I haven't posted many updates here lately. I'm better at posting updates on Facebook, so feel free to friend me there.

I've had the pleasure of visiting a few synagogues over the past couple months to talk about my book. It's really fun! if you belong to a synagogue (or church, masjid, anarchist book club, etc.) invite and I'll come talk with you.

Ilana Masad was nice enough to have me on her podcast, The Other Stories. We spoke last month and the episode aired last week. I read an unpublished short story (one of my favorite things I've written since finishing The Sea Beach Line), and we talked abut a bunch of stuff, like Primo Levi.

I also had a nonfiction article up on The Atlantic's Object Lessons series last month. A fairly anarcho take on Flag Day, and the history of flags.

Foreword Reviews named my book Bronze in their 2015 INDIEFAB Awards, in the literary category. Third place aint so bad.

Humbled to be listed in this article on Book Riot: 100 Must-Read Works of Jewish Fiction.

OK, enough bragging. I'll get back t the usual self-deprecation soon.

Oh, I'll have some updates about an exciting zine project next month, hopefully.

I want to write more about the guys in the videos in the previous posts, and a bunch of other things. I can't right now. Just listen to the songs. Keep the faith.

Spring Events

It's been a while since I've posted any news, but things have been happening with the book! It's getting out there into the world, and I have had a lot of great discussions about it with readers.

I have a few book events coming up over the next couple weeks:

This Thursday, May 14th, I will be reading at the Boundless Tales series at The Astoria Bookshop in Queens, NYC.

Next Monday, May 18th, I will be speaking on a panel at my MFA alma mater, the City College of New York (in Harlem, NYC), on the subject of Life After the MFA. It's always funny when people think I have anything about life figured out.

Then, on Monday, May 25th, I'll be reading with Abby Geni at Bookends & Beginnings bookstore in Evanston, IL, at an event sponsored by the Evanston Public Library.

In general, for a more regularly-updated events calendar, check out the events listing on the Fig Tree Books site.

And if you want me to come read or speak at your bookstore/ bookclub/ anarchist infoshop, college class/ high school class/ synagogue/ church/ mosque/ whatever, don't hesitate to holler. 


The novel is finally out! The book hit stores this past Tuesday, and the release reading is tomorrow at Book Court. I hope to see a lot of friendsold and newthere. I will be reading from the book, and discussing it with Andrew Duncan Worthington. There will be wine, laughter, and maybe some tears. 

I was walking through Park Slope yesterday, and stopped into Community Bookstore. It was exciting to stumble on my own book on the shelf. I felt like Fante's Arturo Bandini when he sees his book on the Los Angeles department store shelf in Ask The Dust

During the release process, I've had the pleasure of doing some interviews about the book with Brooklyn Paper, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, and the WebbWeaver Books podcast. 

As excited as I am, I try to keep in mind some of Jeffrey Lewis' sage advice, particularly about reading reviews.

August and Everything After

I have just returned to Brooklyn, after a wonderful ten days in the beautiful nation of Georgia. 

This starred review from Library Journal was a nice welcome home present.  I also discovered that my first ever stab at a craft essay, about the use of dreams in fiction, has been published at the Tishman Review

The winding streets of Tbilisi and the warm waters of the Black Sea are already just a memory. Now I need to crank out some syllabi for the fall semester, and buckle down to promote the Sea Beach Line, which drops in just under two months. In the meantime, there are more advance copies being given away at GoodReads. And of course, if anyone wants to do an interview, write a review, or invite me to read at your series/ event/ book club/ synagogue/ house, get at me.

Me at the robotic Nino and Ali statue in Batumi. Named after the title characters from the classic Azeri novel by Kurban Said (aka Essad Bey, aka Lev Nussimbaum).

The grave of Oksana's great-grandfather, a Red Army officer and World War II hero, in the Jewish cemetery in Tbilisi.

Alan Cheuse 1940-1915

One of the many reasons I was excited to sign with Fig Tree Books this past fall was because it meant being press mates with Alan Cheuse. I did not know Alan personally, but like many of us I knew his kind and positive voice from book reviews on NPR. I looked forward to meeting him as a colleague. I'm sorry I never got the chance to. 

May his memory be a blessing.  


