Newtown Literary contributor: Cary Gitter
Writer Cary Gitter’s piece was featured in issue #8 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. You can check out more of his writing at The New Play Exchange.
What is your relationship to Queens?
I’ve lived in a quasi-legal basement apartment in Astoria, near the last N stop, since May 2013.
What is your favorite memory of Queens?
My favorite memory of Queens is going to the Museum of the Moving Image with my dad when I was a kid. I grew up in northern New Jersey, and my dad would take me on weekend “adventures” into New York City to expose me to movies, plays, and art. I loved it all, but my favorite destination was the Museum of the Moving Image. I would stare wide-eyed at the magical movie memorabilia, wander through the glorious Tut’s Fever Movie Palace art installation, play Pong in the video-game-history exhibition, make my own stop-motion animations, and watch incredible old films in the theater there. Then my dad would take me to the now-defunct Uncle George’s Greek Tavern for dinner. These were perfect days I’ll never forget.
How would you describe the writing you do?
My short stories—of which I’ve written only a few, by the way—tend to be realistic, but my plays—of which I’ve written many—are often more heightened and comic. In both forms, though, I write about what I know: New Jersey, Judaism, the suburbs, young people. I’m interested in the hilarious, tragic, epic battles that are waged among “ordinary” people in little places. If you think of any of the world’s major conflicts—religious, political, moral—you can find funny-sad versions of them playing out in your average tiny American town. And that’s what I like to write about: the big in the small.
How did you come to writing?
I read voraciously as a kid—the sports novels of Matt Christopher, the dark YA fiction of Robert Cormier, the horror/sci-fi work of William Sleator, the classics of Roald Dahl—and started saying I wanted to be a writer at age 8 or so. At the same time, my wonderful parents were taking me into the city constantly to see plays. But I didn’t put two and two together–that I could be a playwright–until age 16, when my favorite high school English teacher, Dr. Pinker, told our class about a tri-state-area student playwriting competition. I wrote a play and submitted it, it was selected and performed, and I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to NYU for dramatic writing and have been doing it ever since. I started writing short stories just a couple of years ago, as a fun little side thing to give me a break from plays. I still love reading fiction, but I’m by no means a pro at writing it. I hope to do more stories in the future, though.
What inspires you?
Here’s a random list of some things and people that inspire me: Great plays, movies, music, books, and art. My friends and family. My fellow members of Youngblood, a playwrights’ collective based at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City. Growing up in New Jersey. Living in New York City. Being (culturally) Jewish. Volunteering. The incarcerated playwright I correspond with through the PEN Prison Writing Program. Anyone anywhere who tries to be creative and make something.
What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
I’ve lived in Queens for only three years, but in that time I’ve met an amazing number of fellow writers and artists who live and do their work here. I definitely feel part of a loose community of creative people in the borough. Newtown Literary is one great example of an entity that helps identify this community and bring it together in one place. Even the coffee shop on Ditmars where I go to write, 60 Beans, feels like a bustling writing hub. If I’m there and I’m stuck, I glance up and see a sea of laptop screens with plays, screenplays, novels, stories all in progress. And I know I’m not alone.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I’ve just written a draft of a new play, Menorah, a dark comedy based on a controversy that erupted in my small New Jersey town when the Jewish residents tried to put a big menorah next to the town Christmas tree. And a short film I wrote, Violet’s Birthday Bash!!, was just shot and is currently in postproduction. The next short play I have going up will be on September 29, as part of Brett Epstein’s beloved Rule of 7×7 series at the Tank in Midtown. I hope to get back to fiction one of these days.
And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
You should be asking me if I’m a student of the Yiddish language, and my answer would be yes, I’ve been studying Yiddish at the 92nd Street Y for nearly three years now. It’s pretty practical.