When Eileen Kraff passed away, in 2013, no major publication—or any secondary publication, as far as I knew—had issued an obituary. Perhaps this is not surprising. Although she worked as an illustrator and as a director of a special education school, she was probably the most famous as a novelist, having not published a book in over thirty years. The times It was Call her first novel,”I’m ClarenceAn “extraordinary achievement”, but it ran out long ago, as well as the two books that followed. But her fourth and final book, “Princess Street 72It remains in print; reissued by the Dalkey Archive Press in 2000, and has enough followers to make it seem at least a little strange that an online search for Kraf yields little more than a six-line Wikipedia page, and short biographies on Publishers’ sites., and a handful of lists of remaining copies of her work.
I first went looking for information about Kraf after asking on Twitter for recommendations for a very specific type of book. I wanted to read formally experimental novels written by women in the ’70s and ’80s that had what I thought was a New York sensibility. I fancied non-ash cigarettes on empty slopes, halogen reflections in thick puddles, and hot asphalt under gushing feet. Novelist and critic Lorraine Euler suggested “The Princess of 72nd Street”. It was the only proposal that fit the law. When I asked Euler how I came to know the book, I felt the following in the novel: I had heard about it from the critic, Kaitlyn Phillips, whom novelist Joshua Cohen put it to. Cohen had not heard of Kraff from a writer but from an artist, the late Joel Gould, who explained Cohen, “paid his bills as a photographer and fashion photographer, but devoted his life to performing, not so much as an improvisation monologist in the tradition of Professor Irwin Currie/Lord Buckley.”
The Princess of 72nd Street tells the story of Elaine, a bipolar artist who lives in Manhattan and paints “tangerines, brown teapots, menus, and books.” Much of the novel has to do with her “radiances,” or episodes of obsession, when she becomes Esmeralda, who dresses in “roses, waterfalls of color, or abstract designs,” as well as medals: an Egyptian ankh and “crushed metal found in the trash.” A madman and a witch, a star in the sky is often taken as “a whore, a sage, an American Indian, an actress, a ballerina, a witch, a holy saint, a mother, a girl, a mystic, an ethereal spirit, a whore, the goddess of the earth.” The Upper West Side ruled by Esmeralda is “not a country for Scandinavian blondes with good taste” but “for filmmakers who talk about movies but never make them, some filmmakers who actually do, residents who do or do nothing previously, actors and actresses waiting online, scientists Informal self, a few self-made mystics”—people drinking, sleeping and smoking together in little apartments lined the “quiet streets with outside tables set among garbage bags,” where sunlight shone off the dirt.
The book is ecstatic and surprising at once – a fit of sex, wine, and, above all, color. It’s that rare thing: a true underappreciated classic. So why didn’t Krave publish another book?
Kraff was born in the Bronx, in 1936, to the husband of lifelong New Yorkers, Harry and Lena Kraff, née Rosenfeld. Her father was a member of the New York State Senate from 1956 to 1965, and in the State Assembly from 67 to 72. (He received obituary In the times.) Eileen was their only daughter. In her early forties, she married a credit and collection consultant and poet named Martin Altman, who told me that his ex-wife — they separated in 2002 — had rejected her parents’ hopes that she would settle down with a businessman or businessman. The son of a congressman. Instead, she went to art school. Altman said her father “would not attend her art shows or publishing events. He saw no value in art or in the life of the mind.” But he added that Eileen had a creative force within her that sought to break the ties that were holding her back, whether in art, writing or fashion.
Altman and Kraff have adopted a daughter, Milena Kraff Altman, who tells me that her mother “reinvents herself every two years.” Kraff worked in special education schools, and in 1986, he became a principal at the Astoria Blue Feather. Throughout the seventies and eighties she was drawing and writing. Her visual art, like her writing, was often of a choppy quality. Melina said she made mixed media photos with “different textures and textures.” “She’d walk the streets of New York, and she’d see an old staircase, and she’d pick it up and say, ‘Okay, this is going to be my drawing board. “”
Krave’s novels vary in style but share a few themes. She was fascinated, in particular, with those who deviate from social norms (artists, lunatics, circus performers) and with the methods used to keep social norms in place (psychoanalysis, mental institutions, lobes). All the books contain a beautiful, isolated protagonist who has a subtle rationality surrounded by untrustworthy men. Early Anna Clarence employs a series of disparate perspectives to explore the relationship between a mentally ill mother, her suitor, and her disabled son. Like the main character in “The Princess of 72nd Street”, the mother disintegrates, does not find respect or love, and may not be able to give it either. Her son, Clarence, is ridiculed and pityed. She lets a group of doctors experiment with him and is likely to operate on him, and eventually he gets carried away.