I have been mulling over this quote from I Am That: Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, which my friend showed me the other day:

Non-distinction speaks in silence. Words carry distinctions. The unmanifested (nirguna) has no name, all names refer to the manifested (saguna). It is useless to struggle with words to express what is beyond words. Consciousness (chidananda) is spirit (purusha), consciousness is matter (prakriti). Imperfect spirit is matter, perfect matter is spirit. In the beginning as in the end, all is one.
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Goodreads Book Giveaway

I have just finished up going through the final proof of The Sea Beach Line. It's hard to believe that almost four years after I started writing, and ten months after I started working with Fig Tree Books, I am ready to send this thing out into the world.

The book won't be available to the public until October, but Fig Tree will be giving away fifteen advance copies in July. Head over to Goodreads to enter.


Occupy Writers

It looks like, three years on, the Occupy Writers website is defunct (thought the list of writers is archived). I thought I'd repost my contribution to the project here:

A New Year

We went down to Zucotti Park the day
after Rosh Hashana, when everything
is clean and new. The yoke of debt is lifted
from our shoulders, and anything
can be written on the freshly cleaned slate.

I got an email from my grandfather:
“Shana Tova. Happy New Year. I am
writing to you from your grandmother’s
bedside, here in the hospital. We can’t
tell from what they show on the TV
what is really going on in New York,
but I know that you are down there. It reminds
us of what we tried to do in the ‘30s.
I hope it works out better this time.”

Yes, grandpa, the people are in the street.
They aren’t scared of the police anymore
and they are trying to take a stand.
These people fought in the war, or against
the war, or they didn’t know what to do.
Some worked hard their whole lives but haven’t got
anything to show for it, yet. Others
got a little bit. Most of us still don’t
know what to do, but we have to do something.
It’s sunny now, but it might rain tonight.
Rain and dirt are the things that make seeds grow.
May all our names be inscribed in the book of life.



Shana Tova. Gut Yor. Happy New Year.

The last few months of 5774 were pretty dismal for the world. Here's to 5775 being more full of light.

The war in/on Gaza was heartbreaking from a number of perspectives. I didn't write or publicly post much about it. I am posting below a poem which I wrote about Gaza a couple years ago (and published in the lit mag Promethean) because it is, sadly, continually relevant.

I participated in a few actions this summer with a group called If Not Now. People are thinking, people are working, people are trying to do inspiring things.

Anyway, I haven't been posting to this blog very regularly, but you can also stay up with me on facebook and twitter (and now ello).

You can also check out some nonfiction I've published over the past few months:

- Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass (with Oksana Mironova) at The Architectural League’s Urban Omnibus
Pierless (with Oksana Mironova) at BKLYNR

Ordinary People and Ordinary Stories  (Andrew Worthington interview) at The Philadelphia Review of Books

I'll leave you with that Gaza poem:


Prized city, resting place of the prophet’s great
grandpa. The Phoenicians visited you
on their way from Tyre down to Cyrene.
You were home to the first Christian monastery.
You fell to King David, whose heavy
shield I wear around my neck.
You fell to the Caliphate. You fell
to the crusaders. Salahuddin

took you back. You flourished under the Pashas.

I don’t understand the modern history so well.
I have sat with otherwise rational men,
and listened as they became irate
over the subject of borders.
I understand that there are high rises
with people living inside of them.
I understand they have nowhere else to live.
I understand that if a missile hits
a building, the people in the building die.



The second edition of my poetry chapbook, The Men Who Work Under The Ground, is now available from the Keep This Bag Away From Children store You can read my author's note to the chapbook here:


My mother is a coal miner’s daughter.

After returning home from service in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, my grandpa Elmer mined coal for several years in a Peabody mine in Christian County, Illinois. Some of the earliest memories my mother has shared with me are of the coal dust being hosed off of her father before he came inside the house for dinner. I never knew him, myself. Coal miners don’t live to be real old. Elmer died in 1968 (when my uncle was serving in the Vietnam War) from a medical condition that has never been satisfactorily explained to me. My grandfather spent the last years of his life as a state game warden, out in the fresh forest air, but the years dismantling unexploded Nazi bombs and breathing coal dust had taken their toll.

