Friday, September 11, 2015

Visit our WEBSITE for ever-changing content, interviews, info!

It became too much to run a 501c3 and a blog and Twitter and Facebook and so we consolidated our social media presence --

please visit us at for a gorgeous ever-changing experience.

Right now, on the website, we have a terrific series of bi-weekly (times are approximate; we all have kids!) interviews with authors who are also parents about the many ways they balance their time. Here are a few to get you started:

Annette Binder

poet K. C. Trimmer

our recent Fellow Jess deCourcy Hinds

salon maven and publisher Vica Miller

writer & mother of four Laura Vanderkam

children's book author (among zillions of other books) Yona Zeldis McDonough

AND if you are just curious about us and our work in general, you can visit our forward-looking page:

or just ask the local press!!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

End of the line - beginning of a new chapter


Pen Parentis has a new website - check us out at !!

You will find exciting stuff like:
this blog!

from now on, our blog posts will appear directly on our website. You can still sign up for an RSS feed or you can bookmark the site and just notice when the homepage alerts you to new content.

Thanks for being so great about reading all our social media in four different locations - the new website will pull them all together--now if only someone would do that for my laundry, soccer practice, violin lessons, my newest chapter, the book I'm editing for a client, publicity for the December Salon, and the rest of my crazy life...!

c'mon over to the new Pen Parentis website.

I think you'll like it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Family-Friendly Fundraisers

There is a special sort of anxiousness that accompanies adult events to which kids are welcome. First you go all-out making sure there is something for the kids to do (we invited the unparalleled Church Street School for Music and Art to do an all-ages bookmaking craft) then you have to make sure the adults will be amply entertained (no worries, we are great at that part!) Then you make sure there is enough wine and that the food will be appropriate for all. (We did a rather carnivorous spread - sorry vegans.) And finally, you cross your fingers, pray the weather holds, and hope it will be fun.

All while knowing that a kid's idea of fun is often very different from yours.

I recall growing up and feeling so privileged when I was allowed to attend an adult-event. A wedding reception. A concert. As a kid, I worried about looking babyish and hoped that the adults didn't find me annoying. I did my best to sit still and took my cue from people older than me. And if I ran around amid the legs of the adults at the end of the night, well, it was only because by then it was hours past my bedtime and I had been fed cake because "the kids are looking sleepy: some sugar should give them a second wind!"

I don't think we needed to worry. At all.

Our rooftop event was well planned and very well received. The kids gathered around the art table as they arrived, and the good folks at Church Street School helped them get to know each other.

Meanwhile, the adults mingled over wine. As the long September rays painted skyscrapers in hues of orange and peach sherbet, a Brazilian jazz guitarist who has played Carnegie Hall (and loves kids!) got up on the stage. His fingers danced across the frets and Hector Vila Lobos tangled across our conversations. Some children sat to listen. Most spun and danced and ran. The sun set further.

Wine was refilled, and the kids grew frenzied. By the time our new curator, Brian Gresko, took the stage to read a hilarious and poignant essay about the changing nature of New York and parenthood, there were two groups in the audience: the adults leaning forward to listen and the packs of thrilled kids streaking madly across the roof from one end to the next.

Thing is: both groups were having fun. Our Fellow of a few years past, Frank Haberle, said some lovely words about the community that Pen Parentis builds and then, as fleets of kids wildly rushed the stage, then off again, he read a great short story--to wild applause, both for the prose and for the Olympic feat of maintaining focus to deliver the piece.

It was such a great night - everyone had fun: the parents, the kids, those of us who had the hilarity of trying to present to a very mobile audience -- and I think more than any other fundraiser I have attended in the past year, ours was purely a celebration of the two organizations' work - the great young musicians that Concert Artist Guild mentors and the amazing community that Pen Parentis, Ltd, is striving to build. Neither executive director showed a pie chart or talked about budgets or needs. We were too busy laughing at the way my daughter decided to upstage me by changing her shoes in the middle of my welcome speech. It was life. It was real. It was hilarious - the whole night - it was delightful and mad and I think it really embodied how honestly difficult it is to balance a serious life in the arts with the tugs and hugs that children demand and require.  But we did it. We threw a family-friendly fundraiser. We did it with the generosity of Church Street School, the graciousness of our host and Board Member Allison Scollar, we did it with a small friendly dog and copious tiny hamburgers and three shades of wine. With live jazz and juice boxes. With tag and a barefoot dance party. And your generous donations. We did it. We threw a big party and when it was done, each of our organizations were more than a thousand dollars richer. And that was fantastic, and we thank everyone who came out to support us - and those who just spread the word, or gave online, we salute you, too!

