Double-Entendres, Secret Histories, and Marilyn Monroe: Helene Stapinski on “The American Way”

Helene Stapinski

On a rainy morning in New York’s Greenwich Village I meet up with journalist and memoirist Helene Stapinski to talk about her new book, The American Way. We’re sitting at a small window table in Caffé Reggio and together we imagine how its old-world atmosphere would have reminded Jules Schulback – her story’s hero – of the coffee houses he frequented as a young man in his native Berlin, the city he loved and didn’t want to leave. Stapinski muses that it’s quite possible Schulback had been to Caffé Reggio after having fled the Nazis to settle in New York City. Stapinski is her usual voluble self, eager to expound on her protagonist’s inspiring life, while recalling anecdotes about her research and collaboration with his grand-daughter, graphic artist Bonnie Siegler, with whom she wrote the book. 

It’s obvious from the outset of our conversation that The American Way is unique in Stapinski’s repertoire. It is the first book she’s written about a family not her own. It’s also the first she’s co-authored and for which she’s had to double up on her prowess as a journalist to tackle multiple intersecting avenues of research in areas as seemingly unrelated as the Holocaust, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe. To her astonishment, she says stretching her natural New York skepticism, she discovered just how much they were incredibly interconnected within the era’s zeitgeist. “Everything is connected,” she says emphatically, “it just falls into place.”

In writing her two memoirs – Five-Finger Discount and Murder in Matera – Stapinski was like an archeologist working to unearth the origins of an ancient curse on her family so she could find the antidote to redeem them. Her new book, on the other hand, tells the serendipitous story of how one man navigates his family through arguably the darkest period in recent human history to bring them to safety, and in doing so comes face to face with the American dream. It’s hard to imagine a book about the Holocaust that is attractive and hopeful. But that is precisely what Stapinski and Siegler have achieved in The American Way. As we sit back and sip our double espressos, I listen as Stapinski tells me in her own words how Jules Schulback escaped Nazi Germany and found himself at the center of the unfolding American century and its curious cast of characters.  

There are many personal journeys in your new book, The American Way, which you co-authored with graphic artist Bonnie Siegler. Tell us about your own journey – how you came to write this book?

In 2016, my agent – who was also Bonnie’s agent – asked if I wanted to meet her to write a story about her family. In 2004, Bonnie found footage of Marilyn Monroe in the famous subway grate scene that her grandfather Jules Schulback had shot in 1954 and put it away – waiting for the right time to use it. When Trump was elected and antisemitism bubbling up, Bonnie started freaking out. She thought, my God, fascism is back. So, she pulled out the Marilyn footage and try to find someone to publish a story in The New York Times. Marilyn was the hook. But the story was about her grandfather’s escape from Nazi Germany. Bonnie asked her agent if she knew someone who’d be interested in writing the story and her agent put her in touch with me. Bonnie and I hit it off immediately. I saw the footage – it was incredible. But better than the footage was her grandfather’s story. I didn’t know much about 1930s Germany, but I pitched the story to The Times, and they took it. It was published in 2017 after Trump was elected. It just went viral. It was at the top of The Times homepage and featured her grandfather’s footage of Marilyn’s dress billowing above the subway grate. It just hit a nerve, I think. People were looking for a distraction from everything that was happening, and here was a new story about Marilyn and 1930s Nazi Germany. Three years after the article was published, Bonnie asked if I wanted to do a book about her grandfather. It was December right before the pandemic. It took us six months to write the proposal. Then, in the summer of the pandemic – 2020 – we sold it. 

So when did you actually write the book?

We worked on the book throughout the pandemic. Bonnie was in Connecticut; I was in Brooklyn. We spoke a thousand times a day. We’d call and not even say “hello.” We should’ve had walkie-talkies. Bonnie focused on her family research. The Germans kept records of everything because they thought they would win. We went to the Holocaust Museum in D.C. and Bonnie was in contact with Yad Vashem and found everything. For example, her family didn’t know what happened to her great grandparents and she found out through her research there.

Did you feel a personal connection to this story? 

I did. It was strange because I felt I knew her grandfather through the story. As a memoirist, family stories fascinate me. Having written two books about my own family I was interested in exploring someone else’s. From the outset, Bonnie’s family adopted me. I met all her relatives, even some she didn’t know – everyone who knew her grandfather. In my first book, my grandfather was a bad guy, a murderer. He tried to kill us when I was a kid. Bonnie’s grandfather was the antithesis of my grandfather. He was this wonderful human being. I think that had something to do with it. I was drawn to him as the grandfather I wish I’d had.

