It’s no news that Hoboken’s proximity to the big city is a big draw for artistic types—and writers are no exception. There are so many, in fact, that we could never name them all. But a few have agreed to share with 07030 their views on living and writing in Hoboken.
Take Santiago Cohen. He was born in Mexico, but after getting a Masters in Communications and Design from Pratt Institute in New York, he spent a short time in Manhattan and then headed across the river. He’s been living in Hoboken since 1988.
He and his wife, Ethel Cesarman, who is a cancer researcher in New York,own a townhouse in Hoboken. They brought up two kids here, who are now ages 24 and 20.
“I had friends here who liked it here very much,” Cohen says, “and there was more space for kids.”
Cohen says he makes “visual stories.” He’s an illustrator who has worked for many print and broadcast outlets, including the New Yorker, the Cartoon Network, Children’s Television Network, HBO, Houghton Mifflin, and Comedy Central. He will have a major show at the Hunterdon Museum in Clinton, N.J., which runs from September 2013 to January 2014.
Cohen says that he and his wife go to bars and restaurants in Hoboken “all the time,” including Elysian Café and Robongi’s. “I think we’ve tried every restaurant in Hoboken,” he says.
He’s witnessed a lot of changes in the city over the last quarter century. “It’s one of the best towns around for raising kids,” Cohen says. “I can’t imagine raising kids in New York City. “When they become teenagers, they can go by themselves all over the place. They don’t have to have a car to go to shows in the city, and it’s very safe.”
He had no intention of rushing out to the ’burbs “to get more grass. That’s a terrible idea. There are lots of parks in Hoboken. I love it.”
Dawn Raffel is also a longtime Hoboken resident. She and her husband have been here 20 years and raised two sons, ages 19 and 16. Raffel grew up in Wisconsin. “A lot of what I write is rooted in the Midwest,” she says. She lived in Manhattan for awhile before venturing to Hoboken to start a family.
Raffel thinks of herself as a fiction writer but inspired readers and critics alike with her latest book, an illustrated memoir titled The Secret Life of Objects, which made Oprah’s Summer Reading List for 2012. Her son, Sean Evers, created the images for the book. She is the author of two short-story collections, Further Adventures in the Restless Universe, and In the Year of Long Division, as well as the novel, Carrying the Body.
Raffel, who has a degree in semiotics from Brown University, says she always wanted to be a writer. She describe semiotics as “a big mix-up of theory and literature and comparative literature and theater. It doesn’t have a practical application.” Which is how she ended up as a magazine editor.
She helped launch O Magazine and is its former fiction editor. “It was very high-intensity there and an exciting time,” she says. Currently she edits The Literarian, the magazine for the Center for Fiction in New York City. “It’s the only nonprofit devoted solely to literary fiction,” she says.
At Brown, Raffel hung out in the theater department, which turned out to be good for her writing. “It had a strong effect on dialog and creating scenes,” she says. “I briefly studied playwriting in New York but I did not want to pursue it because you need to involve a lot of people.”
She writes at home and has written three books while living in Hoboken. “I write when I can at the edges of other things,” she says. “Honestly, a lot of women who write don’t have the luxury of blocks of time to sit and write. It’s woven around other obligations.”
But it’s not all work. “I love walking along the waterfront,” she says. “It’s become increasingly beautiful and is part of my life here.”
Raffel is on the board of Friends of the Hoboken Public Library. “The library is a fantastic resource,” she says, “and a rich connection to the community. Bring kids into this physical space and it encourages reading and literacy.”
Writers Caroline Leavitt and Jeff Tamarkin are married and work together in their brick row-house. “It’s been great for us,” Leavitt says. “It’s a fantastic place to live and raise a family. It was the best decision we ever made.” They have a teenage son, Max, who wants to pursue a career in theater.
She says the house looked “terrible” when they first bought it: “It was covered in wood paneling and orange shag carpeting, but when we pulled up the carpet, there were wide oak planks, and fireplaces behind the paneling.”
A literary novelist, Leavitt’s 10th book, Is This Tomorrow, came out in May. Her other books include Girls in Trouble, Coming Back to Me, Living Other Lives, Into Thin Air, Family, Jealousies, Lifelines, and Meeting Rozzy Halfway.
Her ninth novel, Pictures of You, is a New York Times bestseller.
She’s contributed to many magazines, including the New York Times Book Review, and has appeared on numerous television shows, including The Today Show.
Leavitt attended Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. “I always wanted to be a writer,” she says, “but thought I would be an English teacher and write on the side.”
At Brandeis, where she minored in writing, they told her she would never make it as a writer. “I refused to give up,” she says. “I’d sent out stories since I was 17 and got published in my late 20s.”
Jeff Tamarkin is the author of Got a Revolution: the Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane.
He got to know members of the band in the late 1970s when he was living in San Francisco.
A native of Franklin Square on Long Island, he attended the University of Hartford for one year and then graduated from San Francisco State.
“I played the drums in high school,” he says, “but when I moved into an apartment, that was impractical. I traded in my drums for a typewriter.” And then, of course, a computer. He has been writing about music ever since. “I majored in broadcasting,” he says, “but didn’t do anything with it. “
He says he loves the diversity in Hoboken. “I’ve always felt it was a very open and accepting city,” he says. “Our neighbors are completely different kinds of people.”
And he loves the convenience. “We can zoom into the city when we need to,” he says.
When he’s looking for a music fix right here in Hoboken, he of course heads for Maxwell’s. “There are also live concerts at churches or at the Monroe Center, and twice a year there’s the arts and music festival.”
Both Leavitt and Tamarkin are vegetarians but find plenty to eat at Hoboken’s ethnic restaurants. “We rotate among eight or nine places,” he says. “Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Indian.”
Tamarkin, who is associate editor at Jazz Times, which is based in Boston, works from home. He co-wrote the biography of the lead singer for the Turtles, Howard Kaylan, famous for the hit song “Happy Together.”
Titled Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc., it was published by Backbeat Books in April.
Leavitt and Tamarkin make a good writing team. “We supply what the other’s weakness is,” Leavitt says. “I look through what he does to give him advice on character,” and he tells me when the facts are wrong. It’s really helpful.”—Kate Rounds