Suzanne Vega – East Harlem / Upper West Side, Manhattan

Your Hometown
Your Hometown
Suzanne Vega – East Harlem / Upper West Side, Manhattan

Suzanne Vega is that rare singer-songwriter whose work becomes part of the soundtrack of their hometown — in her case, New York City. In this episode, Suzanne illuminates her childhood in East Harlem in the 1970s and how her experiences of the city, inside and out, flow through her work, even as she embraces the freedom to write from different perspectives. Suzanne’s latest album is “An Evening of New York Songs and Stories,” and as she discusses such songs as “Luka,” “Gypsy,” “Tom’s Diner,” and “Zephyr & I,” we meet an artist fully alive to the truths of her coming of age and to the souls that linger in an urban landscape layered by time and memory.

In particular, when “Luka,” a song about child abuse from a young boy’s point of view, was first released in the 1980s, Suzanne shied away from questions about whether she was writing from experience or imagination. Not only was it a matter of artistic principle, but as she reveals, she also was afraid of what her stepfather, the novelist Ed Vega, might think. All these years later, Suzanne talks as never before about her personal connections to “Luka” and how its truth spoke to other people’s truths.

"My father would send me to the candy store, which was right around the corner. So I didn't have to cross the street. I could just go to the corner, turn right, go to the candy store, get the newspaper or his cigarettes – you know, I was six years old and they would give me the cigarettes"


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

Show Notes

Suzanne Vega – Luka (1987)
Suzanne Vega – New York Is My Destination (2016)
Suzanne Vega – New York is a Woman (2007)
Suzanne Vega – Gypsy (1987)
Lou Reed – Caroline Says (Live at Firenze 1980)
Suzanne Vega – Would You Like Another One? (2020)
Suzanne Vega – Tom’s Diner (1992)
Suzanne Vega – Walk on the Wild Side (2020)
Suzanne Vega – Zephyr & I (Acoustic) (2010)
Suzanne Vega – Luka (2020)
2007: Irish in the Americas
Puerto Rican Iconoclast: The Work and Literary Lives of Edgardo Vega Yunqué 
Illustrations – Nick Gregg
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.”
Recommended Listening: Suzanne Vega, An Evening of New York Songs and Stories
Recommended Reading: The Passionate Eye: The Collected Writing of Suzanne Vega
Special thanks: Steve Addabbo, Chris Schimpf, Mark Spector
A special thanks, too, to our co-presenter on this special New York City feature series, the Museum of the City of New York.


Suzanne Vega – East Harlem/Upper West Side, Manhattan
June 22, 2021

Suzanne Vega Transcript


[Voiceover] Kevin Burke: 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 or on your favorite podcast app.
Kevin Burke: When that song came out, Suzanne, what did your siblings or your mom think about the song?
Suzanne Vega: You know, I don’t really know. [LAUGHS] I never– I didn’t– I never asked them, and they never told me. The one I really cared about was Ed, you know, that was the one I was really frightened of. To this day, I don’t– I have no idea, I have no idea. I’ll have to ask my mother; I’ll be like, “Hey, Ma, what did you think?” [LAUGHS]
[Voiceover] Kevin Burke: “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, and what happened to them there, before we met the world and the world met us. I’m Kevin Burke, and this is Your Hometown.
[Tape] “Luka” by Suzanne Vega
[Voiceover] Kevin Burke: That’s “Luka,” by my guest, Suzanne Vega. It came out in 1987 and it touched a nerve for a lot of people, telling this painful story from a child’s point of view – something that really hadn’t been done very much in pop music before. At the time, Suzanne didn’t want interviewers to ask her where she was in the boy’s story. It wasn’t the artist’s job. Luka was the name of a kid in a building where she lived, she said, and the plight of children was something she cared deeply about. But that’s where she chose to leave it.
Before the pandemic, Suzanne went back to Luka during her residency at New York City’s famous Café Carlyle, which isn’t too far south of East Harlem in Manhattan, where she spent her early years before her family moved across town. Out of those performances came an album called “An Evening of New York Songs and Stories,” in which Suzanne weaves together her prolific career as one of the most respected singer-songwriters of our time, with her lifelong relationship to the city where she grew up and where she still lives.
The first time I ever heard “Luka,” I was an 11-year-old child. When I went back to it with Suzanne, I was a father, and I heard it differently. And I wondered what, if anything, had changed for her. As we move through life, we’re always furthest in time from our childhoods. But that doesn’t mean they’re the furthest from our sense of ourselves or our souls. When we met, it was by way of a remote connection. Suzanne in her New York City apartment, me in mine.
Kevin: You moved to New York from California when you were two-and-a-half years old, and you spent the first five years of your life living on one side of Manhattan, in East Harlem, and then 10 years living on the other side of Manhattan, on the Upper West Side. How do you differentiate the two places in your own mind when you think about them?
Suzanne: My East Harlem world was pretty small. We had a front yard, which was different than the other houses in the neighborhood, which were more like tenement houses. And we had a backyard, but it was used– Like, a lot of people threw their garbage out the window, so it was all kinds of stuff back there and you never knew if you were going to get hit with a flying bottle. So you would not– Like, we didn’t go out there and play.
[Tape] “New York is My Destination” by Suzanne Vega
Suzanne: So the apartment that we moved to on the Upper West Side was big, on 102nd Street, it had two long hallways. And it seemed like a palace to me. And, of course, as I grew up, my way of traveling into the world sort of grew. My father would send me to the candy store, which was right around the corner. So I didn’t have to cross the street. I could just go to the corner, turn right, go to the candy store, get the newspaper or his cigarettes – you know, I was six years old and they would give me the cigarettes – and I could, then, come back home. So learning how to cross that huge– Learning how to cross Broadway was like crossing the ocean for the first time. I mean, it was–
Kevin: Four lanes, the big median.
Suzanne: It’s gigantic. I mean, you could get killed. Especially as a young, small child.
Suzanne: It was a little tougher, actually, on a– Living on 102nd Street in the 70s. You were questioned more often, you know: “Are you really Puerto Rican?” “Is your father Black?” You know, when you’re four and five and six, you know, it’s a sweet age and you’re there with your community, you’re there with other kids, and it’s just more sweet and friendly. By the time you’re, you know, 11, 12, 13, you have to prove yourself. People are always, like, in your face.