The mines were mostly closed down when I was a kid, but their specter loomed over my yearly summer visits to Christian County.  There were stories of relatives who had contracted black lung, of neighbors’ houses that had collapsed into the empty earth beneath them.  On the wall of the grocery store, two towns over, there was an old mural honoring the dozens of men who’d been killed in a Christmas Eve cave in. I was shown newspaper clippings about a Progressive Miners of America aligned relative-by-marriage who had been shot dead by a strike-breaking Chicago thug during the union wars. The Progressives had managed to hold out against the Peabody Company (as well as the United Mine Workers of America, after UMWA leader John L. Lewis sold out to Peabody) until the governor sent in the Illinois National Guard to crush them.

When I was living in California a few years ago, I became friends with a troubled man who visited the used bookstore where I worked almost daily to buy used CDs of music from the 50s and 60s.  After we’d gotten to know each other bit he told me about his life, particularly his experiences as a tunnel rat during Vietnam.  It explained a lot about the way he was.  Most of the people who worked in the store with me didn’t like him hanging around, making the other customers uncomfortable, but I told them that until they’d been through what he’d been through, they should leave him the hell alone.

Later that same year, I was reading Roger Crowley’s 1453:  The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. Crowley’s book gives a fantastically detailed account of the siege and combat preceding the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.  After reading through extensive discussions of Sultan Mehmed II’s innovative use of artillery to batter the city walls, I came to a brief passage about fighting that occurred in tunnels underneath the walls.

The passage was revelatory to me. The images in the book connected to the stories I’d heard from my veteran friend in California, which in turn connected to the coal mining stories I’d heard as a kid. I had a sudden and cohesive vision of a web of tunnels, filled with human pain, winding throughout the whole earth and all of history.  It stretched back from The New York City subway system, through the colonies of the Spanish, Russian, and Roman Empires, all the way back to ancient Egypt, where Pharaohs forced farmers to dig royal tombs.  I suddenly understood what it means in the in the Book of Exodus when it refers to Mitzrayim (מצרים), the narrow place.

Brooklyn Gang

I found this old essay in a folder on my computer. I wrote it a couple years ago when I was working in a museum, but then I quit that job before I did anything with that essay. I still relate to what I had to say in the essay, so I decided to toss it up here: When you work in the galleries of a museum, you develop relationships with certain images. While it is true that the curators select the images, they soon abandon them. It is left to those of us who work in the galleries on a daily basis – tour guides, security guards, etc. – to justify, explain, physically protect, and live with the framed images.  The images that you develop the strongest connection to are often not the ones that grab you at first, but the ones that grow on you gradually.  A simple gesture or expression takes on greater meaning once you view it hundreds of times over.

I developed one such relationship with a Bruce Davidson image this past summer, during ICP’s A Short History of Photography exhibition. The image – from Davidson's Brooklyn Gang series – is of a young woman standing in a park, with a cigarette in her mouth.  She is wearing a white, sleeveless blouse and a black skirt. Her bare arm is pulled back at a severe angle. At first glance, I thought the girl was pulling back to strike – the harsh look on her face would support this – but she's actually just fixing her hair, which has been disrupted by the wind.

The picture is messy.  The girl is in the foreground, but she is firmly planted in the right half of the horizontal frame.  Poking into the left half of the frame are a couple of the girl’s friends, napping on a white blanket. Above them, an overturned bag lies on the grass.  Even if Davidson had cropped off the left side, the portrait of the girl would still include the khaki-panted leg of a stranger trudging along a path in the background. Beyond the legs, there is a wall of bushes, dark and enclosing. The ground is uneven, and the grass looks unhealthy. The girl is not well either. She looked very tough at that first glance, but the more I looked at the photo, the more vulnerable – and younger – she appeared.

After the show was taken down, I wanted to revisit the photo in its context. Davidson spent the summer of 1959 following the Jokers, a crew of poor, mostly Irish, kids from the vicinity of 18th Street and 8th Avenue, a dismal corner of pre-gentrified (by decades) Park Slope. The kids are certainly delinquents, they steal cars to joyride and fight rivals with baseball bats, but they are not quite what would be considered a violent street gang by the standards of later decades. Brooklyn Gang originally ran as a spread in Esquire Magazine in 1959, but the entire series was only published as a monograph in 1998, by Twin Palms Publishers. The monograph has been reprinted this year by Steidl as part of Black & White, a beautiful five-volume boxed set of Davidson’s black and white works.

