Humorist Lewis Burke Frumkes Thinks Big: Marymount Writing Center Expands NYC’s Literary Horizons
Lewis Burke Frumkes has never done anything half-way. Starting out as a struggling writer, he got his first big break when literary giant Harper’s agreed to give him a big spread in its magazine, jump starting a career in humorous writing that has included articles in The New York Times, Punch, and Reader’s Digest and seven books with such quirky titles as How to Raise Your I.Q. By Eating Gifted Children, The Logophile’s Orgy, and Manhattan Cocktail and Other Irreverent Observations on Life, Taxes and Meter Maids. Yet he didn’t stop there: Tune in to WPAT AM radio on a Sunday night at 8 PM and you’ll find him hosting in-depth interviews with Nobel Laureates and the crème de la crème of the literary world (“father of the hydrogen bomb” Edward Teller, heart transplant pioneer Christian Barnard and best-selling author John Grisham are just a few of his favorite interviews.) But if you want to know where Frumkes really spends his days, come to the third floor of Marymount Manhattan College where, since 1995, he has directed its highly acclaimed Writing Center.
Education Update tracked down Frumkes in an overstuffed office crammed floor to ceiling with hundreds of books (“they’re to be read, have been read, or research for my radio show”) and dozens of framed photos of Frumkes with world-renowned authors. His desk is dwarfed by a collection of hourglasses of all shapes and sizes: “They remind me that time is precious. It is fluid and moving. I’m a big believer in carpe diem,” he explains.
Seizing the moment is what Frumkes does best. He came up with the idea for the Writing Center in 1994 and talked his way into receiving a $225,000 grant from a Wall Street benefactor, allowing him to realize a long awaited dream of developing a writing program for students of all ages that would help them hone their craft, learn from the best of the best, and “develop the creativity that is lying dormant within them.” To wit, this fall, he’ll be running four master classes taught by writing talents Gay Talese, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, Debbie Applegate, and Education Update’s own Pola Rosen. “Kids can hear these people up close and personal,” remarks Frumkes. There’ll be an opera course, a mystery club, and a book club. The fall calendar looks like a who’s who of literary greats: lectures by author Hilma Wolitzer, celebrated poet Edward Hirsch, National Book Award winner Julia Glass and Pulitzer Prize nominee Katherine Mosby will be open to the public and have traditionally been free of charge. A weekend workshop will bring in a panel of distinguished literary agents to help would-be authors secure literary representation. Culminating the breathtaking schedule of activities this year will be Frumkes’ piece de resistance, an annual Writer’s Conference that in June attracted over 60 distinguished authors, agents and publicists and included Harper’s Editor-in-Chief Lewis Lapham and author Joyce Carol Oates as keynote speakers. “We don’t have the budget of the 92nd Street Y or Columbia, but we do a lot with a little,” sums up Frumkes in what may be the understatement of the year. “Now we’re thought of as a conservatory even though we’re a liberal arts college,” he adds.
With a schedule that keeps him on his toes 24/7, we ask Frumkes how he envisions his future. Ever the humorist, his answer is not surprising: “I’d make the earth into a funnier planet,” he answers with a completely serious face.#