Kevin: And you’ve spoken about, in your book, that you’d have to actually, sometimes, defend yourself physically.
Suzanne: Yes. From time to time, which, you know, wasn’t something that I liked. It’s not– It wasn’t something that came naturally to me, but it was something that I felt I had to do. And if you don’t fight back in some way, then it just keeps going on. And then you have no self-respect. So I learned pretty early on to stand up for myself, to fight back, to say something – which was very difficult for me – and if I couldn’t say something, I mean, there were times where I would, yeah, I would lash out at someone and hit them.
Some of these scenes happened at a place called CCWS, Children’s Community Workshop School, which was what we call “progressive school.” Meaning there was very little, to my way of thinking, there was very little structure. You know, the teachers didn’t always have control of the kids. You would always get tested, and teased, and provoked, and then you’d have to come back. And then, a lot of times, it would all settle down, you know, depending on who it was. You know, the people, I think, just wanted to get to know you. So it was a way of, like, getting to know you. What are your limits? What would you put up with?
Kevin: I know that the Southern writer Carson McCullers is a touchstone for you, and has been for a long time – since you were a teenager. And, of course, you did an album on her, and a musical on her, on her life, and actually played her. So she’s really an important figure. And I was reading the other night, her stories, preparing for this interview. And I was struck by, in one of her stories, “The Orphanage,” she has this line about childhood that just stuck out to me. And I wrote it down, and I thought, “I want to ask Suzanne about this.” She says, “The memories of childhood are like clear candles in an acre of night, illuminating fixed scenes from the surrounding darkness.”
And I took that to mean that there, you know, when we think back at that point in our life, it’s not always that we have, always, a clear narrative running through everything. They’re more like these candles that shoot up, and they light up a certain moment, or a certain scene. And even all that’s around it is sort of obscured. That’s very visceral, very strong in our minds. What is one of those candles for you?
Suzanne: Well, I have a kind of a freakish memory. I can almost put myself in the room where something happened and pick out the details. I suppose there’s one that– There’s one little scene that I remember, which: My stepfather had written me a story. I read a lot as a kid. I learned how to read when I was three. And Ed was a writer, so this was kind of nice. So he told me he had written a story for me about one of my toys called Nosey. And apparently Nosey– there was this hole in the wall, and you could go through it. And, you know, he walked and he talked and he, you know, he was alive. And so I sort of went down this rabbit hole with him. In the end, it turned out to be a bit like Alice in Wonderland.
So he had– But the thing is, when he gave me this story, he had this long, narrow piece of paper. And they were taped together. He wrote the whole thing typewritten. And it was this, sort of, scroll that he had given me. And he said to me, “I was so excited when I wrote the story that I had wrote it all out in one piece of paper. And I wanted to give it to you.” And I– And he gave this to me with a kind of important air. And I realized – it took me years, I think, to realize – that this was a reference to Jack Kerouac. And when he wrote On the Road.
Kevin: I was thinking: On the Road as you were talking.
Suzanne: Right, exactly. But, you know I was six years old, you know. Five. I read things, but I certainly didn’t read On the Road by Jack Kerouac at the age of five. So I kind of missed the joke of it. And I remember the visceral feeling of disappointment, that somehow I’d disappointed him by not really responding in the way that he would have expected me to, or wanted me to. And then, years later, I realized that it was this joke. And he kind of did that often.
Kevin: Of course, there are parts of us that want our kids to grow up faster, because you want to connect with them, right? You want to share things with them. But at the same time, you have to take them for the age they’re at. And so what strikes me in the story you told about On the Road and Kerouac, you know, he wanted to connect in a certain way, and it required an understanding in your brain to do that that wasn’t really possible.
Suzanne: Right. You know, if we wanted to talk about ideas or any kind of schooling, any kind of education, if we wanted to talk about politics, or if we wanted to talk about philosophy, or– You know, those things were welcome, but there was an emotional, sort of, undercurrent that was really difficult to navigate, because he would– He had a hot temper and he would very often be angry. So, you would try and figure out, you know, how not to have him get angry at you.
[Tape] Ed Vega: In 1949, we came to the South Bronx, which was then an Irish neighborhood, mostly. And I was kind of spaced-out kid – destined, obviously, to become a poet, which is just a thankless profession. So I became a novelist – almost as thankless. But I was this big already, at 13, when I arrived. And I went out in the street. I was a pretty good roller skater. And the kids were amazed that this kid could roller skate so much, and they befriended me. You know, and after a while, they recognized that I had some sort of athletic ability. And because I was so spaced-out, they mistook it for, like, great courage. And, you know, if they pushed me, I pushed them back, you know. And it was just, like, a game. So they took to me and asked me to join the Shamrocks and even changed my name from Ed Vega, you know, to Eddie McVey.
Kevin: Just for those who are going to listen, this is Ed Vega, his name– Also known as Edgardo Vega Yunqué. And he is someone, posthumously now, who people read his work and, you know, toward the end of his life, had some success with his writing. But certainly had the sense he was toiling at it, working at it, for many, many years. And I was struck– I saw a panel discussion at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in New York, and it was a posthumous panel. And they had distinguished professors from Columbia and other schools in New York talking about his work, his writing, his fiction. And the last person to speak was your sister, Alyson.
Suzanne: Oh, yes.
Kevin: People were talking about him as sort of cantankerous. You know, he could be difficult, but what a mind, and what an interesting guy. And then she gave this really interesting take:
[Tape] Alyson Vega: He was not cantankerous. He was not “cranky.” He was a very, very angry man. He was furious at the world, and he did not want to pick up the sword. He chose, instead, to pick up the pen. But, you know, there were times when he could not resist, and the words failed him, and he chose violence. Words are very, very important growing up Vega. Careful selection around the dinner table. The right choice and admiration ensued. The wrong, and a full-fledged assault began.
Kevin: And I thought, wow, you know. What must it have been like for you to grow up around that dynamic. Someone who’s such a force, such a powerful force, as a child in that space?
Suzanne: Well, I mean, Ed Vega was kind of like the weather. You know, if he was happy, then the sun was out. And if he was unhappy, then it was like dark, stormy clouds and, you know, tornadoes and cyclones. I mean, he influenced every aspect of our lives.