Brooklyn Gang is divided into nine sections, set in the various places where the kids spend time. There is “Candy Store,” where they read comic books and drink fountain sodas, “Party,” where they dance slow and make out, “The Street,” where they work on cars and smoke cigarettes, “The Hole” (a sort of submerged alley running alongside an apartment building), where they smoke cigarettes and drink. The photo of the girl is from the “The Park” section. Park Slope is defined by the fact that it leads up to the West side of Prospect Park, and it was natural that the Jokers hung out there.

Prospect Park was built by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in 1867, following a rough draft called Central Park, and is one of the most beautiful parks in the world. It is a place where friends and families gather for recreation, but it has often been a place of violence as well. In fact, the location for the park was chosen largely because of the desire to preserve Battle Pass, a site where American troops tried, and failed, to hold off invading British troops during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. There were battles there in 1959, too. Davidson initially came down and met the Jokers after hearing about a violent brawl between teen gangs in the park.

One of the ways that the Jokers manifested their tribalism was through tattoos. Indeed, tattoos are a central aspect of the book's visual lexicon. They are not only present, but proudly displayed, in many of the images in the book. The tattoos are all fairly rudimentary: the words “Mom” and “Dad,” the nickname “Bobby” surrounded by stars, drawings of panthers, eagles, flowers, and skunks, all chosen from standard flash sheets.

I remember the single tattoo that adorned the forearm of my uncle, a tough fifties kids himself. It was a Marine Corps bulldog, which he got during the Vietnam War.  A flash tattoo will not have the same individuality, or sensitivity to body contour, that we seen in custom tattoo work done in Brooklyn today. My uncle’s tattoo was awkwardly placed and poorly done. Still, it remains one of the most powerful tattoos I have ever seen, as it meant that he had been part of a tribe, and had ventured into battle with his brothers. The Jokers’ tattoos meant much the same thing.

Most of the Jokers got their tattoos done at Mikey’s Tattooing in Coney Island. Following a hepatitis outbreak in 1961, all tattoo shops in New York City – including, no doubt, Mikey’s – were closed by the city. By the time tattooing was legalized in New York City again, in 1997, tattoos were no longer the sole province of sailors, bikers, and gang members. Nor, for that matter, was Park Slope any longer the province of the poor and working classes.

Recently, I have seen some of the “Brooklyn Gang” photos kicking around on the internet. Often, the interest is in the retro cool quality of the pictures. I admit that I am as susceptible to this as anyone. The tattoos are cool, the clothes are cool, the perfectly combed hair is cool. The book is full of attractive teenagers making out. Beyond that, there is a something charming about a group that has the toughness of a street gang, but exists in an era before the brutality of crack cocaine and semi-automatic weapons. It plays into a nostalgic fantasy of the working class white ethnic Brooklyn of old. However, my own grandfather reminds me – between stories of how great Coney Island was in 1940 – that he left Brooklyn because it was full of poverty and violence, and he did not like poverty and violence. Those were things that caused him pain.

“Brooklyn Gang” is not a series about cool kids. It is a series about sad kids getting ready to go ahead and die. Many of these kids became heroin addicts, and many of them died very young. We know this because of the interviews that Davidson’s wife, Emily Haas Davidson, conducted with Bob Powers (aka “Bengie”), one of the gang members featured in the book, who eventually kicked drugs and went on to become a drug counselor. Even without this context of hindsight, death and tragedy are looming in the photographs themselves. In one photograph, a boy pulls a piece of dangling clothesline taught against his neck, and drops his head listlessly, as if he has been hanged.  In another photograph, a boy balances his arched back on a pipe that spans the Hole, daring himself to drop into the precipice.

There is a part of me that wants to grab these kids and tell them that it will be all right. In my mind, I am speaking to them as a wise man in my late twenties, who has seen plenty of cool teenagers careen into addiction and death. My impulse is of course absurd, as the subjects would be (and in some cases are) in their sixties or seventies by now. But my relationship is not with the subjects as people in the world; it is with the subjects as kids in the photos. Every time I passed the photograph of the girl on the wall of the museum, I’d try to catch her eye. I wanted to talk to her. But if the camera didn’t catch the subject’s eye at the moment the picture was taken, the viewer will never be able to.

Davidson, however, dealt with the Jokers both as people and as photographic subjects.  They existed, for him, first in the world, then in the lens, and then on paper. I imagine that the experience of being a documentary photographer is not unlike the experience that the poet John Keats had, while observing the public execution of three robbers in Venice. Keats wrote of the incident in a letter to his publisher, John Murray:

“I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close, but was determined to see, as one should see everything, once, with attention); the second and third (which shows how dreadfully soon things grow indifferent), I am ashamed to say, had no effect on me as a horror, though I would have saved them if I could.”