At the Jewish Museum for the launch of the book, you mentioned your Jewish roots. Did you feel a connection with that? 

Definitely. I feel that might be the next book. I’ve never been to Poland where my father’s family is from. I think my grandmother’s father might have been Jewish. He married a Catholic, converted, and came to America. There were always rumors in the family that we were Jewish, and DNA testing confirmed it. It turned out to be a big part of the DNA, like 13 percent. I need to go to Poland soon, before the older relatives die, those people who really know the story. I joke with Bonnie that we’re probably from the same family because we’re from the same region in Poland, Galicia, which sits on the border of southeastern Poland and western Ukraine, whose borders were constantly shifting. 

So, what did your research entail?

It was during the pandemic, so we were stuck at home. A lot of it was online. We scoured through tons of books. I had to take a deep dive into World War II. I didn’t know that much about it. My husband has always been fascinated with the war. He’s a History Channel buff. I used to call it the “Hitler Channel” because every time I saw him watching it there was a story about Nazi Germany. It was a joke. Then, I became that person. He would come home from work and find me watching some documentary about Hitler on the History Channel. He said, “I can’t believe the tables have turned.” I became obsessed. I think anybody who delves into the Holocaust has the same experience. It’s horrific. But you get obsessed because you can’t believe the horror. You fall down a black hole. Luckily, we had two other topics in the book: Marilyn Monroe and Superman. So, whenever I’d feel overwhelmed reading about the Holocaust, I could change gears and read a book about Marilyn Monroe or Superman. It was like a three-pronged subject. I didn’t know anything about any of them.

Those three areas of research are all so deep. How did you tackle them? Where was your source material?

It was a sort of crazy dive. Bonnie would find a book and say, “You need to read this.” I would find a book and say the same. It was back and forth. Today, a lot of stuff is online, even from libraries. In cases where material wasn’t online, I got the library to mail me it to me. When you’re working on a book, the New York Public Library is very accommodating. They literally sent the books in the mail, and I’d send it back when finished. We also interviewed all of Bonnie’s relatives and Harry Donenfeld’s family – the publisher of Superman. We were invited to their house and got pictures and documents. Our bible on Superman was a book by reporter Larry Tye called Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. Our material on the Holocaust came largely from the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. You can spend your whole life reading their website. Once the pandemic ended, we went there. In New York, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where we had the book launch in March, was really helpful. They gave me recordings of Holocaust survivors. For instance, Jules’s sister Golda was in four concentration camps, and we wanted to trace her journey. Golda died in the 60s, so we interviewed her kids and family, but to find the details of the places she was when she was there, I listened to dozens of Holocaust survivor tapes from the same place and the same time and was able to fill in details about what she would have experienced and what it looked like. But it would get to a point where I couldn’t deal with it, so I had to switch gears to Marilyn and Superman.

Did you visit the places the characters lived?

Yes. Bonnie pushed us to go to Berlin because that was where Jules had lived and worked. But Germany was slow to open after the pandemic. We already had a first draft of the book by the time it did in summer 2021. The trip filled in all kinds of gaps. It gave me a better sense of Berlin, because I’d never been there. I could connect the different places and how close they are to each other. One of the things we wanted to see was the Wannsee Villa on the western edge of Berlin where the Nazis devised the final solution and where Jules used to go to the beach, which is where the book essentially opens up, after the prologue of him filming the Marilyn shoot. Right across from where he swam in Berlin is the Wannsee Villa. If we hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have made that connection. What’s amazing is that every place Jules worked and lived is still standing – which is a miracle. For example, if there are two new buildings, his building is right in the middle. 

Did you visit in the concentration camps?

Yes, I went to Sachsenhausen, which is right outside of Berlin, because I couldn’t go to Poland due to COVID. I wanted to go to Auschwitz, and camps Golda had been to. But it was too complicated because of COVID. One was in the Czech Republic, another Poland. I went alone to Sachsenhausen because Bonnie had already visited the camps and didn’t want to return. I took the train and I discovered to my horror how close the camp is to the train station and the town. So, the people who lived there obviously knew what was going on. There’s no way the German people didn’t know. Just the proximity of where the people were living, their backyards, is shocking. That was the most shocking thing to me actually – more than the camp itself. The witness testimonies of soldiers who liberated the camps told how they brought the townspeople to the camp and made them look once it was liberated.

