This summer we are re-running my most-read blogs from the past year, in case you didn’t have an opportunity to read them the first time around. I’ve rewritten each one of these, so even if you’ve read them before, you may wish to read them again! Here is the sixth of those articles:
My wife was ill.
Moreover, she was the one who brought in the steady income. (Old gag: What do you call an artist who has no partner? Homeless.) At the time, I was living in NYC and writing plays, but there was little interest in my work, and absolutely no income. I therefore had a series of jobs. Drama instructor. Carpenter. Short order cook. Clerk, etc., etc. (Another old gag: Real artists have day jobs). But with my wife’s illness and a loss of income, this was an emergency.
As I roamed the early September streets of New York, looking for paying work, I wandered into the (42nd street) main branch of the New York Public Library, the one with the two lions. (“Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression.”) That worked for me.
Indeed, it turned out the Theatre Collection had an opening for a clerk. There was no lower position. Since I was in the theatre professionally, and had a master’s degree in theatre, they were willing to offer me the position. They also told me the Collection would be moving to Lincoln Center in two years, and would be expanding its professional staff.
I took the job and would start in two days. The day before I began work, I applied for my library degree at Columbia University, John Dewey’s old institution. To get in I was required to get a recommendation from a librarian. As it happened, there was an old family friend who was a librarian in Los Angeles. She agreed to write the letter I needed.
One week later I was working for the New York Public Library, Theatre Collection, and attending library school at night. I continued writing plays.
Being part of the theatre collection was to be surrounded by theatre in every way. The whole staff was engaged with the theatre. The Theatre Collection was also on the list for free tickets for theatre previews, and productions needing to paper the house, as it was called.
Not a bad job for an aspiring playwright.
In the course of my studies. the NYPL provided me with some scholarship stipends. When I applied for these stipends I was asked: “If you have a hit play on Broadway would you continue to work in the Theatre Collection?” Answer: “Of course.”
It took me two years and a full summer to complete my MLS course work. In New York State one had to take a Regents’ exam, which I did, barely passing, and was issued my license to practice Librarianship.
I still have that license. Considering the fragility of the writer’s profession, I might have to put it to use again.
As for my library life, it continued, as you will read soon.