listening, please drop us a review. Every star helps.
 
For information on live events that we do around the show, visit our New York City series page on The Museum of the City of New York’s website at mcny.org/your hometown- podcast.
 
Now, let me thank the team that works with me on Your Hometown, beginning with our Executive Producer, Robert Krulwich, our Editor and Sound Designer Otis Streeter, our Composer-Performer Sterling Steffen, and our researchers Shakila Khan and Janmaris Perez. I also want to thank Tunshore Longe, Nick Gregg, and Charlotte Yiu for the vivid illustrations that have given our show another dimension. Our Social Media Manager is Mackela Watkins, and our website and branding design is by Tama Creative.
 
A special thanks to our partners this season: the Museum of the City of New York; our lead funder, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and all our financial supporters for their commitment to this series. It’s because of them that we’re able to bring this series to you.
Thanks so much for taking this ride with me. And, remember – everyone’s from someplace, and everywhere is somewhere.

 

Series one

New York City

Local engagement is vital to the mission of Your Hometown, with the series aspiring to visit a variety of iconic cities and towns for a deeper dive on each place as a hometown. This model is being launched through a first-season focus on New York City, and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York. Many think of New York as a place where people move to in order to realize their dreams, but it is critical to remember that it is also a place where young people grow up – a series of hometowns within the larger metropolis that shape rising generations through the day-to-day texture and details of family, neighborhoods, schools, and boroughs that will become the origin stories of their lives, creativity, work, and contributions to society as a whole. That is the New York this series seeks to illuminate and reveal.

© Museum of the City of New York, 2021