Books Mentioned:

Bruce Davidson, Brooklyn Gang (Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 1998)

TR820.5.N7 .D38 1988


Bruce Davidson, Black & White (Göttingen: Steidl, 2012)


Sidney Colvin, editor, Letters of John Keats to His Family And Friends (London: MacMillan and Co., 1925)

set in stone

Between researching my Microcosm Publication, and teaching my course at the New School, I have been interacting with zine archives a lot over the past year. For some reason, though, it didn't occur to me that any of my old stuff would be in an archive. Today, I stumbled upon this entry in the Hampshire College Zine Collection database:

Title: Signifier Is Razor

Author: Ben Nadler

Publication Date: 2002

Location: US

Subjects: Poetry, Comics, Fiction/Literature, Politics

Catalog #: 599

Date Added: 12/3/12

I have only very vague memories of this zine. It must have been the Spring of 2002, when I was a senior in high school. So I made this after I went to Governor's School for the Arts, but before I went traveling for the first time. I was young, angsty, and drug-addled. The fact that it includes comics means there must be some work from Germ Ross in there. He was sightly older, slightly less angsty (well maybe not), and sXe. I don't have any desire to ever see this zine, but I'm glad someone else can. I stand by everything I've ever published.

by the factory wall

I just finished another semester of teaching. I was at three colleges this semester, all over New York City. I have a consciousness that as an adjunct I am an underpaid and exploited worker, but I love teaching. I love my students. I love talking to them about writing and books. These are the amazing final projects from a radical print culture class I taught this semester at the New School:


It was strange to be back where I did my undergrad, almost a decade later, on the other side of the table. It was also a challenge to figure out how to responsibly bring radical culture into the academic world in a way that was fair and useful for everyone. In the end though, it was a lot of fun, thanks to my wonderful students, and to my wonderful guest lecturers, Fly and Sascha Altman Dubrul.


Maya Angelou died the other day. I never had all that much use for her poetry, though I thought it was unfair when an undergrad professor of mine asserted that it was "greeting card" not poetry. But I've seen her memoir, I know Why The Caged Bird Sings, help and positively affect many students. She wrote about surviving sexual abuse in a way that helped-and continues to help-a lot of people. This was forty-five years ago. She changed the discussion.

She definitely brought a neglected/silenced voice and experience into the mainstream. While it maybe involved creating a poetry that was easily palatable to TV audiences and politicians, it was a way to validate and honor important, marginalized voices, and I appreciate her for that.

Something else I want to say about Dr. Angelou is that I remember meeting her once when I was kid in Philadelphia. It was at one of those Unity Day/ Stop The Violence events that blighted cities used to have in the '90s. One of my dad's buddies had connections to the mayor's office, so my mother and I got to go backstage to meet her. There was a small jazz band there, and a table covered with Tasty Cakes. She sat in a chair and there was sort of a receiving line. She knelt down to speak with me, but I don't remember what she said. But my god, that woman had presence. Those eyes. That voice. I learned a lot about how to shake a person's hand and look them in the eye from that experience.

Rest In Peace.


After the usual delays, the second edition of The Men Who Work Under The Ground is now available for order from the Keep This Bag Away From Children store. Run cop that. If anyone wants to review that chapbook, or my Punk history book, hit me up for a review copy.


I'm reading tomorrow night at Noir at the Bar in Manhattan, with a whole crew of other lit thugs. It should be a great event. Hope to see you there.

noir at the bar flyer

Brooklyn Zine Fest

I am hyped for the Brooklyn Zine Fest, which will be held this Saturday and Sunday at the Brooklyn Historical Society. This year, there will be completely different tablers on Saturday and Sunday.  I think this is a good call, considering how mobbed the event was last year. If you are at the fest on Saturday, come say hi to me at the Keep This Bag Away From Children table. Austin Givens and I spent yesterday afternoon preparing. CAM00087

I am also extremely excited to say that I picked up my copies of Punk in NYC's Lower East Side 1981-1991 from the post office today, just in time for Zine Fest. You can order them from Microcosm, but if you are in Brooklyn tomorrow, come pick one up directly from me.