Talking to Fran Lebowitz on the phone — no, let me correct that, listening to Fran Lebowitz on the phone — is a unique experience; she’s made conversation into an art form. Though she made a big splash in the publishing world several decades ago, “raconteur” is basically Lebowitz’s profession these days. Since publication of the archly humorous essay collections “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies” (sample: “Generally speaking, it is inhumane to detain a fleeting insight”) in 1978 and 1981, she hasn’t written another book, diagnosing herself with writer’s block so severe she calls it “writer’s blockade.”

A longtime New Yorker, Lebowitz’s acerbic presence — and her trademark natty blazers — is familiar to those who’ve seen her holding forth on-screen in the documentary “Public Speaking” and the Netflix series “Pretend It’s a City,” both directed by her friend Martin Scorsese (who can often be spotted in the latter, laughing at Lebowitz’s remarks). She’s currently far from home, on a countrywide speaking tour that includes a visit to Seattle’s Benaroya Hall on Feb. 27. She spoke with me over the phone from her book-filled Manhattan apartment back in December; here are excerpts from that conversation.

On her battle with writer’s block:

“I have two half-finished books; I didn’t throw them away. I must imagine that I might finish one of them. At least, I hope I will … My house is filled with little pieces of paper all over the place. I’ve been writing things down my whole life, I just haven’t examined them closely enough to actually put them together. So I hope I will. I don’t know.”

On reading during the pandemic:

“During lockdown, which was many, many months here, I certainly read much more than I would ordinarily read, and I certainly read things I never would have read. I don’t have a computer or a [cell]phone or anything like that and I was relying on friends’ Amazon accounts [when bookstores were closed]. The only books I knew to buy were ones I was reading about, or that people would recommend to me, and that is a terrible way to buy a book. The way I buy books is, I go to a bookstore, I open a book, I read the first few paragraphs, and I think, hmm, no or yes. I’m not always right, but I’m right a lot. But when you take other people’s recommendations and reviews, you are wrong most of the time. I ended up with, I would say easily over 100 books that I never would have bought in a bookstore.”

She did enjoy some rereading, particularly longtime favorite John O’Hara. “If you read most of O’Hara, you will have a fantastic, really encompassing picture of the United States in the first 50 years of the 20th century. There’s no other American writer that’s true of.”

On her ideal reading experience:

“Quiet. That is the No. 1 thing. It was pretty quiet during COVID, I have to say. New York got really quiet … I have a sofa that I actually designed in 1979, so it’s falling apart, designed deliberately so I can lie on the sofa without a pillow, because I hate pillows on sofas. I hate to be grabbed by accessories. Lying on the sofa, that’s ideal.”


Lebowitz never eats while reading. “I’m an extremely formal eater. I only eat at my table, which I set even if I’m just having an apple.”  

On her personal library:

After a recent move, she was told that she had 10,000 books. “When I moved into this apartment, I didn’t have enough bookcases. I only moved like 14 blocks, so apparently during these 14 blocks they procreated.”  

On what she’s reading now:

“I’m not going to tell you because I’m not going to recommend it, and I’m reading it as a chore. I don’t ever tell books I don’t like, because they always want you to say what you don’t like. They want you to just be funny. I would never do this, because I’m not an assassin and I also know that it’s just as hard to write a bad one as it is to write a good one. The only difference is talent. It’s a horror to write a book!”

On rereading the work of her longtime friend Toni Morrison, who died in 2019:

“I have never missed anyone so much in my life, ever,” Lebowitz said about Morrison, noting that even during the perplexing early days of the coronavirus pandemic, “Toni would know how to think about this.” Though she wasn’t able to read Morrison’s work right after her death, she’s more recently been rereading most of them. “You could never reread Toni enough, because she’s an endless gold mine. When I say she bears rereading, it’s not my personal relationship with her, but there are some writers that you can never reread often enough, because there’s always more.”

On Scorsese:

“I don’t remember where I [first] met Marty, but definitely it was the ‘80s, not the ‘70s. I just assume — we both assume — that we met at a party. I can’t think where else I would have met him. I’ve gone to about a million more parties than Marty, which is why Marty’s made a million movies and I’ve written two books. We don’t remember which party. But I did at a certain point realize that whenever I would run into him, I would spend the whole night talking to him. I just love to talk to Marty and I love to listen to Marty … He’s absolutely funny in a way that I’m not — he’s very dramatic in how he tells stories, he’ll often stand up to tell a story. He has that quality of acting that I don’t have at all.”  


On the format of her Benaroya event:

“What I do is a half-hour where someone interviews me [in Seattle, it’s writer/performer David Schmader], and then I answer questions. Answering questions from an audience is probably my favorite activity in life. I think probably because when I was a child, nobody ever asked me anything. I grew up in the 1950s and nobody asked children questions. Being a child in the 1950s was more like morning to night, instructions: ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ … Also, it’s really fun to answer questions from the audience because you never know what they’re going to ask.” (Her all-time favorite audience question: Back in the time of the Iran hostage crisis — yes, she’s been doing this a while — someone asked her who her favorite hostage was. “I can’t imagine being asked a better question.”)

On Seattle:

“I’ve been to Seattle numerous times. Of course, I could not tell you when those times were … The main thing, when I think of Seattle, I think of light. It’s really spectacular. Of course we don’t have light in New York so we’re always looking for it when we go places. It’s a beautiful light.”

An Evening with Fran Lebowitz

7:30 p.m. Feb. 27; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $33-$54; masks and proof of vaccination or negative coronavirus test required; 206-215-4747,