In the end, it was the little happy faces thanking us for including them in their grown-up party that showed us our true riches.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sarah Gerkensmeyer to John Jodzio, one Pen Parentis Fellow to another

Today is the day of the changeover - we give a $1000 check to a new Pen Parentis Fellow at the season opener for our Salons. Ten seasons - it's astonishing. We are so thrilled and gratified at the wonderful response that we get from our audiences.  Our 2013-2014 Writing Fellow is John Jodzio, who flew in from Minnesota to read for us.  On the occasion of John's inauguration into our hall of Fellows, last year's Fellow, Sarah Gerkensmeyer, wrote him a letter. I reproduce it here for you...


Dear John,

Congratulations on being selected as the 2013-2014 Pen Parentis Fellow!  I wish I could be there at the first salon of the season to welcome you to the family in person.  This letter will have to do.  I thought it would be most helpful for me to take a practical approach and let you know exactly how I have spent my $1,000 award.  While I hope the following budget breakdown is helpful for you, I also apologize because this is a selfish act on my part—as these notes will help me think through some of the things I am so good at avoiding (e.g. keeping close track of expenditures for tax purposes).

$457.98………………………travel to promote my new book, attend residencies, etc. (including  
                                                 airfare, lodging, food)
$50.27……………………….several pats-on-the-back of confidence and motivation
$29.34……………………….an astounding sense of community
$49.58………………………..a few late-night delirious moments of: “I am not a strange alien.  I  
                                                 am not completely in this on my own.”
$138.92………………………my first REAL pair of leather boots, for giving readings and talks,
                                                 feeling author-y, etc.
$34.26………………………..the reassurance that this talk of balancing parenting and writing is
                                                 not taboo or strange or petty or inconsequential;  
$99.99………………………..access to a built-in audience of folks who love literature (and
                                                 swanky hangout spots)
$60.88……………………….about two dozen doses of good humor, perspective, and humility
$56.74……………………….networking—I MET KELLY LINK
$22.05……………………….an entire year of stellar publicity for my work
$priceless……………………the amazing, invigorating, bold, inventive, spectacular,
                                                 kind, and imaginative work that Pen Parentis does to support the
 literary arts, and to invite someone like little old me into this wild,   
 wonderful world

I hope all of that adds up correctly, John.  But I’m a fiction writer, not a mathematician.  And even if the figures are slightly off, I hope this budget is enough to show you how amazing the honor of being a Pen Parentis Fellow truly is.  You are in for one beautiful year (and beyond).  So sharpen those pencils and wipe the smudges off the computer screen and get ready to spend big.

Best, Sarah Gerkensmeyer


You can buy Sarah's book on Amazon through this link: 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Downtown Literary Salon Turns 10

We are very excited to share this terrific article from Downtown Express:

Downtown Literary Salon Turns 10

please send it around to your friends!

Our September Salon marks the opening of our Tenth Season of programming. Join us Tuesday, September 10th at Andaz Wall Street at 7pm!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Welcome Brian Gresko!

We are delighted to welcome a new curator to the Pen Parentis Literary Salons!

Brian Gresko is the editor of the anthology When I First Held You: 22 Critically Acclaimed Writers on Fatherhood, forthcoming from Berkley Books/Penguin on Father's Day, 2014. He has contributed to The Huffington Post, and written about books and culture for Salon,, The Daily Beast, The Paris Review Daily, The LA Review of Books, The Rumpus, and numerous other publications. Brian keeps a daily column on parenting and gender politics for Babble, where he often writes about balancing his writing life with caring for his son. In print, Brian's work has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories and Slice Literary Magazine. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from The New School, and studied film and literary theory at Oberlin College. Please visit his website for links and more information.

Brian will join us in September as we bid a fond farewell to our fantastic first curator, Arlaina Tibensky – who will still attend Salons as a regular, whenever she can fit it into her busy schedule. We are so honored to have Brian join our ranks!

So if you are an author with kids – or know an author who is also a parent who writes fiction that knocks your socks off, please email Brian at - now booking Spring 2014!

