Mansbach writes in a voice not dissimilar to his own: a Junot Diaz-ian blend of highbrow and low, a hyperarticulate take on the conversational street vernacular of the Hip-Hop Generation. When he reads, he pushes his open hand forward like a freestyler would. (He was hard to photograph in close-up because he doesn't stand still; see below.) After he was introduced, he said he'd make some remarks but keep it short. "People can drink more and shit." (There was wine! And J.Period, now the Nets' music supervisor, DJ'd.) He also opted to go without a microphone, so long as everyone could hear him. "I can talk louder and shit, too," he said in a louder voice.
He began with a piece published in The Awl on Tuesday, "The Stupidity of New York's Long, Expensive (And Ongoing) War on Graffiti," a critical history worth reading for insights like: "Mayor John Lindsay first declared war in 1972, and over the next 17 years, the city would spend $300 million attempting to run graffiti-free trains—this, during a period when the subway barely functioned and the city teetered on the brink of insolvency. Clearly, there was more at stake than aesthetics."
The novel includes weird, quasi-science-fictional shit, which Mansbach said was his attempt to create a "contemporary, NYC-based magic realism." Graffiti, he said, is sort of mystical, spiritual, what with all the writing in dark tunnels. But we have no structural framework in the modern city within which to understand magic. So he wanted to see what that would be like. But really, he didn't want to talk about structural framework bullshit. "Please hang out and dance," he told the audience. "Or at least nod your head in a serious fashion."
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart