ARTICLES, REVIEWS & ESSAYS
My memoir of 70’s New york and my teen friendship with stephen varble, published in granta summer 2018 and reprinted in lithub
This is a story about New York in the 1970s. A broken, genderfuck friendship story.
When I was 14 years old and an aspiring writer, my best friend was a 28-year-old drag queen and performance artist named Stephen Varble. I was in the ninth grade at Brearley, an all-girls school on the Upper East Side, and at that point Stephen was really the only boy I knew. For almost three years, we explored the seedier undersides of the city; he introduced me to cocaine and kissing and to John Waters’ star Divine, and I provided him, grudgingly, with something approaching home. We charmed, wounded, infuriated each other, squabbled and made up, but even in our most exasperated moments, we each had this weird faith in our friendship as a kind of artistic endeavor: I interviewed Stephen about his work, recorded in my diary every conversation, every meeting; we wrote poems about each other; Stephen commissioned a photographer friend to make a film of the two of us, of which only two stills survive. He called me “Nenna Fiction.”
I went away to college, and stopped answering Stephen’s letters. He became a religious recluse, got AIDS, and died; later he was forgotten because his art was so militantly ephemeral, and because most of the photographers who documented his performances also died of AIDS and were forgotten. Now both he and they are being rediscovered, and the first museum show devoted to Stephen Varble’s work is opening in New York in September this year. It’s taken me 40-odd years to be able to begin thinking about this friendship, which is also a story about Aids, genderqueer art, and a city that not so long ago offered possibilities of wild, unsurveilled freedom and experimentation.
Wild, Free, and Utterly Lost—Writer Fernanda Eberstadt on the Panic and Pitfalls of Post-Collegiate Life
Vogue (USA) - Magazine
New York in the 1970s was a wild, sleazy city, and as a teenager, I found myself exploring its leather bars, amusement arcades, and discos with an intensity that didn’t leave much room for school. On my report cards, the number of days absent was higher than most of my grades. One night in eleventh grade, my best friend and I took our schoolbags to Studio 54, stowed them under a seat in the upstairs gallery, and went straight to our Upper East Side girls’ school the next morning, bleary but triumphant. Hadn’t our parents noticed we didn’t come home the night before? my children asked many years later when they heard this story. Parents didn’t notice much in that unsurveilled era...