via NYTimes, Books:
Sleepy-Eyed Writer, Wandering Byzantium
By CHARLES McGRATH
Published: March 2, 2008Judy Hudson. Mr. Price in a photograph from 1983. His new novel is set on the Lower East Side.
YOU might not know it to look at him, but the novelist Richard Price has over the years picked up what one of his characters might call some cheddar. He has a house in Gramercy Park and a summer place out on the Island; his work has earned him an Edgar award for television writing, an Academy Award nomination and an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. But Mr. Price, who grew up in the Parkside Projects, has shed neither his Bronx accent nor any of his street-smarts.
He is still wary, even a little jumpy at times. Walking around the Lower East Side, where his new novel, "Lush Life," is set, he could easily be mistaken for one of the locals. Pale, thin, high-strung, with the baggy eyes of someone who doesn’t get enough sleep, he could even be a guy looking to score a little coke - something Mr. Price admits to doing with regularity back in the '80s. He walks quickly, jokes a lot without smiling much, and, as readers of his books know, has a pitch-perfect mastery of urban speech in all its varieties. He may be the only middle-aged white man in America who can say "True dat" without sounding ridiculous.
Now 58, Mr. Price published his first book, "The Wanderers," set in the blue-collar Bronx of his childhood, when he was just 24 and barely out of Cornell - from which he emerged, he has said, even streetier and more Bronx-sounding than when he began - and the M.F.A. program at Columbia, where his models were Hubert Selby and Lenny Bruce.
He has published steadily every since, eventually turning from more or less autobiographical work to books like "Clockers" and "Freedomland," big, Dickensian novels about the drug trade and life in the projects. He has also written the screenplays for "Clockers," "The Color of Money" (for which he received the Oscar nomination), "Sea of Love" and "Mad Dog and Glory," among other movies, and recently he has written some episodes for the HBO series "The Wire," which won him the Edgar. He's one of a handful of contemporary novelists to work for Hollywood and emerge more or less unscathed.
Like "Clockers" and "Freedomland," "Lush Life" is at its core a thriller or a mystery story - about a holdup ending in a murder. "I tend to like crime for a backbone," Mr. Price said recently. "An investigation will take you through a landscape." The landscape in this case - the subject of the book, really - is the Lower East Side, which Mr. Price depicts as a neighborhood of colliding populations: the few remaining Jewish old-timers; the people from the projects; the La Bohèmers, as he calls them, the trust-fund couples with their M.F.A.'s and videocams; the Chinese immigrants, many of them illegal, who sleep, stacked on shelves, in some of the old tenements.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times. Richard Price on Rivington Street (above); Mr. Price on Ludlow Street (below)
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