Kevin: And were there times, Suzanne, as a kid, and especially the oldest of four siblings, where you were – that you can think of, a story or a moment – where you were particularly scared for them, or scared for yourself, or scared for your mom, Pat?
Suzanne: All the time. All the time. It was a rare day when you didn’t feel that, kind of waking up and seeing what’s going on. I mean, there– It sort of went in cycles. There were times where he could be calm, he could be funny, he could be– He would teach us about things. If I was sick or something, he would come and talk to me by the side of the bed. I remember he taught me how to whistle once, when I was sick in bed with something. So he could be very kind, and– But then, on the other hand, he could switch, and sometimes you wouldn’t know what it was. So sometimes, I think, it must have been connected to whatever was happening in the news cycles. I mean, when he went away and marched with Martin Luther King.
Kevin: March on Washington?
Suzanne: The March on Washington. Yeah.
Kevin: Yeah. August of ‘63.
Suzanne: ‘63, right. So, I remember feeling worried for him, because he was Black and I knew that this could be dangerous for him. We had all these social studies books from, like, the ‘40s lying around the house, and some of them had very graphic pictures of hangings – lynchings. So I knew that these things happened. And so, I remember feeling anxious for him. So I think Ed must have felt himself under siege, you know, and he had this woman who was white from the Midwest – she was practically a Midwestern farm girl in some ways, who had–
Kevin: Your mom, Patty, who’s from Minnesota.
Suzanne: Yeah, she’s from Minnesota. But she’d grown up– She had gone to high school in California. So, there he is with this white wife. And these were very difficult times for a biracial couple. You know, he explained to us that, in some states, this was illegal. So we felt afraid for him. But a lot of times we felt afraid of him, because he was violent, and he was– He wasn’t just cantankerous. He was violent. And so, you know, we never knew what the hell was going to happen or what would set it off.
Kevin: And physically– physically violent.
Suzanne: Physically violent, yeah. It was his hands, which were, you know, lethal enough. And, he would– But he could sometimes hit the wall, or he would throw something against the wall, he’d throw food against the wall.
Kevin: Wow.
Suzanne: But he would hit you– He would hit us. Hit us in various ways, which, you know, I’d rather not enumerate what kinds of ways. But that’s what he did. So, you know.
Kevin: And as the oldest of the siblings, what was your role in these situations?
Suzanne: There was no way I was going to get in between Ed and my mother, or Ed and any of the kids. I would find myself cleaning something. You know, like: “Oh, this is a good time to clean the stove.” You know, especially if I had to stay in the room, because there were times where he’d be talking to my mother, and if I tried to creep out, he’d say, “This concerns you, too. Get back in here.” So, if he was arguing with my mother, my role was usually to take the kids and do something with them. Sometimes I sang to them. Sometimes I would tell them a story. Sometimes we’d go watch TV once we had a TV set in the house – because we didn’t get one of those until later on. So usually I tried to take their minds off of it. Sometimes I would listen to what was going on, to see if there was something I should be learning, something I should know, something I– If someone else was getting yelled at for something they did wrong, I would usually be listening to try and figure out, like, “Is this something I should know for myself so I can stay out of trouble next time?” From time to time, I would write down whatever he was saying, whatever was going on.
Most of the time, there was some kind of impulse of trying to teach somebody something. But his ways and his methods of teaching were sometimes very violent. You know, I’ll give you an example: He would say, “If you’re going to stand on a chair, you know, make sure that the back of the chair is against the wall. Because otherwise you could really hurt yourself if you fall off the chair, and your foot gets caught in the back of the chair, and you fall over like that.” So, okay, you know. But then if you forgot that, and you brought the chair over, and you stood on it, and you had the back the wrong way, he could get violent about that. “You’re doing it the wrong way,” and he’d smack you, you know. And it was always– It very often seemed not quite proportional to what it was that you were doing.
[Tape] “New York is a Woman” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: Your sister described it as just having a rage. There was a rage about him. And it seemed like she was linking it to his frustrations over his life, his situation. But he was an aspiring writer, as you say. And he would often say, like, you know, “This novel is going to be the great one,” you know, but: No, it wouldn’t play out. You know, this larger-than-life force, but in a place like New York– So I’m thinking about your song, “New York Is a Woman” – New York can be indifferent to you. You’re just another guy.
Suzanne: Yeah. There were a lot of things. That’s part of it. But it’s also more than that. I think that he himself was an abused child, that he had been abused as a child. I learned later in life that this had happened. So I think there were a lot of things at play. There was his own natural temperament. There was his sense of frustration. And then there was the roots of the thing, which I think maybe if these things had not happened when he was a child, maybe he could have channeled it differently. But I think there were certain events that happened that were very hard for him to contain.
[Tape] “Luka” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: You know, everyone who’s listening, including me, will have heard your song, “Luka,” and you’ve talked about your commitment to the cause of shining a light on child abuse. And I remember, when the song came out, a lot of people wondered about it, kind of: What was the story? And people would ask you who Luka was. And as an artist, I think, rightfully, you’ve pushed back and said, “I’m not going to go there. I don’t really want to talk about it from that point of view.”
Suzanne: Yeah, I avoided it. Yeah.
Kevin: But I was going to ask you a different question, which is: When that song came out, Suzanne, what did your siblings or your mom think about the song?
Suzanne: You know, I don’t really know. [LAUGHS] I never– I didn’t– I never asked them, and they never told me. The one I really cared about was Ed, you know, that was the one I was really frightened of. To this day, I don’t– I have no idea. I have no idea. [LAUGHS] I’ll have to ask my mother. I’ll have to be like, “Hey, Ma, what did you think?” I don’t know. It never occurred to me to find out. It was Ed that I was afraid of–
Kevin: That he would– That he might think it was about him.
Suzanne: That he would know that it was about him. And so I played him the album and he figured out that it was about child abuse. And he said, “I want to talk to you about that song.” And I remember my stomach flipped over and I said, “Okay.” And he said, “Is that about child abuse?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he says, “I think you’re glamorizing a very ugly subject.” And I was like, “I don’t think so. I don’t think so.” And he said, “Where did you get the idea for that song?” And I just stared at him, like: Are you kidding me? So I said what I say to everybody: “There’s this boy named Luka, and he lived in my building, and he lived upstairs. And I, you know, I said that. So he said, “Oh, okay.” So he said, “You wrote it out of concern for the child.” And I said, “Well, not– I mean, I knew that the child wasn’t abused, but it was– I was sort of imagining: What if he had been?” And I said, “I don’t think I’m glamorizing anything. I think I’m saying what the child would say.”
