DoF recently had a chance to sit down with Amanda Lydon who runs the acclaimed Tenement Talks series for the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side. The interview was conducted by Moon Kim.
DoF: How would you describe Tenement Talks?
AL: Tenement Talks is a free evening event series at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Each week, we host lectures, readings, panel discussions, films, and other programming that provide historical and contemporary perspectives on New York City’s rich culture. Presenters have included Pete Hamill, Richard Price, Ira Glass, the filmmaker David Grubin, and Ruth Reichl. It’s always a low key, yet culturally affluent evening. I learn something valuable at each Tenement Talk.
AL: I came to the Tenement Museum serendipitously. A friend learned they needed someone to work in the shop and help build the events series. My background is in bookselling and publishing, so I was intrigued. Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the museum. When I learned the mission was to promote tolerance through historical perspective, I was hooked. The dedication to helping people draw parallels between the past and present to better understand the current immigration experience spoke to my social justice interests.
DoF: What influences/inspiration/events have had the greatest impact on your career?
AL: I’m so ashamed to say that I don’t go to as many events in New York as I should. However, McNally Jackson on Prince Street hosts a great Author/Editor series that I try to get to as often as possible. I love catching music at Rockwood Music Hall on Allen Street. And so many of my friends are always hosting amazing social awareness and fundraising events around the city that I wish I attended more.
DoF: What would be your dream event to host or attend?
AL: Since I’ve started working at the Tenement Museum, I’ve wanted to host an event with Edwidge Danticat. Her collection of short stories, Krik Krak really resonated with me. Her most recent book, Brother I’m Dying, is a memoir about her family. I don’t want to give away too much if you haven’t read it, but it’s equal parts inspiring equal parts horrific story about the magic of family times and the systemic problems in our detention center processes. I’d love for Edwidge to come and talk about her story along with other less famous people who have had similar problems with our failing immigration laws.
DoF: Why are events important to you?
AL: I never wondered why events were important to me. I guess it’s kind of like reading. People often say they don’t have time to read, but for me, it’s the first thing I do when I wake up and usually the last thing I do before my eyes shut. I guess I’m kind of an information and story whore. I need all I can get. Events provide not just new information and platforms for great story sharing, but a personal connection as well. I love the social aspect. I love being in a room when 100 people all nod at the same time or all laugh or gasp in unison. As a culture, particularly in this city, community is often going by the wayside. Events are a direct counter to that.
Tenement Talks is on facebook.