Volume 76, Number 21 | October 11 - 17, 2006

Photo by Jessica Antola

Ex-Minnesotan Katherine Lanpher now calls the West Village home. Her book, “Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move,” hit stores this week.

Katherine Lanpher’s midlife move

By Steven Snyder
No one seems more surprised about the reinvention of Katherine Lanpher than Lanpher herself. Not so long ago, she was a radio personality in Minnesota, a woman with a career, a house and a husband. But today, only a few years later, she’s become a New Yorker who has built a new life in the West Village. Turning away from radio, she has become a regular essayist for The New York Times and the host of the monthly “Upstairs at the Square” interview and performance event at the Union Square Barnes and Noble. And as of Oct. 10, she has also emerged as a published author, who has already received a glowing four-star book review in People magazine.
It is, as she says, “a surreal time.”
Lanpher points to three profound changes in her life as the impetus for her book, “Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife Move.” Among them: the loss of a brother, the loss of a husband and the cross-country move which began on Leap Day, 2004 and took the Minnesota Public Radio talker to her new high-profile position as co-host of the “Al Franken Show” on Air America Radio.
Now a New York resident, living just off Washington Street, Lanpher wrote initially about her experiences as a Minnesotan discovering the Big Apple for the first time in her life, essays which were accepted by the Times and became popular pieces with visitors to nytimes.com.
The more she wrote, the more Lanpher started reflecting on the other profound periods of growth in her life, notably her time as a young journalist, her struggle to cope with her brother’s death and her decision to end a marriage. As writing came to consume more of her time, she also made the decision to leave the “Al Franken Show,” focusing instead on developing, writing and editing her “Leap Days.”
Together, these essays offer a candid and honest meditation of a life at the crossroads, a reflection of what it’s like to leave the safety of the familiar and to set out on a journey to discover something entirely new.

Your name is best known in the radio world — why did you decide to start writing?
Well, I was journalist before I was ever on the radio, and I think when I moved here, and was terrified and excited all at the same time, I really wanted to get down in words what I was feeling. And, the more I spent time with New Yorkers, the more I realized that I was seeing things as we walked down the street that they weren’t seeing because it was still new to me. So it quickly became obvious to me that I needed to start writing while it was still fresh.

Was a book always the end goal?
No, I just started writing, and then the Times agreed to publish one of my early essays and suddenly people were reading it and talking about it. So I kept writing and those few essays were enough to convince a publisher to sign on for a book.

A good portion of the book is about how far your life in New York is removed from your life in Minnesota. Are there any similarities?
I’ve written about winter, and how snow is one constant between my life in the Midwest and in New York. But in some ways I feel like I left one Village only to find another, and this feels so much like home to me now, this small neighborhood in the big city. I just love it.

You say in your book that you brought out the leaf for your dining table, intent on throwing dinner parties. Do you still have the leaf?
Ha ha, yeah. I still have the leaf. I can seat a dozen people for dinner if I wanted to. I’ve never actually used it, but yes, I still have it.

You write about some memorable New York moments in “Leap Days,” like your cross-island bus trip. Are you still as mesmerized by the city now as you were then?
That was an incredible experience, just to ride the length of the island and to see all the different neighborhoods with their distinct personalities. And I’m still amazed by this city and the little surprises you can discover everyday. One of my favorite things is just to stand on the street and watch people — it’s cheaper than a movie but just as entertaining.

Now that you’ve found your place in New York, do you see yourself staying in the West Village? What about the neighborhood has made you fall in love with living here?
I love the fact that it really is a village, that I know the guys at my bodega (and the card game I occasionally interrupt on Saturday nights), the woman at the clothing store on Hudson Street, Spiro at Ready to Eat, the fact that my laundry guys have closed shop after 33 years and now I don’t know where to take my whites... I love the brownstones and Judythe who grows pink geraniums in her window box (and whom I met after I wrote about her in the Times). Sazerac House is closing and I’m so disappointed since I loved sitting by myself in that long enclosure by the sidewalk watching the world go by while I ate the world’s best butter lettuce salad. I love the fact that I’m so close to the river but that at any moment I can stand on a street corner and be completely in and of the city. And I’ve become just enough of a New Yorker that it’s hard for me to imagine
living in any other neighborhood.


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