Snazzy Brian.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Blog - On a Book Tour with a Teen

Hello everyone! We are excited to welcome Brooklynite writer and filmmaker Peter von Ziegesar who wrote his entry while on a recent Reading Tour to Kansas City with his kids. Nostalgic...informative...take it away Peter: 

July 7-14th

This week I fly to Kansas City to do a reading of my book The Looking Glass Brother: A Memoir (St. Martin’s Press, June, 2013) at the Boulevard Brewing Company. Why a brewery? Because it has a beautiful space that overlooks downtown Kansas City. I have a reasonable expectation of a large turnout, since The Kansas City Star has run a full-page article written by Donna Seaman of Booklist. Also, a children’s bookstore called The Reading Reptile has agreed to sell my books there. This is going to be a typical exuberant, cobbled-together Kansas City event. My only fear is a stampede when word gets out to my fellow Kansas City Art Institute graduates that free beer is going to be served!

I have a lot of good memories of Kansas City. Here is where I more or less came of age (at 35 or so), where I first started writing – for The Kansas City Star – where I went to art school, and where I met my wife, Hali. We stay with an old college friend, Kathy Marchant. Kathy is an artist, contractor, restaurateur, beekeeper, gardener and urban developer. The block of Madison Street in which she lives with Michael now contains most of my oldest friends. Called Billy Goat Hill, it’s an ancient shabby brownstone neighborhood overlooking downtown, just a walk bridge over I-80 from the somewhat scary concrete-slab FBI headquarters and near a life-sized plastic statue of a Hereford steer on a tall column whose testicles, liver and spleen light up from within, thanks to the miracle of the incandescent bulb. 

Years ago, Kathy started The Bluebird CafĂ© on the nearby corner of 17th and Summit, and now the intersection is hopping with restaurants and cafes. Everyone has watched each other’s kids grow up on this block and there is a strong feeling of group child-rearing. My old friend John McDonald, who started the Boulevard Brewing Company, is next door with his wife Anne, and two kids, Piper and Jake, and we spend much of our time wallowing in his unusual elongated urban swimming pool. Down the street are Allen Winkler and his wife Leslie and their two kids, Eli and Emma, Scott and Barbara with their son Oscar, Susie and her son Nicky, and around the corner are Howard and Kirby and Adam and Noori. Several sets of grandparents have moved into the street to be near their kids and grandkids. Sometime I want to do an ethnographic study of this block from the point of view of how people move their entrances according to how they are getting along with their particular neighbors. 

I’m finding it’s good to travel with two kids as they keep each other exercised like puppies. On the flight my daughter Maya, 15, and son, Magnus, 12, watch TV serials with conjoined headphones and formed a happy, sometimes impenetrable bubble around themselves. Kansas City turns out to be a culinary tour for them. The first thing Magnus does on arrival is google the ten most expensive restaurants in Kansas City. That does worry me a bit. 

The first morning we eat bright orange eggs from Kathy’s backyard hens and amazing fruity orchard bread from a bakery located down the street. Even though Magnus is allegedly into haute cuisine, we are also on a hunt for the best mac and cheese in Kansas City. Kathy may have already won with her gluten-free version, which we devour our first night, but we try Anna’s Oven, owned by the mother of a boy who graciously agrees to play a round of tennis with Magnus in the afternoon. Anna makes mac and cheese with radiatore, pronounced not like the cast-iron heat-spreaders you find in New York apartment buildings, but ROD-i-ah-TOR-aye. Maya and I are vegetarians so we later go to Succotash, a midtown eatery that serves truly mammoth breakfasts, such as “Vegan Sink,” an indescribable scramble of lima bean hummus and succotash (limas and corn stew), roasted peppers, portabella mushrooms and home fries. Like most places in KC we wrap much of it up and take it home

Everyone in Kansas City is connected to everyone else, and the best restaurant we try is French, owned by (how shall I say this succinctly?) the husband of the stepdaughter of an old poetry teacher of mine. There Magnus indulges himself in the prix-fixe menu of steak a la Bourgogne while Maya and I gorge ourselves on salads and pasta.