It’s interesting how the book’s title winks at us, suggesting there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Why did you choose The American Way and how do you think it captures the stories told in it?

Originally, it came from Superman’s tagline “truth, justice and the American way.” But as we started writing the book, we realized it was this double-entendre – the American way is to open your gates and let people from other countries come, and the American way is also to keep people at bay who want to come here. The American way is capitalism and making money, but the American way is also stealing somebody’s business or stealing their work and profiting from it. In the story, everything has a backside to it. Every time we talk about Marilyn Monroe and her success, there’s a backside. She had a terrible life in Hollywood. That’s also what happened to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman, who sold their rights for some $130 to Harry Donenfeld who made billions off it. It’s a tragedy. They made money but nowhere near what Donenfeld made. So, everything has a little twist to it – the American way.

The American Way was also impacted by the new and radical social and political ideas of the time. How do you see that zeitgeist forging the characters you wrote about?

I don’t think Jules was political, but I see him as essentially liberal. I don’t think he was communist or socialist, it never come up. But he was a furrier with a business, so not averse to capitalism. His life and actions show he sought to help others. He was a community activist and just an amazing guy. Nobody talked about politics in our interviews. On the other hand, Harry Donenfeld, the publisher of Superman, had been a socialist – Superman did fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Superman would destroy bad tenements and put a beautiful housing project in its place. Superman was also fighting World War II and Hitler long before the United States got involved. 

The dark shadow of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust looms heavy on every page, even in lighter chapters exploring comics and Marilyn Monroe. We get a sense reading this book that no matter where you were, it was a dark time. Can you tell us how you were able to balance what appear to be light and dark narratives?

We didn’t want to just write a Holocaust book. Our goal was to write a book that would appeal to the general public. So, we begin with Jules’s filming Marilyn Monroe, touch on Donenfeld and comics, then slowly we weave in the Holocaust at the center of the book. Once you’re in the middle of it, it’s like a Trojan horse. Once you’re hooked, you keep reading. That’s how we went about it. We had in mind not to give too many chunks right away, so I had to let up a bit. Even when I was researching, it was becoming too much. Once, in the middle of the night, I was thinking about one section heavy on the Holocaust and I got the idea to put in a chapter about Billy Wilder filming a World War II movie, which was happening at the same time. Wilder was also a Jew from Berlin. The next morning I wrote a chapter and sent it to my editor. She said it was “a much-needed break.” It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened naturally. I don’t plan in advance when I’m writing. I know in my head where stuff is going to be. Every time I got something from Bonnie, I put it where it needed to be, and it took shape. The second half of the book is less about the Holocaust, but it still talks about the war. The first part reaches around 1946, the second picks up with Marilyn. 

As a story of a Jewish family faced with the horror of the Holocaust, what has been the book’s reception in the Jewish community?

It’s been great. People are really responding to it. Every story about the Holocaust is worth writing and reading because everybody’s story is incredible. I interviewed many Holocaust survivors – not just for this book but also because my students interview them when I teach journalism – and every story is worth telling. But the question for us was, can you morally write an uplifting book about the Holocaust? I think you can, and I think we did. So, the Jewish community has been very receptive. In its own way, this story is a hopeful tale. The Jewish Book Council has endorsed the book and is hopefully helping send us on a tour in the fall of Jewish community centers and Holocaust museums around the country.

Did the fact that you don’t identify as Jewish affect the reception of the book?

Well, Bonnie’s Jewish, she’s got the pedigree. It’s funny though because she’s blonde and a lot of people think I’m Bonnie. It happened a couple of times. I’m the one with the black, curly hair. But seriously, it’s been terrific. In fact, my goal was to reach people who don’t know about the Holocaust. That may sound strange, but I feel Jewish families really know the personal details, many of them had somebody who died in the Holocaust, pretty much every family’s got some connection to it. And they pass that information on. But people who aren’t Jewish don’t know the details. The truth is so awful, you don’t want to spend a lot of time reading about the Holocaust. Life’s bad enough. You’re not going to sit in an armchair reading about people being tortured and killed.

The book has a lot of characters – a walloping 50 if we include Superman! – that intersect or ripple past each other. How did you manage to weave them all together and what discoveries did you make along the way?

