By Elizabeth Gracen:
Did you know that there are approximately 1 billion monthly users on the Instagram platform? Sometimes you find yourself lost on these social media platforms, clicking away at links, images, and videos, and you don't really know how you got to a particular article or account. More often than not, when I follow the breadcrumbs of curated feeds on Instagram, I am pleasantly surprised at where I end up. It's like a treasure hunt, dictated by photographs and video. Just my cup of tea.
THE FEED is our series on Flapper Press that features curators and their unique Instagram feeds. This week, we focus on @dorothyparkersociety and its creator, Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, author, tour guide, and president of the Dorothy Parker Society (dorothyparker.com).
EG: What a joy to go down the rabbit hole that started with me finding @dorothyparkersociety on Instagram. Your website and the great work you are doing to introduce Dorothy Parker to new readers and to celebrate her work if just fantastic. Please tell our readers a bit about yourself, The Dorothy Parker Society, and the work you are doing.
KF: I’m a fourth-generation New Yorker and that’s why I like writing books tied to NYC history. Among them are A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York and The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide. I discovered Dorothy Parker in the ‘90s when a friend gave me a biography; I was hooked! The Insta feed is relatively new, but it’s an extension of my site, dorothyparker.com, which launched in 1998, a long time before social media. It was a hand-coded site, tedious to update! The following year the site’s popularity took off, and I launched a walking tour of Parker’s Manhattan locales. This was the impetus for my friends and I to start the Society with a “mission” to follow:
1. To promote the work of Dorothy Parker
2. To introduce new readers to the work of Parker
3. To expand the fan base of Parker
4. To have as much fun as possible
5. To take part in service projects in the spirit of Dorothy Parker
EG: Why did you decide to focus your passion and effort on Dorothy Parker? What makes her so special, and why should someone read her work?
KF: Initially what drew me to Parker was that I identified a lot with her life. We both lived on the same street (West Seventy-second). We both had bad apartments, bad bosses, bad jobs, and terrible relationships. I was—and still am—a big fan of bar culture and nightlife. As I read and read some more (and still reread), her poetry and short fiction are timeless. I think the reason she’s not ephemeral and hasn’t gone out of print (like her contemporaries) is that Parker wrote about the human condition. So getting your heart smashed up in 1921 is the same as 2021. We still use phones like in her story “A Telephone Call.” Just picture waiting for your smart phone to vibrate to waiting for an old-fashioned rotary-dial telephone to ring. I encourage anyone who appreciates well-crafted poetry, in the classic styles of a ballade, rondeau, or sonnet, to explore her poetry. Parker’s short fiction, particularly from the 1920s–1930s, are time capsules of apartment life, relationships, and speakeasies, but seem like they were written last week.
EG: Like most people right about now, I have major wanderlust. When I look at your website and see the various tours offered by the Dorothy Parker Society, I can’t wait until I’m in NYC again. Expect a new recruit! As soon as lockdown is lifted and this damned pandemic is at bay, I’ll be venturing out to some of the “Mrs. Parker’s Tinseltown Years” locations listed on your site as well. Tell our readers about your tours and how you’ve adjusted during these challenging times.
KF: New York is the best city to explore! The first tour I ever led was on Mrs. Parker’s birthday (22 August), and we walked from her apartment, through Central Park, and ended at the Algonquin Hotel for cocktails. That launched my career as a licensed NYC sightseeing guide. What I love about literary tours is to walk in the footsteps of your favorite writers. To see the doors and rooms your favorite authors went through. Plus, if you are taking a tour of locations related to Dorothy Parker, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ring Lardner, Babe Ruth, Mae West, you’re probably going to be pretty fun to spend two hours with, and the others on the tour are like-minded. I meet super cool people from around the globe with a passion for books and history. And if we end the tour with cocktails, even better.
When the pandemic began, the first weekend of lockdown in March, I gave a Facebook Live tour, and it was a smash success. There are more than 6,000 in our group. I adapted my tours to slideshows with photos and videos. I lead them live via Zoom. It’s not the same, and not as fun, but it allows me to connect with people outside of NYC.
