Threads Girl

Freedom School, Meridian, Mississippi, Summer 1964


Threads Cover

Hanging Loose Press, 2012


"I think the way the narrative is structured gives Threads a greater complexity and richness than anything else I have written. It has two time lines, which alternate throughout the book. The opening piece starts with the narrator as a boy, then the next piece skips to the same narrator as a college student in his first writing class, so you know right away that the young boy will grow up to be a writer or at least want to become one. About two-thirds of the way through the first time line catches up to the second one, the way a child eventually becomes a man. For me, at least, skipping back and forth adds tension and fullness to the texture, giving the reader a sort of literary peripheral vision.

I wish I could say that this is how I originally planned the book, but I wrote it in separate little sketches as I always do and then put it together in a traditionally straightforward chronology and gave it to my friend and editor Dick Lourie who arranged the book in its final shape. We worked together, of course, but Dick was the innovator and driving force for the final version, so I have him to thank for enriching and improving my manuscript."

- Steven Schrader

Steve School Class

Steven Schrader, Class of 1952
click to enlarge



“This boychik writes arresting prose about a lifetime of heartbreak, farce, sexual voraciousness, the writing life, the civil rights revolution, and, towering over his character and fate, an unforgettable mogul of a father that Kafka and Dickens would have been impressed with. Schrader’s sentences are fresh cherries, sweet and flavorful. In this, his best book so far, he reenacts a life with a concentrated brevity that spills over with feeling and hilarity. The New York he writes about, from trolley cars to the garment center to Washington Heights to the Jewish delis and Puerto Rican prostitutes of the old gritty upper West Side, is a vanished world rekindled and burning bright in Schrader’s beautiful book.”

– David Evanier, author of All the Things You Are: The Life of Tony Bennett
and The One-Star Jew

“I can think of no other contemporary writer who portrays a New York life with the honesty and humor of Steve Schrader. In these seemingly modest stories he covers all the bases; fathers, sons, families, friendship, love, literary life. Drawing on the trove of his own experiences he magically translates the absurdities of life into prose. To read Schrader is sheer pleasure intermingled with a hint of sadness, a vivid journey with a writer of dead-on vision and a generous but unsentimental heart.”

– Phyllis Raphael, author of Off The King’s Road: Lost and Found in London

"Steven Schrader is the funniest writer I know. His fiction can also be quite touching, but his funny stories and vignettes and hilarious characters and situations are what really get to me. I've used his fiction in my classes when I was teaching and they have always cracked the students up. It's great to have the opportunity to laugh with your students and this invariably happened when I read a story of Schrader aloud."

-Stephen Dixon, former Professor of MFA Writing Program, Johns Hopkins
and two-time nominee for National Book Award in Fiction

"Even if Steven Schrader’s slim new memoir didn’t partially revolve around events in his family’s life in Manhattan’s Garment District, Threads would still be the perfect title for his fifth book, given the woven nature of the segmented minichapters. A follow-up to What We Deserved, parts of the book evoke a time forever lost, when scrappy immigrant New Yorkers built solid businesses in the “rag trade”—in Schrader’s father’s case, as a reliable, if unspectacular, dress manufacturer—and their sons toyed with college and entry level jobs as junior copywriters and ad men before joining the family enterprise. Schrader manages to work in his father’s business only intermittently, later carving out a literary life (notably with Teachers & Writers Collaborative), but one gets the sense from these rich recollections that the ties between father and son, boyhood and adulthood, past and present, are as strong, colorful, and fragile as the fabrics that ran through the family’s fingers. The author employs a double narrative structure, alternating stories from his boyhood days, teen years, and young adulthood with pieces from later life; people who play important roles show up a few times, though often, as is the case in life, with diminished importance as the years progress. They are missed, regrettably out of reach, or purposely forgotten. Eventually, the two narratives meet and overlap but not before Schrader builds an urgent concern in the reader for how this manchild turned out. Rather than the dizzying confusion such a structure might become in a lesser writer’s hands, the back-and-forth form suits this writer, and his story, like a well-fitted garment. Schrader’s stories reach across decades and boroughs, youthful dreams and adult reckonings. Early on, he establishes a palpable yearning for his remembered boyhood, and a wistful, yawning regret for the mistakes of young adulthood. Yet there is also a reassuring sense of a life truly lived. Full circle, the kid does okay. He wins some, loses some—namely people—but gamely turns a gimlet, and often self-deprecatingly funny, eye on it all. Perhaps by modern memoir standards there is less of the self-analysis and ode to dysfunction readers may have come to expect. Schrader’s gifts lean more toward expert storytelling with enough rich interaction, detail, and equivocal outcomes that the reader can surely intuit their effects on the narrator. Brevity, the book’s organizing principle, serves Schrader well. Enough said, and so very well."