We didn’t know how many characters we had. We just kept writing and when we stepped back and saw how many people there were, we decided to do the cast of characters at the book’s beginning. I think we pretty much weave them all together. Everybody has a reason for being there, and they’re all connected to each other. Like Joe DiMaggio, for instance; he was married to Marilyn Monroe and he was there the night her dress blew up. He beat her up that night, then she divorced him. When we found that DiMaggio was a huge Superman fan, we were so excited. Those people were all on the scene at the same time. Marilyn had an office in the same building that Harry Donenfeld had his Superman offices; they were probably passing each other on the elevator. A great connection was between Jules and Marilyn – he shot footage of her in the famous subway grate scene. There was also the connection between Jules and Harry because Harry was Jules’s sponsor to come to America. I said, there’s got to be a connection between Harry and Marilyn, aside from the fact that their businesses were in the same building. So, I’m reading several biographies of Marilyn and at the end of one, I get to the final page and there’s a 1946 picture of Marilyn wearing magazine covers, and I realized most of them were Harry’s magazines, Harry was this magazine’s publisher. I couldn’t believe it. That was the elephant in the room. If I had seen that picture six months earlier, I may not have known that they were Harry’s magazines. It came at the right time. I called Bonnie right away. All the stories are connected, as they always are. If you look at anything, we’re all connected, and that’s the point of the book. I’m not making it up. 

Marilyn Monroe
© Bonnie Siegler

Jules Schulback, Harry Donenfield, and Marilyn Monroe are at the heart of the story. Their personal stories are at once exhilarating and tragic, and though they never actually meet, their fates are entwined. All three shed old identities for new ones. How you feel they lived or not the American dream?

Jules was able to come to America. That was his American dream to come here and to make a living. And he did it. Harry grew up poor on the Lower East Side. He started a business and made it; he was living on Park Avenue when he died. Sure, he was into some shady business. He was a bootlegger. He was the publisher of girly pulp magazines, which isn’t really pornography per se but has topless girls. That was a big thing in the 1920s; that’s how he made his money when he sponsored Jules. He hadn’t even published Superman yet. Superman actually happened the month Jules sought a sponsor to come to America. Harry lived next door to Jules’s cousin Faye in the Bronx years earlier, and she’d stayed friends with him. Faye hit up Harry and said, “Can you sponsor my cousin,” and Harry did it. That was part of the American dream as well. Jules and Harry might have later met at family functions because Faye would go to Harry’s family’s events, and Harry would come to family events. But there’s no picture of Jules and Harry together. Harry didn’t want a lot of people to ask for help on immigration, so they never talked about it, but everybody knows it happened. At the heart of the story is reinvention. That’s what America is all about. You get a second, third, fourth chance. I think they all embodied that idea. I think at the heart of it, America still is this beacon for people; you can still come here and make a better life for your children. I totally believe in that. My son went to public school and was friends with a kid who came over in the back of a pickup truck from Mexico. 

Jules Schulback is the linchpin of this tale. Interestingly, he’s different from both Harry Donenfield and Marilyn Monroe, and comes across as the good-natured and good-hearted everyday man. How do you see Jules and his story in relation to the others?

I feel Jules is the main character. He’s the one you relate to, more than, say, Marilyn Monroe or Harry Donenfeld. You follow him throughout the story, he’s always popping up. He’s the main constant from the beginning to the end. He’s working his way through all the other craziness. The 20th century is the backdrop to his story, whether it’s Hollywood, comics, Marilyn Monroe, or whatever. He was literally walking through it. He lived his whole life in America on the Upper East Side until the Carnegie Foundation bought the building and evicted him. The family fought it for a while but eventually he had to leave and moved to the Upper West Side. He was in his nineties; right after he moved, he died. It was when they were moving him in 2004 that Bonnie found the footage of Marilyn Monroe. 

Jules lived in a German community on the Upper East Side, which must have been a strange environment for him.

But he identified as German, born in Berlin, a Berliner in fact, which is a whole different thing. It’s like being a New Yorker versus an American. On the other hand, he never went back to Germany, which says a lot. He didn’t want to go back and see what happened to the country. I think he felt a lot of it was destroyed and didn’t realize all the places he lived were still standing. But seeing the rest of the city in rubble was probably too much for him. But he did identify as a German until the time he died. 

