Adam Gopnik, the longtime New Yorker writer who has also written several books of memoirs and essays and edited a literary anthology, makes it clear that he’s still madly, uxoriously in love with his wife of 37 years, Martha Parker. That is one of the main subjects of his latest memoir, “At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York,” (Alfred A. Knopf)), which details what happened after the couple traveled from Montreal to New York in the summer of 1980. The dedication: “This one is only for Martha. First, last, love, life, ever, always, awake or (quite often in this book) asleep.” The book will be released on Sept. 8
Parker, now a film producer and director, is a stylish beauty whom Gopnik fell in love with when both were teenagers. He studied art history because she was studying it when they met. The couple have two children, Luca Auden and Olivia.
When they first moved to New York, Gopnik, who was born in Pennsylvania, was pursuing a Ph.D. in art history at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts, while his wife was studying film at Columbia. Both had attended McGill University, where Gopnik’s parents, Myrna and Irwin Gopnik, were professors. He is the only one of his siblings without a Ph.D.; he never completed his dissertation, instead weaving his thesis into a book he wrote with one of his mentors, the noted MoMa curator Kirk Varnedoe, called, “High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture,” which accompanied a MoMa exhibition of the same name. It was published in 1990.
Gopnik has won the National Magazine Award for Essays and for Criticism three times and received the George Polk Award for magazine writing. He was given the medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by France in 2013. He began writing for the New Yorker in 1986, and his editors have included William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown and David Remnick. He has been the magazine’s art critic and Paris correspondent. The stint as Paris correspondent resulted in an earlier memoir, the 2000 New York Times bestseller “Paris to the Moon.”
“At the Strangers’ Gate” is full of Gopnik’s trenchant observations about living in New York in the early Eighties. After a few years in a tiny Upper East Side apartment, he and Martha lucked into something highly unusual: an affordable loft in SoHo, which Parker located through a newspaper ad. This took place, as they later learned from a neighbor, because the landlady had earlier been forced to evict a madman who had filled the apartment with white rats and was looking, as she told that other tenant, for “the most normal, meekest married couple she could find.”
Gopnik, while working as grooming editor at GQ, was asked to attend an interview another writer was doing with Richard Avedon. The official interviewer was so overawed that he was unable to speak. Gopnik, who graduated from high school at 14, didn’t have this problem and began rattling on about August Sander and other photographers. Avedon was charmed, and a fast friendship took shape.
“We just immediately took to each other,” Gopnik recalls in a phone interview from his summer retreat on Cape Cod. “Dick wanted someone to talk with, and intellectuals and artists don’t like to talk about books and pictures as ingenuously as I did when I was in my twenties. I am hugely in his debt.
“Dick was just enormous fun; a man who loved fashion. Once — I guess for my 30th birthday — he took everybody out for dinner. Games, charades, impersonations. [His was] a principle of pleasure as well as a principle of work.
“Kirk [MoMA critic Varnedoe] and Dick were the two godfathers of my children,” he adds. Gopnik didn’t write as much about Varnedoe as Avedon in “At the Strangers’ Gate,” “since I had written a very long essay [about Varnedoe],” he says. “I didn’t want to seem to be exploiting a once-in-a-generation figure; his eloquence, brilliance, warmth as a friend, caringness.”
Other friends of the Gopniks included the late art critic Robert Hughes and artists Eric Fischl and Jeff Koons, and he tells charming stories in his latest memoir of each of the three.
Gopnik says of his wife: “Her mother is Canadian Icelandic. [Her family members emigrated] in the early part of the 20th century. Now there are as many Icelanders in Canada as there are in Iceland. West Icelanders not Canadians is how they [Icelanders] think of Western Canada. We had the joy of going to Reykjavik last year. In contrast with our own President, Guoni Thoriacius Johnannesson is a history professor who runs a literary seminar. We were startled. He ran very eloquently and won. It was wonderful to spend a couple of weeks watching Icelandic politics.”
Another of Gopnik’s recent projects is a musical he mounted in New Haven, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” which he wrote with David Shire and which was performed at the Long Wharf Theater there. He says it gave him shingles. Gopnik also does a great deal of speaking and lecturing around the country, which he calls, “the perpetual tuition tour” — the price of keeping a child or children in private school or in college being, of course, notoriously high.