And to my surprise, he accepted it. And he said, “Okay, well, I think you may be glamorizing it.” I said, “You might be responding to the production, because the production makes it sound really triumphant. But that’s– We just made it sound like that so it would get played on the radio.” So he accepted it and he went on to do–  Then we talked about Kaspar Hauser, where it said, “I want to be a writer like my father,” which of course: Ed is a writer. And I remember he blushed slightly at that. So we moved off that topic. And then it wasn’t until, like, the end of the year, where I was in a hotel somewhere. And he said, “You know, that song could almost be about you,” he said, finally. After, like, a year of it being on the radio and being successful and all that stuff. And I said, “Yes, that’s right.” And that was as far as we took it. We never discussed it beyond that.
[Tape] “Luka” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: At age eight, you ran away. And you ended up in the park, which I’m assuming was Riverside Park? But I was going to ask you what you were running from, and what you were running to, when you decided to try the road.
Suzanne: To hit the road. That’s right. I was going to hit the road. One of the things Ed used to have us do was, if he didn’t like something we had done, he would have us sit on a chair and face the wall. You know, if you were eight years old, you normally would face the wall for, like, eight minutes. But I think Ed would forget that we were there. So it would be an hour or longer, depending on whether or not he remembered that you were sitting there. So, there was one day when– I can’t remember what I had done, but I was facing the wall. And I had friends over. And so my friends were trying to, sort of, whisper to me and wanted me to come and play with them. And I couldn’t. And so I just suddenly decided, I don’t wanna be here anymore. I just don’t want to be here. I’ve really had it. And I picked myself up and announced that I was running away, and waved goodbye, and I don’t even know what I took with me. I don’t remember taking anything in particular. And I think everyone thought it was very funny. They laughed, and they stood at the door and waved goodbye to me as I pressed the elevator button [LAUGHS] and went downstairs.
So I remember being very confident that I would go to the park and would live on the stuff they had there, growing. It looked like food to me. You know, it looked like spinach or it looked like salad, at least. Berries. You know, there were things you could eat. So I felt I just felt this confidence that nature would look after me. And I went to Riverside Park. I walked uptown. So somehow I ended up– There was this older boy at the time, who was probably– I think he told me he was 12. He was out roaming around. He told me he was looking for a girlfriend. And this didn’t really register with me. I said, “I didn’t know anybody.” And he told me to come to this wall, and suddenly he kissed me. On the mouth. And this was very frightening to me. And I started to cry. And I suddenly thought, “I don’t want to run away anymore. This is way more than I bargained for.” And he told me not to cry. He said his grandmother had raised him to be a good boy. But then he started walking really fast and he told me to follow him. And I took some tentative steps towards him, and then I thought, “I don’t have to listen to him.” And I turned around and I left. I went out of the park as fast as I could. I went back to 102nd street. I still didn’t really want to go home. But then I saw my mother coming up the street – I think a few hours had passed. So she took me and brought me back home, and we had a chat, and then I went to bed. But this– I was very aware that I had failed in this running-away business.
Kevin: This was not Huck Finn.
Suzanne: Right. It’s not Huck Finn. I had read Huck Finn. I loved Huck Finn. I thought it was one of the few truthful books that actually existed, where they actually had Black people in them, and where adults did weird, bad, abusive things.
Kevin: And an abusive father, right?
Suzanne: Yes, exactly. That’s what I’m saying.
Kevin: Pappy is the abusive father. And he runs away.
Suzanne: Right. So I thought, this is–
Kevin: But you weren’t on a life raft in the Mississippi, or the Hudson River, right?
Suzanne: Plus, I’m a girl, which makes it– If I’d have been a boy, maybe it would have been different. I don’t know. But there, I’m this girl wandering around. But in my mind, I was like Huck Finn.
Kevin: A year after you ran away – tried running away – at eight. And you find out that you are not Ed’s daughter, right? Up until that point, you thought that you were one of four children. These are your parents, Ed and Pat. You’re Suzanne Vega. What were the circumstances? How and why did he tell you that then?
Suzanne: Ed had this idea that I had trouble expressing myself emotionally, because I didn’t really express myself the way Alyson did, or even Matthew or Timothy. I was very detached. So Ed would sort of take it upon himself to sit me down in front of him and sort of play therapist. It was a sort of confrontation. And he would ask me, “How do you feel about X, Y or Z?” And I, you know, I mean, sometimes I didn’t feel anything. Or sometimes I didn’t feel anything until much later. And a lot of times, my true feelings came in the form of an image, or what we would call a metaphor. One little breakthrough we made was: I said, “My stomach, it feels like a rumpled blanket.” And this seemed like a great– He was like, “Oh, a rumpled blanket.” So that was something he understood. But even so, he wanted the emotion connected with it. So, unless I displayed the emotion in a sort of way that you would as, like, an actor, it wasn’t satisfying to him. So we would have these long discussions that would go on.
So it was one of those nights. And, honestly, I don’t remember what we were doing before he said this, because obviously when he said this, it knocked everything else out of the way. The minute he said, “I feel you should know that I’m not really your father,” I mean, I can’t– I was like– I thought it was a joke. I thought this was one of his weird jokes. I thought, “Oh, he’s going to see if I believe him. And I don’t. I don’t believe him.” And he said, “Have you ever wondered why you don’t look like me?” And I wasn’t sure what the right answer was. And I thought maybe I was being tested. So I said, “Well–” I said– The right answer seemed to be yes. So I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, I’m not really your father.” And this– You know, my mind just kind of hit, like, a blank, smooth– It was like an ice skating rink. I mean, suddenly there’s like nothing to hold onto, and there’s no no detail, there’s nothing there. So I’m trying to think: Who could possibly be my father? You know? And then Marvin, from next door, suddenly popped in– Is Marvin from next door, is he my father? You know, who is my father? So he mentioned some guy in California that I’d never heard of and didn’t know. And then my mother walked in the room and he said, “I’m telling her about Richard,” although he didn’t say Richard. He said, “I’m telling her about Dick.” And she, to my surprise, seemed to know all about this. And she said, “Oh,” and she frowned. And so I thought, “Oh, she knows about this. So either she’s in on the joke or this must be true.” And it took ages for me to get it all straight in my mind.