Her second novelMadeline’s house“Totally bizarre: as much as it has a plot at all, it is about a woman who shares her first name with the author and is unable to escape the inhabitants of a house owned by a friend. In the end, she is accused of killing her friend’s husband, and faces a ridiculous trial. The novel’s most obvious effect is” Alice in Wonderland”. It’s so confusing, like a recurring dream, the details of which still escape you. The corridors seem to connect before swinging out of reach, as if disappearing, with the characters of the book, down the central hall of the house, lined with Formica tables.
Kraff’s first two books were published by Doubleday, but unsurprisingly, after “The House of Madelaine,” she left institutional publishers for independent homes. The Collective Fiction, moderated by a group of experimental writers and editors—including Ronald Sukenek, Jonathan Baumbach, B.H. Friedman, and Peter Spielberg—has released its third book, “find him!The narrator is an unnamed infantile woman, who wakes up one day dressed as a schoolgirl, unable to eat, speak, or clean herself without assistance. Her caregiver is a man named Oliver, who alternately takes on the role of her father, lover, captor, abuser, and teacher. We learn that Oliver had a wife, Edith, who had disappeared; It is highly suggested that Edith is our narrator before she underwent lobular surgery. The text weaves dreams, fantasies, and nightmares together, and is broken down by musical symbols and graphics. A disturbing meditation on patriarchal violence and the construction of femininity, the novel feels indebted to both Tilly Olsen And the Anais Ninetwo of Kraff’s favorite authors, and deserves to be rediscovered as an important work of feminist literature.
But, if there’s one author that seems to act as a predecessor to Krave, it is Jane Race, which Kraff considered in an article she published in 1985. Kraff argues that Reese’s women are essentially a single, decadent personality “a victim of her self-destructive nature and dependence on men for survival.” . Kraff writes that Reese’s men, though distinguished, are generally hateful, corrupt, and chauvinistic.
It’s Reese who comes to mind when reading “The Princess of 72nd Street,” with his uncomfortable account of what it feels like to fall apart when you’re not really complete. At the beginning of the book, Elaine/Esmeralda has at least some degree of control, or if nothing else, delusions: It “offers a special dignity” that no one wants to “desecrate or tamper with,” she said. She is wrong of course – Krave seems to imply that she is wrong, because she is a woman, and wrong because this means that someone, somewhere, will always want to desecrate or tamper with her dignity. When Eileen enters a radiance, the prose becomes frenetic, glowing; We don’t just notice Esmeralda, we race alongside it, through Manhattan filled with jazz clubs, street performers, and bright yellow sunlight. After this central rush, returning to Earth, during her periods of depression, was excruciating. In the end, we’ve seen her get exploited and abused, and the novel’s soreness and rupture comes in the realization that this happened before she did. Although the book is very funny — “Anyone who wears a bra on West 72nd Street is a suspect,” Esmeralda says, in one of many memorable statements — it is also devastating.
In order to pique New Directions’ interest in publishing “The Princess of 72nd Street,” Kraff sent “letter after letter” to New Directions, Altman told me—”sort of a strange message,” he added. They worked. In the first few years after the book’s release, she wrote two more novels, working titles “Joachim and the Angels” and “The Final Delusions of Cinderella Korn,” and she hoped the new trends would publish them as well. She told Peter Glassgold, the editor there, in a letter, that she “kicked out” the first of these books “during a difficult period.” The publishing house quoted it, as well as on “Cinderella’s Corn,” although Altman recalls that New Directions asked Kraff to rewrite it “at least twice, which I tried to do.” He got the impression from Kraff that the publisher “wanted something like ‘The Princess of 72nd Street.'” Melina remembers that her mother was relatively optimistic about her rejection. “She understood, I think, the reason,” Melina said. She had a bunch of novels that she was going to try to publish, but no one was picking up on it.”
In another letter to Glassgold, Kraff wrote that she had “never liked ’72nd Street Princess’ as literature. I think our tastes are very different.” She was in her mid-40s, had a recent miscarriage and an accompanying gastroenteritis; she was still recovering She called “72nd Street Princess” a “farewell to a part of my life that consisted of dreams and fantasies,” adding, “I was young for a long time and now I’m no longer young.” She received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which gave her a year to work at “Cinderella Corn.” She later said that the book came from her “good, creative part.”
Melina said that, towards the end of her life, her mother was working on a play about a woman who might have seen her younger self in Central Park. Melina said she was “very determined to finish it”. But in 2011, Krave was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. She died two years later. Melina tells me that Kraff’s unfinished manuscripts, along with the beginnings and scraps of unrealized novels, sit in a Manhattan storage space, “filled with much of her artwork and writing.” She was not yet able to go through it all properly. ♦