EG: Why have you chosen the images you’ve curated on your @dorothyparkersociety Instagram account?
KF: It’s key not to be academic or scholarly; the goal is to be engaging, fun, and informative. I don’t like creating memes too much, but I’ve tried it. A lot of fans take Parker quotes (or what they believe are things she said) and make colorful memes. I don’t like quotes or excerpts of her writing unless there’s some storytelling to go along with it, such as what she wrote about Black actors in 1921 (“In no way are our producers more wasteful of genius than in their disregard for Negro actors”). Parker was 27! For photos, I have almost 25 years of collecting, so there won’t be a shortage of content! And I don’t want to write in Parker’s voice, I don’t want to “be” her as some fans do of famous people, adopting their personality. Not for me.
EG: Dorothy Parker was a prominent fixture of the NY literary scene in the 1920s and is notoriously famous for her biting wit. In your opinion, what do you think her biggest contribution is to the history of poetry and literature?
KF: Great question. First, without Dorothy Parker and her friends, there would be no New Yorker. And without that magazine—sure another one may have come along—think about all of the amazing poets and writers it has published. The list is a mile long: Plath, Updike, Salinger. In 1925 it was destined to be a flop, but Parker and her Vicious Circle friends were famous and they wrote for it, for no money. That got it off the ground. I believe what she wrote was timeless, not dated, and so in 100 years readers will still find her relevant and accessible.
EG: Do you have a favorite Dorothy Parker poem or work of short fiction?
KF: It’s easy to wrap your arms around Parker’s body of work: 300 poems, 50 short stories. No novels. So nowhere near as prolific as Emily Dickinson’s output or David Sedaris; Parker was a procrastinator and didn’t write a lot! You can finish the The Portable Dorothy Parker in a long weekend. My favorite poem is “Observation” from 1925, which just entered public domain.
If I don’t drive around the park,
I’m pretty sure to make my mark.
If I’m in bed each night by ten,
I may get back my looks again,
If I abstain from fun and such,
I’ll probably amount to much,
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.
For stories, a lot of Parker fans will say the novella “Big Blonde” (1929) is their favorite, but for me it is “Arrangement in Black and White” (1927). It’s about racial intolerance and prejudice, two themes Parker wrote about and campaigned against. It was ahead of the Civil Rights movement early.
EG: What are your hopes for the Dorothy Parker Society in the coming years?
KF: A writer has to stay in print to be remembered. So the DPS will continue to expose Dorothy Parker to new readers, to encourage fans to buy her books. Need an idea for a birthday or graduation gift? Why not a Dorothy Parker book? Getting more exposure for a writer is what a good literary society should do. Academic conferences—if you’ve ever been to one—are pretty boring! Parker inspired friends to distill a gin in her name, to get tattoos, or to adapt her words to plays and music. Last year I brought Parker’s ashes back from Baltimore (a crazy story), and they were interred next to her parents, so I think we’ll have some celebrations around her return to her hometown once we get past the current crises and can meet in person.
EG: Please share some of your favorite images and stories about Mrs. Parker from your Instagram feed?
KF: Thanks for following @dorothyparkersociety and telling your friends about it (tag them!!). If just one follower searches for a Parker poem or story to read, then the feed has been a success.
Kevin Fitzpatrick is the award-winning author and editor of eight books that are all tied to New York City history. His most recent is 111 Places in the Bronx That You Must Not Miss (Emons), the first guide to the borough in five years. His previous book was WWI New York: A Guide to the City’s Enduring Ties to the Great War (Globe Pequot Press). He is a licensed NYC sightseeing guide and has been leading literary and history tours of New York for 20 years. Kevin launched dorothyparker.com in 1998 and founded the Dorothy Parker Society. There are now more than 6,000 members around the world, and the DPS party, “Parkerfest,” is held annually at the Algonquin Hotel (when there isn’t a pandemic). Kevin and his family live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Elizabeth Gracen is the owner of Flapper Press and Flapper Films.