Kevin: And thinking about the power that he wielded at that moment to share this with you, and you were nine. And your mom walking in the room – one might think that was her story to tell you. So he took that power from her.
Suzanne: Well, he certainly did. I never had the idea that this was something she ever wanted to talk about really, or to tell me about. But in a lot of ways, she was watching Ed as carefully as we were, as the children. He had decided the time had come to tell the truth. I think the deception was uncomfortable for him. It was different when I was little. It was sort of a cute story to tell me when I was little. But now things were changing. I seem to remember, I ran away at eight, and he probably told me when I was nine. So there had already been an issue between us. That’s why I left. So I think he, therefore, felt it was time for me to know the truth.
Kevin: So, I imagine the ripple effect of all this must have been massive.
Suzanne: It was. Oh my god, it was huge. It just– It took me a few days to realize I had a different name, completely, than the one I had grown up with. I wasn’t Suzy Vega at all. I had a completely different name, which I don’t feel I need to share with you guys, but, you know, it was a different name on my birth certificate, a completely different one. So that was shocking, to realize that.
So then I had to pretend that I was still half Puerto Rican in school. Because to be half Puerto Rican was sort of a badge of honor, whereas to be white was not considered, you know, it was a bad era to be white in. You know, we were all learning about all the bad things that white people had done over time. You know, it was very confusing. But, in a way, I thought, “Okay, it does kind of make sense,” because I always felt myself a little different from everybody, even from my mother. Because everyone always said– If anybody said to Ed, “Where did she come from?” “She looks like her mother,” is basically what he would say. And in some ways I do, but in other ways I really don’t. So, it sort of clicked in my mind and I knew that it was true. And the other thing is that, over time, I realized that: I think they had not told me out of love and compassion, especially Ed’s family, because they were very accepting of me. They really loved me. They taught me Spanish. They taught me songs in Spanish, and played games with me. And so I always felt very loved by Ed’s family. So I think that, back in the day, it was just considered what you did. You don’t you didn’t need to make a big deal out of it. You didn’t have to, you know, tell everybody.
Kevin: One of the things that struck me, listening to you talk about your childhood – and you’ve written this – is that you were a girl growing up in a hard urban environment. Where did you find beauty? Where did you find peace, you know, as a child, that you felt like?
Suzanne: I think it was the world of art. You know, it was in music, which was everywhere. Music was on the radio. Music was played by the babysitters when they came over. Ed was a huge jazz enthusiast and played jazz constantly, which I loved. My actual birth father, who also loved jazz – actually, it’s the one thing the two fathers have in common, is their love of jazz. I studied ballet from the time I was nine years old onward. And the museums, I loved, especially the Metro– Sorry, that’s my– My husband’s coughing in the other room.
Kevin: That’s OK. I’ve been there.
Suzanne: Just let me know if we have to stop.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s okay.
Suzanne: So, I loved the museums. I loved, especially, the Metropolitan Museum, which– I loved it more than the Modern, because my parents were always dragging us to the Modern. But I kind of felt like the Met sort of belonged to me personally. And books, I could find myself in so many books. And occasionally in a movie or something like that. In my world of fantasy.
And there were times where things were really nice with my parents, they would have parties, sometimes. A lot of celebrations, people would come over to our house and, you know, they would have– I mean, again, it was like this crazy thing where we’d get up in the morning and there would be two or three people passed out on the living room floor. But, you know, it was still kind of this joyous feeling of celebration.
[Tape] “Gypsy” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: You’ve spoken before – and quite movingly– about how, from a very early age, touch was important to you, and something you needed and were drawn to. And I find your song “Gypsy” so beautiful. It’s, like, one of the songs I love to go back to and listen to a lot. And it’s a lot about that.
Suzanne: Yeah.
Kevin: The description of, sort of, romantic love, but also waiting to be held like a baby, you know, when a baby won’t go to sleep. It’s very beautiful. And I was going to ask you about not just that song – which you wrote, I know, when you’re 18, when you were a camp counselor upstate in the Adirondacks – but just generally: Who in your world did you feel the most connected to as a young person?
Suzanne: Well, I was not a touchy-feely kid. I had the feeling I was very standoffish. It was easy for me to feel pain. You know, if someone touched me the wrong way, I would flinch. I didn’t like it. And I was very nervous. But on the other hand, I was good with kids. I was really good with my brothers and sisters. And we played together a lot. I would wrestle with my brother Matthew or throw him down and sit on him. [LAUGHS] Which– that ended when he punched me in my back one day: I suddenly realized he was taller than me, and that sort of ended that. But, like, I remember being very physical with Alyson, she would lie with her head in my lap and I would stroke her hair. And Timothy– All the kids would come into my bed at night if they had had a bad dream or something like that. So we would all sort of cuddle together like puppies, you know, like animals. And we needed that from each other. And so I babysat a lot also. And so I felt very comfortable handling children and handling babies, handling young kids. I felt comfortable doing that. But I was very wary of adults, and very nervous around people my own age, I would say.
Kevin: And, in terms of that theme of feeling connected in touch, how did the romantic side of that equation – or just sexual awareness, generally – affect this aspect of touch, as you sort of aged through, and went to the High School of Performing Arts, you know, the “Fame” high school, and danced, and were a person in the city?
Suzanne: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you bluntly that my first experiences with sex were not very– They were very– They were forced. I was not happy. I didn’t– I had sex at a young age, and I did not want to be having sex. So that was a very– That, that meant I stayed away– It made me very wary and very, you know– I was drawn to boys, I really liked them, I had boyfriends. But I would always break it off before it became too intimate. You know, it was just– I was very fragile. There was a big difference between sex and even affection, kindness.
[Tape] “Gypsy” by Suzanne Vega
Suzanne: I suppose that that experience, with the guy that I wrote “Gypsy” for, was probably the first time that it was actually a romance that involved sexuality and, sort of, touching and a friendship, and all of that together. So that was by the time I was 18.
