Fran Lebowitz is perhaps the only person to leverage a decades-long writer’s block into a legendary creative calling. For CULTURED’s Winter issue cover story, writer Nicolaia Rips examines the phenomenon through the lens of her own burgeoning career, which began with the release of her debut novel, Trying to Float, when she was 17 years old.
In the cover story, Rips and her creative role model circle each other, never quite making contact—the young writer sits in the audience at Lebowitz’s Kings Theatre talk, and attends the kinds of screenings and stimulant-fueled parties that marked the cultural critic's own coming of age in the city. “People want Fran to tell them how to live because it seems like she’s figured out one of the most challenging parts: how to escape expectations—the world’s and one’s own,” writes Rips.
The feature comes alive in CULTURED's Winter issue through the photography of Daniel Arnold, the beloved street photographer who has always managed to paint icons—including the likes of Rihanna, Austin Butler, and Bella Hadid—in a fresh, intimate light. For this project, he adopted a unique approach, relinquishing control and following Lebowitz around the buzzy streets of Greenwich Village.
“I got right up in Fran’s face at one point—too close honestly—and I told her through the camera, ‘Don’t worry, it’s a wide lens, it’s not as intense as it feels,’” he remembers. “Before I could finish, she scoffed and spat back, ‘I don’t care. I’ll never see any of this.’ I really liked spending time with her, no joke.”
While the pair wandered from Caffè Reggio to Lebowitz’s various smoking haunts on nearby street corners, CULTURED interviewed her about her enduring influences. Lebowitz, notoriously difficult to impress, had this to say: “In general, most things are annoying. Something that simply isn’t annoying, I am grateful for.”
Nevertheless, Lebowitz's charm stems from her simultaneous refusal to be wowed and her ardent passion for the relentless thrum of her beloved city—as well as the rich creative ecosystem that thrives, against all odds, within it. “People always say, ‘Where would you live if you couldn’t live in New York?’” she says. “Why couldn’t I live in New York? No one can afford to live in New York, and yet everyone can live in New York.” Hear more of the iconic critic's words of wisdom below in Fran Lebowitz's Five Points of Culture.