- Lisa Romeo, ForeWord Magazine

Boy Steve

"New York City life can be writ large or small, and both can be affecting and colorful. Steven Schrader chooses to tell his very personal stories from the vantage point of individual experience, but the fact that they translate so seamlessly to the universal in this memoir speaks eloquently about their relevance to lives lived outside his immediate world. Threads spans Schrader’s childhood playing sports in the local schoolyard, serving in the military, making career choices and changing them numerous times, trying to make peace with his parents, and building a family of his own. From working in his father’s dress business, to serving as a welfare office investigator and a junior high school teacher and then an author, Schrader creates a dimensional portrait of the indelible impact of early friendships and family relationships, plus the scars of adolescence that follow us all into adulthood.

This slim book is both a set of stories and a collection of memories about the author’s adventures, both internal and external. In it he demonstrates the presence of a strong inner voice, one that speaks to the reader about what he is observing and how he feels about it at the same time. Insightful and funny, this internal dialogue meshes with his outer experiences to provide both deep and wacky riffs on society as he saw it. His finely structured interior world plays a rich role in his relationship with his father, for example, a man who is powerful and moneyed, yet absent, and his lonely, abandoned mother, for whom he feels a major sense of responsibility.

Schrader writes like a person who believes in himself, but one who maintains a strong connection to a younger self still struggling for acceptance and confidence. This combination creates a welcome level of complexity to the reminiscences, autobiographical sketches and descriptions of his experiences as he grew up with New York City during several tumultuous decades."

- Linda F. Burghardt, Jewish Book World

Report Card

Schrader's Freshman High School report card, grade average 74
click to enlarge


"Steven Schrader's Threads: More Stories from a New York Life is a very different book, much closer to memoir than fiction in spite of being called "stories." Employing a flexible, natural organization that alternates childhood and adult scenes, Schrader gradually lets the chronological past catch up to the narrative present, and the book ends with the death of the narrator's father, a towering, influential self-made titan of New York's garment district. The power and influence of the father over the narrator, his brother and especially over their poor isolated mother with her increasingly serious suicide attempts– is a rich source of psychological and social insight. The narrator's father is, in fact, is pretty much identical with the writer's father, who was the friend of politicians and union leaders, who gave large amounts of money to hospitals and Jewish charities, and who was a real emblem of the American century as embodied by the energetic immigrant.

The writer's own story is that of coming to manhood in the second half of the twentieth century and striving in a direction unappreciated by his father. Like his father, he is New York-centric, but he also makes forays into the deep South for Freedom Summer, and into the lives of very different people. His New York crosses cultural and racial lines. He goes to funky, poverty stricken parts of New York where he teaches and works with gangs. He seeks success by his own lights, in social service or political action or literature-- but is constantly prodded by the sense of how his father doesn't respect his choices.

What I've said so far, however, completely misses the main reason to read this book, which is the voice that walks us through this life. Schrader has a wonderful clean, dry and jaundiced humor that colors the most embarrassing and painful moments and also moments of compassion and love. Repeatedly and hilariously Schrader seems to be at once in the center of the world and yet somehow missing the main thing: he goes to a club in the Village for the early show and doesn't stay for the second show when young Bob Dylan gets up and jams with Ramblin' Jack Elliot. Malcolm X waves at the narrator, but he doesn't respond. His dad shows him a picture of a movie star-sexy woman and offers a double date, but our narrator turns him down.

I lived in New York for many years, and some of my experiences overlap Schrader's– I was at the Columbia University MFA program for a year with him, for example– but his world and my world, in spite of the same scenery and even some of the same people, seem to have been in different universes. And I have to say that the glimpse into his universe is a real pleasure.

Too infused with affection for stand up comedy, too brutally direct and stripped of decoration to be a Big American Novel a la Saul Bellow or Norman Mailer or some of the young pretenders making literary headlines now, what Schrader offers is pages where every word lights up, every sentence has a mission, every scene explodes with an epiphany. In spite of its brevity, it feels as large and rich as New York City."

- Meredith Sue Willis, Books For Readers





All content © Steven Schrader