Kevin: And the feelings that are expressed in the song are tenderness that show the different layers of romantic connection, right? Like I said: “Hold me like a baby that will not go to sleep.” That’s not sort of, you know, a typical teen–
Suzanne: No, it’s not like: “Hey, baby!” Yeah. It’s not like, you know, all that stuff that we see, you know, all the time in the top 40 these days. No, it’s a different thing. He was a guy who was raised by his grandmother and had cousins with children. And so he was babysitting and trying to get his baby cousin to go to sleep, and had to hold it, hold the child, you know, for hours at night. So he had told me that. He said, “I feel like you are the, you know, my baby cousin that I used to hold in order to get it to go to sleep.” So that’s how he was holding me. So that’s why it all kind of spilled over. So I just– I basically wrote down what he said. So, it was– It was a lovely– We’re still friends. It’s a very nice friendship.
Kevin: You’ve talked about how you picked up a guitar, you know, very young. You were 11. You started writing songs at a very young age, and eventually the balance switches from dance and, sort of, expressing yourself creatively through your body in that way, to songs and lyrics and singing, and the voice, and your guitar. And that’s really what you are known for. And I was going to ask you what it was like for you to begin to make meaning of your life in that way.
Suzanne: Well, one thing that was important to me was: I didn’t want to be the kind of person that just always wrote from my own perspective. A song like “Gypsy,” I think, it’s a very personal song, but on the other hand, there’s nothing about it that I don’t want to share about, you know. But I didn’t want to be limited to that perspective. I wanted to have the freedom to write about whatever I wanted to, and especially once I saw Lou Reed at Columbia. And I really noticed how he didn’t stick to one gender.
[Tape] “Caroline Says” by Lou Reed
Suzanne: He had this song, “Caroline Says,” and it was pretty much from Caroline’s point of view. So there’s Lou writing this very meaningful song from this woman’s point of view, and I liked that. And I wanted that freedom.
[Tape] “Caroline Says” by Lou Reed
Suzanne: Someone had told me that there was this hierarchy of clubs in New York. That first you play The Bitter End. Then you go to Folk City, and then if you’re really good, you play The Bottom Line. So I had this very literally stuck in my head. So I was like, “I’m going to play The Bitter End.” And I just kept going back there. And the guy – I still remember his name and his face – he would watch me sing, you know, I would try different things every week. And he would listen to me and he would eat his dinner at the same time. And then he would say, “No.” [LAUGHS] It happened every single time. So finally it dawned on me to go around the corner to Folk City, like, just go away. Like, go to step two. Forget about it. I mean, it was two years already.
So I made a demo tape and went to Folk City and managed to bring 30 people down from Columbia. I said, “I’m playing Folk City on a Sunday afternoon at four o’clock,” and 30 people came down, which to them was a huge audience. So I was like– That was my beginning at Folk City, of five years of playing there. So the really important thing is that you have something to say, if I were to give advice to any artist right now. It really has to come, I think, from the inside out. And you have to be able to keep that going through those dry periods when no one’s applauding, no one’s giving you gigs, you’re not getting the money or the respect you feel you deserve or whatever. And you have to learn to make it through those long, dry periods by nourishing yourself and keeping that light, or that vitality alive.
[Tape] Suzanne Vega at Folk City: Would you like another one?
Kevin: Yeah, and, you know, what you were saying before, too, about having to believe in your own truth and follow your inner light, and if you have something to say, you say it. What I also find interesting about your perspective is that you, growing up, were around someone who was trying to do that. Ed Vega was trying to become a writer and not succeeding, and really having a hard, hard time getting anyone to see him and to pay attention, even though he felt, for sure, that he had something to say.
Suzanne: Well, people would pay attention. And he worked hard at it. That’s the other thing, too, is that he was dedicated to it. He would work all night. Sometimes I would read his manuscripts. I knew how hard he worked on the words that he chose. And not only that, but he tried to teach us that, too: How to express yourself. That was the message. That’s why he put me in front of him. He said, “How do you feel?” You know, he wanted me to express myself. This was his lesson, in a sense. In a violent way. But it was still his– That’s what he was attempting to teach us. I learned that lesson. I learned how to do it my own way.
Kevin: Yeah. And as you began to have success – and really quite meteoric success in the 80s – how was that for him?
Suzanne: Well, there were times where he was very enthusiastic, and very happy, and very proud. At first he couldn’t believe it. He was like, “How did that happen? I mean, who’s responsible for this?” You know, he wanted to find out, like: What’s exactly going on here? So there were those times. But then, as it continued, it gradually drew us apart. Not that we had ever had an easy relationship to begin with, but eventually the success, I feel, was something he resented. So it became even more difficult to maintain a relationship with him. And then later on, I mean, I thought he had a tremendous success with the book that came out in 2005.
Kevin: The Bill Bailey book?
Suzanne: The Bill Bailey book. Yeah. I mean, he got tremendous reviews. And so I remember thinking: This finally happened. It finally happened for him. And I was hoping that he had a sense of happiness and satisfaction. But I don’t think that’s what happened. I think he ended up fighting with the book company. He didn’t want to be moved to an ethnic imprint. And then he died suddenly in 2008, which was almost immediately after this. Yeah, after this, after the success. It was very shocking.
[Tape] “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: One of your all-time classic songs, “Tom’s Diner.” Any New Yorker, they love it, they can tell you where Tom’s Diner is, you know: 112th and Broadway. But alienation is an important theme. And it’s a way that New Yorkers can be in places like a diner and not quite connect, not quite see each other. But then there’s also this beautiful ending to the song, which is about connection through a memory, right? So you’re sitting there and the bells ringing at St. John the Divine down the street trigger a memory of a midnight picnic. So it’s a kind of a mythical, beautiful idea of New York.
And I’m wondering about, over the course of your life, the trajectory of your career, the ebbs and flows of that alienation and that feeling of connecting in that beauty in New York that one can feed off of, you know, in terms of memory.
Suzanne: Yeah, yeah. I feel less alienated now, these days, than I did as a child, and especially as a teenager and young adult. I, you know, I have a family, I have been in a marriage for 15 years, I have a daughter who’s 26. I have a community that I belong to. And so I don’t feel those moments of alienation quite so sharply as I did when I was younger.
