Dr Anne Summers AO is an Australian-born journalist, best-selling author and pioneering feminist. In this edition of Faces of AWNY, Anne has taken the time to share a more personal perspective, including delights from her DUMBO home and how her commitment to ending violence against women brings her to the upcoming PEN World Voices Festival as moderator of the Intimate Terrorism discussion panel on May 10.
Tell us about yourself: where are you from and what brought you over to New York?
I am a journalist and author and I have been coming to New York for extended periods on and off since the 1970’s. I wanted to move here back then but lacked the courage to do so without a job. But when I was appointed NY manager for Fairfax in the mid-1980’s I jumped at the opportunity and moved here and ended up staying for seven years! I moved into magazines. Together with my then business partner, Sandra Yates, we did the second-only women-led management buyout in US corporate history in 1988, when we raised $20 million on Wall Street to buy Ms. and Sassy magazines. This time, I have been here eighteen months, because my partner landed a great job and I am here with him (and mostly working for outlets back in Australia).
Where do you live? Why did you choose that area?
We live in DUMBO, in a loft-style apartment in an old converted soap factory. We have a great view of the East River. I post videos on Instagram and Facebook of the amazing variety of river craft, from huge ships to tiny yellow water taxis that I can see from my window. Literally, almost every time I look out the window another amazing vessel is passing by. I have quite an international following for these videos with people always asking me to post more. We also can see the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building and the Liberty Tower from our apartment so despite not being in Manhattan we really know we are living in New York.
What do you like/dislike about living in New York?
I love and hate the subway. When it’s working the way it should you can zoom around and cover huge distances so quickly but it is filthy, accessibility is a scandal (seeing women haul babies in strollers up four or five flights of stairs because there are no escalators or lifts is heartbreaking), the trains don’t run on time and they are over-crowded. Any other city in the world would hang its head in shame but New Yorkers try to make a virtue of it. I don’t get it.
What’s your favourite New York spot?
The Brooklyn Bridge Park which is near where we live and is a great place to walk, be near the water, see awesome views of downtown Manhattan and gawk at the tourists who spend hours waiting for the perfect shot of the Manhattan skyline.
Where is your favorite NYC brunch spot?
Where is your favorite NYC cocktail spot & cocktail of choice?
Anywhere that serves a great Negroni, and the Martini’s at Sardi’s. A classic drink is best served in an old fashioned New York joint.
What are your “only in New York” moments?
Every day there’s at least one. It could be the wail of a saxophone in the subway, or the constant honking of traffic that ain’t going anywhere, or just a smart-arse exchange between people on the street. It is endlessly entertaining.
What are your top 3 tips for friends visiting NYC?
Great theatre, music and art from high end to experimental.
There is just so much to see and do so avoid the clichés (e.g. Times Square, The Highline – which is now more crowded than the Vatican Museum – or SoHo which is now just full of the same shops you can find everywhere else) and check out what’s on and venture forth.
Take a subway to Jackson Heights (the multi-cultural epicentre of New York) or Prospect Park. I do recommend visiting the 9/11 memorial. That is a powerful experience to look into the reflecting pools, engraved with the names of the thousands of people who died on that terrible day (even if, being New York, the pools are now surrounded by skyscrapers, restaurants and shops!)
Do you have any advice for people moving to New York?
Bring a lot of money! And be open to the weird things such as having to pay your rent by check!
What’s the biggest challenge or roadblock you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do you overcome it?
When we first arrived, it was so difficult to get an apartment because we had no credit rating and many realtors would not even show us places because we were “foreigners” (even though my partner is American). We had to be very persistent and it turned out that after my partner had been in his job for a few months he had enough of a credit rating for us to be able to apply to rent where we eventually ended up – in a great place in DUMBO.
What do you miss about Australia?
The directness of people. Despite their reputation for brusqueness, New Yorkers are still Americans and are far more polite and restrained than we tend to be. I am often in trouble for saying what I think! Especially when I swear (which I do too often) or use Aussie expressions that people here are scandalized by e.g. FMD.
Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?
Josephine Linden, Zjantelle Camissa Markel, Serafina Maiorano, Kate McAuley
What do you do to keep home sickness under control?
For my work I read the Australian newspapers online and follow so many Aussies on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook that sometimes I feel I never left.
AWNY was fascinated to learn about the upcoming PEN World Voices Festival. We are thrilled that as part of this festival, you’ll be moderating the Intimate Terrorism discussion panel in New York. Tell us more about the PEN World Voices Festival and how you came to be involved?
The PEN World Voices Festival was founded fifteen year ago by the writer Salman Rushdie and others as a response to 9/11. It aimed to be an annual event that would bring the world’s writers to New York for an event that would help reduce the isolationism of many Americans, even writers.
I was invited by Chip Rolley, the director of PEN World Voices Festival, to moderate the Intimate Terrorism panel. Chip is aware of my long-standing involvement in fighting to end domestic violence, starting with being one of the founders of Elsie, the first modern women’s refuge in Sydney in 1974. He is aware of my ongoing passionate commitment to end all forms of violence against women (and not just because he is also my partner).
The panel reflects the international nature of the festival by including:
- Gerdur Kristny, an Icelandic poet, whose minimalist poem Bloodhoof is a feminist retelling of an ancient Eddic poem about the abduction and rape of a young girl;
- Miriam Toews is a Canadian novelist, whose latest book, Women Talking, tells the story of the women and girls of a Mennonite community who were drugged and raped by the men of the village and how they responded;
- Shiori Ito is a young Japanese journalist who caused a sensation when she went public with her account of having been raped by a prominent television reporter because such things had never been talked about in Japan. Her disclosures became the first #MeToo story in Japan;
- Rachel Louise Snyder is an American journalist who has just published No Visible Bruises, a thorough reporting job on the extent of domestic violence against women in the United States, the horrific death toll and what is being done about it.
I expect this to be a riveting discussion, bringing together a poet, a novelist and – if you count me – three journalists to bring their varying perspectives on the global epidemic of violence against women and how perhaps writing in different genres can bring differing insights into how we end it. It will be a 90-minute conversation and will include an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.
Hear Anne Summers speak at the Intimate Terrorism panel discussion, May 10
Anne will be moderating Intimate Terrorism in New York, on May 10th, 7 – 8:30pm as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. Get more info and tickets here.
Attend the PEN World Voices Festival, May 6 – 12
From May 6 – 12, more than 125 writers and artists representing over 50 nationalities will be in New York City for the 2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets. Get more info and tickets here.
Connect with Anne