One curious character, Billy Wilder, feels like the alter-ego to Jules Schulback and chronicler of his era. His story from the tough streets of Berlin to the glamour of Hollywood is as serendipitous as any. What role does Wilder play in the book’s bigger picture?

We hadn’t really thought about him so much. But again, once we started digging into it, we realized that Wilder left Berlin right around the same time as Jules, and we said, “This guy needs to be a character.” And so we dug into his life. I read several biographies and watched all his movies. We played him up a bit more because of the parallels with Marilyn or when he’s in Berlin at the same exact time as Jules. The other thing that blew my mind – I talked about Wannsee Lake, which is where the Nazis came up with the final solution and where Jules would sit on the beach on weekends – well, Wilder’s first movie was People on Sunday. It was about people going to Wannsee Lake on Sundays. I’m getting chills even thinking about it. When I watched that movie, I said, oh my God, it’s the same place that Jules went to the beach. It was the Coney Island of Berlin. It was only natural Wilder went there to make his movie. They would have taken the train; the same train station is there, miraculously still standing. So again, there were so many connections that came together to make this book. And Wilder’s family was also killed in the Holocaust. Wilder actually did return to Berlin to work for the army, helping to identify people who worked for the Nazis in the film industry. He was devastated when he returned to the US. He never knew what happened to his family. He knew they died but he wasn’t sure how. 

The American Way gives quite a different take on Marilyn Monroe, or rather her myth, and starkly different from how she is portrayed in the 2022 Netflix film Blonde. What was your encounter with Marilyn?

A horrible movie. It depicted her as a victim, and she wasn’t. She didn’t sleep with studio heads. She slept with who she wanted to. Apparently, Harry Cohn, who was one of the big studio heads, gave her a hard time because she wouldn’t sleep with him. But I didn’t know much about Marilyn Monroe. In my generation, I’m in my fifties, we grew up thinking she was this dumb blonde. I didn’t pay much attention to her. Then once we started reading about her and watching the movies, I said, wait a minute, she’s totally cool. She had her own production company in the 1950s – a woman with her own production company. Women were second-class citizens. She made her own success and had nobody to help her. She had to pull herself up. She was pretty much an orphan. Her mom was in a mental health asylum. Marilyn worked all the time. She was a big reader. She was a natural in public relations. She knew what to do and how to do it. She became who she became not by chance but by controlling her destiny. What Marilyn needed was a wife, someone to take care of her. She married two guys who expected her to stay home and cook and clean. She’s Marilyn Monroe, she’s got a job. She needs to work every day. She needed someone to take care of and love her and she never found that person. That was her demise. 

Why do you think there’s been this insistence, even to this day, on projecting her as someone who could barely put together a sentence?

America is still pretty sexist, despite the #MeToo movement. Women are still considered subservient in a lot of ways and mocked online way more than men. I’ve been attacked verbally for what I’ve written over the years in ways men would never be. it’s weird. And so, people just disregarded Marilyn. But if you just scratch the surface, you’ll see how incredible she was, you don’t have to dig deep. It’s pretty amazing. 

What’s also interesting is how you portray Marilyn Monroe as someone completely in control of her sexuality and opened doors for women to be comfortable with theirs.

Growing up, we’d say Marilyn was a slut, a tramp. She slept around or whatever. But looking at it today, she liked to have sex and that was okay. She herself said there was nothing wrong with her being naked. She was the first Playboy centerfold. There’s nothing wrong with having a great body and being comfortable with it and sleeping around. Men were sleeping around for millennia. Whether you believe it’s okay or not, the truth is women were supposed to wait until they married. Birth control wasn’t available in the 1950s. It wasn’t till 1960 that the pill was approved by the FDA. Marilyn was on the forefront of sexual politics and liberation, way ahead of everybody else. Sex wasn’t just for procreation. That goes for women as well as men. And now we’re going right back to where we were before, with abortion restrictions. It’s like The Handmaid’s Tale. Marilyn would have been right on the frontlines protesting. In the end, however, for Marilyn, it became a trap. She knew it was the way to success and she used it to her advantage, but people pigeonholed her, and she couldn’t get out of it. She couldn’t get the smarter roles. 

Given your exploration of the world of comics and Hollywood, how do you see their impact on American society and the wider world?

