Author, teacher Julie Berman has found the perfect spot for the next five or so years
by Margaret Mitchell
I write fiction, I write short stories, and I’m working on my first novel,” says Julie Berman, who, three years out of school, has been editor of the journal The Reading Room and whose work appears in the anthology bearing the same title.
Sitting on a couch across from Julie, who is snuggled in her armchair, one can’t help but admire the ease and comfort with which she manages her space. Her Hillman Housing efficiency apartment holds a tiny bedroom plus a living room doubling as kitchen, work area, entertainment center and a threebike garage. Yet the place doesn’t seem cramped. She has cleverly arranged her work area and entertainment nook at opposite sides of the living room, leaving a relatively large clear space in between. People who dwell in small places learn to appreciate open space.
She’s going to spend the next four or five years here, for sure, barring unexpected life changes. “I really like the courtyard,” she says, pointing to the large window. “Sometimes there are kids there, but they’re never terribly loud…”
The presence of the courtyard right below her third-floor window is “very conducive for writing,” she adds. “I get a really nice light in. I’d like to fix up the kitchen area, but it’s a nice place to get my work done.”
Youthful, slim and poised, Julie definitely appears as if she’s just walked off the screen of half a dozen girl-inthe- big-city movies. Her career, though not yet wading the realm of marquis headlines, is nevertheless exuding the stuff dreams are made of, and by dreams we mean specifically those belonging to talented, ambitious suburban teenagers who go to sleep each night memorizing lines, tap-dancing under the covers, thinking up magical plots…
It’s a rare pleasure to chance by one such dreamer who’s going about it in a measured, well-thought out way.
Graduating with a Masters degree from Sarah Lawrence College, Julie Berman began to send her short fiction around, and while several of her works have been published (most recently by the Mississippi Review), she also received a fellowship to participate in creative writing programs in Russia and the Czech Republic. Meanwhile she’s paying the rent teaching freshman English composition as well as an advanced Literature course at Baruch College.
“I write about relationships and difficult decision-making and troublesome situations between people,” she says. Her work-in-progress novel revolves around a post-9/11 quest for a (fictional) lost family member. Many of her stories are set in New York, “but not all of them, not at all,” she hastens a qualification. Her path from a small (aren’t they all) New Jersey town to our eastern metropolis ran through undergraduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, where the other half of her stories take place.
She arrived in New York nine years ago, settling down eventually on Broome Street, between Orchard and Ludlow. Then she found out about the “far east” of Manhattan with its slice of suburban living, only a fifteen-minute walk away from everything urban.
“My grandfather was born on Broome Street,” she relates. “We still have the number, but the building is long gone.” Many of her relatives came out of this neighborhood some fifty years ago. When Julie moved in, a year ago, some of the apartments on her floor were empty. She befriended her next door neighbor, Rabbi Avi Berkowitz of the Sixth Street Synagogue. “For a while there were only three of us on this floor,” she recalls. As new tenants have been moving in, she has been on friendly nodding and speaking terms with everyone, old and new, including the family next door who purchased a duplex, incorporating the unit on the floor above.
She frequents the Clinton Street Bakery for brunch, although of late “it’s been getting too busy.” She hasn’t been to a bar in a while. “There are so many bars in this neighborhood, it’s out of control,” she says, laughing. “But I’d really like to see a book shop opening
Now, there's a dream we'd all like to come true...