[Tape] “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: There’s also this idea, like, in the song, that everyone you’re walking or brushing past is a storehouse for life experiences, memories, stories, vitality, personality. You know, there are other pieces of your writing where you even talk about this as a young kid: How there was a woman across the alleyway growing up.
Suzanne: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Kevin: And when you were 16 – your brother called her Elmer Fudd – but she was a woman. And you actually interviewed her for a school project through the windows. She was in her window, and you were in your window. This was a woman who just would look outside all the time, and that’s the kind of person you’d walk past nine times out of 10 and never think about. But when you actually engaged her– She didn’t think her life really mattered that much, but she remembered World War One, flappers, The Depression she had lived a life.
Suzanne: She had been a model, yeah. She had a husband…
Kevin: And I would say that’s another aspect of New York, right, where all of us are these containers of amazing stories. But we also are, you know, in a place where we can often feel the city is indifferent to us, or other people are indifferent to us. And it’s that idea of: You’re surrounded by this, but you’re not always touching it.
Suzanne: Yeah, exactly. It’s hard to describe that to someone who doesn’t come from here. That sense of privacy that you have. That, you know, you’re squashed up against someone else in the subway. So therefore, you have to maintain your privacy, because if you start staring at someone in the face, or sharing jokes, I mean, it’s way too intimate. You’re already crushed up against somebody. So you don’t make eye contact, and you don’t stare at them, and you don’t talk about your day or– You know, you just like, stay cool.
            [Tape] “Walk on the Wild Side” covered by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: And yet you can bump into people here that change your life. Yeah, you know, it’s that proximity and you mentioned going to see Lou Reed before– You were at Barnard and he was performing at Columbia across the street. And he would become someone who was an important person in your life. You know, you’ve actually covered “Walk on the Wild Side” on your beautiful new album, An Evening of New York Songs and Stories that you performed at the Carlyle. Did you and Lou Reed ever talk to one another about your childhood?
Suzanne: No, we did not. We did not talk about our childhoods. Talking with Lou is a very interesting experience in that he was always in the moment, and he always wanted to talk about whatever was on his mind. Most of the time, I was more reactive. So, it wasn’t like he was going to share, like, these intimate moments with me about his childhood. You know, but he’d tell me how he felt about certain things, who he was pissed off at. [LAUGHS] Or, you know, what he thought about something that I had given him to read. Or, you know, we had our moments of connection, but it was not usually introspective. You know, at the very end, he sort of started to ask me questions. And I found it was very hard for me to suddenly just open up, you know, after 30 years of being his friend. But it was a lovely, really interesting– an interesting friendship.
Kevin: Yeah. And, you know, he’s another person where, when you read about him fully, you get people who say he could be really mean.
Suzanne: That’s right, he could.
Kevin: He could be cantankerous. [LAUGHS]
Suzanne: That’s right. He could. He could be really mean.
Kevin: And we were talking about another person in your life, Ed Vega, right? Your stepfather. Who could be kind of cantankerous and mean.
Suzanne. Well, I kind of got that. I mean, in some ways, that’s probably why I was attracted to him, because, you know, it was that they were trying to get at a truth. They were trying to get out a sense of truth. And that can make a person confrontative, and it can make a person kind of destructive, in a way. So I understood that. I understood that about Ed, and I understood it about Lou Reed. At the heart of their art, I felt, was a desire to get at the truth of living, which is very often cruel. And I wanted to learn how to express that. So I think that’s partly what drew me there.
            [Tape] “Zephyr & I” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: There’s so many things we can talk about, but I think about New York in particular in your life in New York, but I was drawn to one particular song, which is “Zephyr & I.”
            [Tape] “Zephyr & I” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: It came out of the loss of your brother, Tim – your younger brother, Tim Vega – who died a few months after 9/11 and, I think, was traumatized by the event. Not because he was there, but because he could have been there, right? He was home from work that day. And it affected him. And so after he died, there was a memorial service, and you brought these 30 wreaths to a local landmark in the neighborhood where you grew up, which is the Firemen’s Memorial on 100th and Riverside Drive. And you met someone there, Andrew Witten – Zephyr – who is an iconic graffiti artist in New York, of the era in which you were growing up, and you connected. So anyway, I wanted to ask you about that connection, and that story.
Suzanne: Yeah, I had the 30 wreaths in my own house for a while. And the boyfriend I had at the time was allergic, and he just kept– [LAUGHS] He told me to get rid of them, because he kept waking up, like, with his eyes streaming, and you know, he was sneezing and having hay fever. So I said, “Okay, I’ll do that.” And I lived near the Firemen’s Monument at that time. So I did, I took them all there.
Kevin: And it’s so moving because it was a part of your neighborhood.
Suzanne: Yeah.
Kevin: It was a place that you would have grown up around. I’m thinking about even, like, when you ran away, it wasn’t that far from where you were running to.
Suzanne: Exactly. Andy reminded me that the Fireman’s Monument was a place where kids would meet and hang out. And in the ‘70s, there was no place for a person to go if you were a teenager and you didn’t want to go home. So when he says– When he says all that stuff about the “Youth Mall of America” –  like, looking down on West End Avenue and it’s like the Youth Mall of America – that’s because there are all these kids hanging out. There was no Covenant House. There was no place to go. And at one point, people used to sleep in cars. They used to have abandoned cars all over the city. And then sometimes kids would set them on fire. It was very dangerous. And that was all going on in the ‘70s. And he reminded me of all that. Because he was one of those kids hanging out in the street in the ‘70s. After my experience in the park, I never did that again. I never– I wouldn’t go out and hang out. I would just go home. I sort of invented an alternative universe in my mind. So I would go to school, and then I would go home. I didn’t go out and hang out with people, but he did.
Kevin: Zephyr was an artist, a graffiti artist who was looked up to. And your brother Tim was also an artist.
Suzanne: Oh, more than that. No, I remember when Timothy first met Zephyr, and he came home and he was just like– He couldn’t believe it. Both Matthew and Timothy were great fans of Zephyr’s. They used to tag their name all over their notebooks and had– They also had a very strong interest in graffiti back then. But Ed told them not to deface public property, and that if they wanted to do graffiti, they could do it as art, which they did. They both did. And so all three of my brothers and sisters – Matthew, Timothy, Alyson – were, are, all artists.
            [Tape] “Zephyr & I” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: Where in New York, New York, do you feel the presence of souls the most?