On Friday night David Byrne is playing with St. Vincent at an open-air place called Grinders, owned by a fellow ex-KCAI sculpture student known only as Stretch. Stretch somehow managed to buy up half of downtown Kansas City before city real estate moguls caught on. The kids and I head over in an open-topped Swiss Army surplus vehicle owned by one of Kathy’s neighbors and arrive just in time for the show. Maya and Magnus have been complaining that they’d rather stay home and that I’m beastly old and strange, but they perk up when they get there, especially when door guards magic marker huge X’s on their hands to mark them as non-drinkers. 

This is how I remember Kansas City, hundreds of scruffy but happy cowtowners standing around in the cooling evening air under a talismanic sky, chomping on slices of pizza, sipping beer as the red neon Tension Envelope sign blinks on and off, and listening to great unconventional music and enjoying the deepening sunset. Maya and Magnus of course know the Talking Head songs and start to jump up and down in imitation of David Byrne’s stilted marching and mysterious hand motions, inspired by the brass ensemble he’s assembled. As the set breaks with “You’re on the Road to Nowhere,” we demobilize and walk home, myself proud to have been able to show the kids something of what’s great about KC. 

“Father, thou art ancient, but it was good,” is my daughter’s final verdict. David Byrne’s onstage music partner, St. Vincent, confessed that she was four-years-old when she first heard a David Byrne song in the movie, Revenge of the Nerds. Well, shoot, I was 25, but I feel like a grizzled castaway from of Game of Thrones.

The reading’s on Sunday at the brewery. On Thursday I sit down at KCUR public radio for an interview supposedly about my book, but the conversation drifts off course to the Kansas City art scene and never gets back. Ah, well, a worthy topic. The kids are still sleeping when I return to Kathy’s at noon.

On Sunday morning I go to the brewery early to set up the reading, but there’s no need; the staff has put up chairs and audio-visual and has three sturdy bartenders ready to serve beer. Kathy and Michael bring Maya and Magnus over from their house, which is only a few blocks away, and I send them downstairs to provide enigmatic hand signals to entering audience members. True to predictions the place fills up fast with an interesting mixture of Kansas City’s Bohemian-restaurant-carpenter-Art-Institute-urban pioneer-drug-culture underground, combined with scattered literati and mental health professionals. Many old friends are here. 

My book is not a confess-all, but there are some seriously gamy parts. I have had the heroin talk with my kids weeks before, so I feel able to answer questions honestly without fear of causing sudden childhood trauma, but some of my old friends are hearing about certain parts of my life for the first time. As I read from the opening chapter, I am halting at first, but look over and see Maya and Magnus listening raptly, and encouraged, I stop being nervous. Eventually my voice catches the rhythm of the words and I’m off. 

Steve Paul, my old editor at The Star, keeps the ball rolling by asking incisive questions and pulling in a few from the audience. Many people here have dealt with a schizophrenic relative – a central theme in my book – and others are just returning from a NAMI conference. The talk is brisk. Some want to hear more about Peacock Point – the faded Gilded-Age Long Island estate where I spent my summers, and others about childrearing and family life. I get a laugh quoting Mary Karr: “The definition of a dysfunctional family is a family with more than one member.” Steve seems to know exactly what he’s doing and the time never drags. We cut off exactly at the hour.

“What did you think?” I ask the kids afterwards.
Bueno, bueno,” says Maya. “The first five minutes, you messed up a few times, but it was fine. The last part was better.” 
“Oh, okay.”
“And you know that time when you stopped to tell everyone that it was a metaphorical glass ball you were talking about? Everyone already knew it was a metaphorical glass ball.”
“Got it.”
 “You do realize, Dad, that we can use some of this stuff against you,” says Magnus.
“Yeah, I know.”


Writer and filmmaker Peter von Ziegesar lives in Brooklyn with his wife and family. He started his memoir, The Looking Glass Brother, (St. Martin's Press, 2013, Picador Paperback, 2014) after his long-lost stepbrother, "Little Peter," a homeless former violin prodigy, appeared in the streets outside his Greenwich Village home just when the author and his wife were preparing to start a family. Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly gave The Looking Glass Brother starred reviews, with Donna Seaman, Senior Editor at Booklist, calling it, "a piercing, thought-provoking portrait of a many-branched American family." Kirkus Reviews praised the book as a “vivid, frequently elegiac memory piece," and added, "It’s as if characters wandered out of an Auchincloss novel to encounter Kerouac’s bunch."
 - find his book on Facebook or Amazon