I was never into comics. But I saw what a huge success story they were, especially during the war. Harry Donenfeld – who published Superman – sent comics overseas to the troops for free. Plus, anything that had to be explained for military purposes, they put in comics to make it easier for the soldiers to read, because they were just kids from across America. Superman made them feel they were home. The biggest magazines during the war were comics. I think Donenfeld made a deal with FDR, who allowed him to publish as much as he did. A lot of magazines had pulled back because of paper shortages. So, I don’t think it was just a coincidence; it was more like “the American way” – you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. It was also a way to project American pride. I think that was one reason Donenfeld became the leader in the comics’ world. Superman sold more than any other comics at that time. Comics were around in the mid-1930s, but not superheroes. The first superhero was Superman in 1938. Then came Batman, Wonder Woman, and everybody else. Then in the 1940s, it blew up because of the war. Superman was fighting Hitler. It was in the public consciousness. And of course, there was the Superman radio show, followed by a TV show, and a movie, down to the movies of today.

Why do you think in superheroes films have monopolized the movie industry today?

Warner Brothers bought DC Comics and all the rights. They started making Superman movies in the 1970s with Christopher Reeve. It was a huge success. Of course, they kept going because they’re making money. But how many versions of Superman do we have? How many do we need? It’s absurd. I mean, I love Superman. But come on, I watched them all just because I want to know what’s happening. But I would never go to the movies to see any of these movies. It’s not my thing. 

So how do you view Superman now after having finished The American Way?

I never really gave him a second thought. I love the Christopher Reeve movie. I was a teenager at the time – he was super-hot. I loved him and the movie. I wanted to be carried up into the air like Lois Lane. But after that I didn’t think much about it. But there’s a purity to Superman and I’ve come to love him. I’ve got two Superman t-shirts and Superman stickers. I remember Barbra Streisand wore one back in the 1980s. That said, I think Superman is just this hopeful, positive figure, a Jesus type, a savior. Doing good for goodness’s sake. It’s not for his own benefit. Superman actually comes from the Jewish tradition. He started like Moses, a baby who was found in a basket. Superman crashes to Earth in a spaceship because his planet is being destroyed – ergo the Holocaust. He’s found by a couple who adopt him and raise him, and he becomes a superhero, just like Moses. They say there are only three types of stories, and we keep telling variations of them over and over. And Jules is the embodiment of that Superman figure as well. He’s a good guy for goodness’s sake. He’s helping people because he wants to help them. He’s not looking for accolades. He’s not doing it for money. He’s doing it because he’s a good person. And that’s Superman’s way – and the message of the book: We have to love each other, not kill and hate each other. We had a National Day of Hate in February. It’s insane. Sometimes I wonder if people understand what happened. You hear 6 million Jews died in the camps, but you can’t wrap your head around it. But when you see one family’s story of what happened to them, how they were murdered, maybe it’ll influence you, and you won’t want to hate people who aren’t like you. That’s the message of the book, and Superman ties right into it. 

So, this is your fourth book. What are your plans looking ahead, where do you go from here?

I have a way of falling into things, opening myself to the universe. That’s always been my credo. You open yourself and it comes your way. That’s the way this book happened and how it was written. Then you start to see the connections. That’s my approach to life, I’m open to everything. It’s about being in the right place at the right time – and being a little lucky. So, who knows what I’ll be doing a year from now. I’ll definitely be teaching reporting at NYU again, getting new reporters out there to take my place when my knees don’t work anymore. I also went to Italy in May to promote the translation of my last book, Murder in Matera. Hopefully, the next book will come my way. And I continue to freelance. In fact I recently pitched an interesting story related to my last book. The new pastor of Our Lady of Pompeii is from my family’s hometown on Bernalda in Basilicata. He grew up in the Vatican. His family sent him there to be an altar boy. He stayed under three Popes, then went to the seminary and became a priest. Now he’s been sent here to New York City. I met him recently. He’s freaking out. He’s been in this Vatican bubble his whole life and now he’s in the middle of Greenwich Village.


Helene Stapinski is the nationally bestselling author of three memoirs: Five-Finger Discount, Murder in Matera, and Baby Plays Around. She writes regularly for The New York Times. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, New York magazine, Salon, and dozens of other publications. She teaches at New York University and lives in Brooklyn.

J.P. Apruzzese writes fiction, poetry, and book and art reviews. His work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Brooklyn Magazine, Burning House Press, Piwodoki (Polish), Public Seminar, PANK Magazine, and Volume 1 Brooklyn. He is the Translator Editor at The New School’s LIT literary and arts review.

Photo: Lisa Bauso

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