Suzanne: Gosh, almost every place in New York City. There’s hardly a street that I can go down where I’m not reminded of my younger years, especially since I live pretty close by to where I grew up back then. I’m constantly running into my younger self, and all the souls of New York that I feel there’s not a time when I don’t.
Kevin: And what about when you walk past the old home on 102nd street, you know, or you dream of it?
Suzanne: Well, I used to be afraid of it, but I’ve kind of gotten over that because I’ve been past there. That block is between where I live and where my mother lives. So I’m constantly walking past there now. I mean, now I associate it with, like, Starbucks. [LAUGHS]
Kevin: Yes, I know that Starbucks.
Suzanne: I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” But for a long time, it had ghosts around the stoop, you know, and I could feel them, and it worried me, and I didn’t like it. But I’ve integrated those, now, more into my life. They’re not so segregated, those old ghosts that were so frightening.
Kevin: And were they ghosts of the kids that would be outside?
Suzanne: Me and my brothers and sisters. And the games that we played on the stoop there. And the things that we experienced in that house. And, I don’t know, somehow it’s as I’ve gotten older, they’re not so separate. And it’s not like crossing a forbidden line anymore. It’s a little more integrated, and a little more holistic. I feel like things are brought in. I can accept them now. I think the world has changed. People are so much more open about violence than they used to be – about violence that they’ve experienced. And so it’s not like this– Yeah, I see it more in the media. I see it more in the press, in the paper. And people are just more open about it. So I feel that these things are not so forbidden as they once were.
Kevin: I wonder if, in writing and being a writer, and then using some of the materials from your childhood in particular, if it changes your relationship to it as a creative person?
Suzanne: It definitely does. Absolutely.
Kevin: Yeah. You make things out of it.
Suzanne: Yeah, you make something out of it. And I mean, the danger of course, is: Then you remember what you wrote of it and you don’t remember the thing anymore. And then other people respond to it, you know, again, it’s one thing to make something out of it. But then it’s something else to have a communal response to it. I think that matters, even if it’s on a small level.
Kevin: With your own work, in particular, what’s intriguing about it is: You were able to maintain a mystery, sort of an enigmatic quality, to your work because you did change perspectives. And, you know, I think– Even Ed, as you describe, when “Luka” came out, he wasn’t quite sure.
Suzanne: That’s right. That was so shocking.
Kevin: He wasn’t quite sure, you know, was it about him? And so you maintain a distance. But as you say, over time, that new truth can, in some ways–
Suzanne: Take over.
Kevin: –sometimes overlay the old truth.
Suzanne: Well, I think that’s important. I was never sorry that I did that. I was never sorry that I didn’t come out saying, “My name is– I’m Luka, and here’s my story, and it’s all about me.” I really wanted to maintain that distance. It allowed me a lot of freedom and anonymity, and I felt that it was important that the song was true. And we knew the song was true, and I knew the song was true because people responded, you know? All kinds of people still respond. They say, “That was my story.” You know, they say to me: “Your story is the story of my childhood. And I know it.” And so that’s more important to me than talking about my feelings endlessly.
[Tape] “Luka” by Suzanne Vega
Kevin: I end every interview, Suzanne, with the same question, which is thinking about places and what remains and where we look for one another. And, you know, there’s maybe no more iconic poet in New York than Walt Whitman. And he’s certainly someone who’s special to me. I love Leaves of Grass. I just love Whitman’s voice. And I love looking for Whitman in the city. And in his 1855 book, Leaves of Grass in “Song of Myself,” he writes these words. I want to read them to you, and then ask you a question.
“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 fiber your blood. Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stopped somewhere waiting for you.”
You know, someone 50, 100, 200 years from now comes across Suzanne Vega and your music, you know, your story. Where would you tell them to look for you? To go and to – at least for a few minutes – stand where you were, and to feel connected to you?
Suzanne: This is the first thing that comes to my mind, and it’s kind of funny, but: I recently found out that the playground I used to play in when I went to PS 163, that there’s a name for that playground, and it’s called the Happy Warrior Playground. And I didn’t know that when I was going to school there. But it’s a school for– It’s a school named after Alfred E. Smith, who, I guess, was called the Happy Warrior by FDR.
Kevin: And it’s on Amsterdam Avenue.
Suzanne: Right, Amsterdam Avenue and 97th Street. So, it’s still there. I still walk by it all the time. And every time I look in there, I have memories of games I played and, you know, things that went wrong. Good things, bad things, crushes that I had on boys and, you know, certain things that didn’t go so well – whatever. So, I just became aware of that place. And I think that’s a place where you might find my spirit there. It was certainly there for four years, and I feel it when I go by there. I, now that I know the name of it, I’m like, “Oh, that’s my old spot.” I’m pretty happy to say the Happy Warrior Playground is where you can find my spirit.
Kevin: And you are our happy warrior.
Suzanne: Exactly.
Kevin: Suzanne Vega, thank you so much for taking us to your hometown. It’s been such a pleasure.
Suzanne: Thank you.
Kevin: I’m so grateful for the time you spent with me.
Suzanne: Some awesome questions. Thank you very much.
[Voiceover] Kevin: Your hometown is a Kevin Burke production. For more, please visit our website at, where you can listen to all our past episodes and find show notes and artwork for each guest. Also, when you get a chance, check out our show’s New York City series page on the Museum of the City of New York’s website, at The museum’s website includes live events that we hold together, including the one I’m recording tonight with Suzanne Vega. Don’t miss it.
Now, this is the last episode of our New York City season before the show’s mid-season break. We’ll be back with new episodes in the fall. But in the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful summer. And definitely stay connected with us, because while we’re away and you’re away, we do have some very special things planned.
Now, before I go, let me thank the outstanding team that worked with me on Your Hometown, beginning with our executive producer, Robert Krulwich; our art director, Nick Gregg; our editor and sound designer, Otis Streeter; our composer and performer Sterling Stefan; and our researcher, Shakila Khan. Our branding and website design is by Tama Creative. And our social media is managed by Kayla Hale-Stern.
A special thanks, too, to our partners this season, the Museum of the City of New York.
I also can’t possibly thank enough the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and all our financial supporters for their deep belief in this series. It’s wonderful working with them. Until next time, thanks so much for taking this ride with me. Have a wonderful summer. 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