Arlene Alda writes that the idea for Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way It Was, An Oral History (Holt) came to her “as a lark” one evening when at a dinner party with her husband Alan Alda, she heard a man she had just met, Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, utter the words “The Bronx.”
She wondered about “other interesting and accomplished people from The Bronx,” some famous, some not. As Mary Higgins Clark remarks, “there are only three places that have a ‘the’ in front of their names: The Vatican, The Hague and The Bronx.” Alda’s wide and deep learning has served her well. A member of Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College, Alda is also a Fulbright recipient, professional clarinetist who played with the Houston Symphony under Leopold Stokowski and an award-winning photographer and author. Alda intelligently assembled her different and diverse voices for Just Kids from the Bronx. Many of her generation went to The Bronx High School of Science or The High School of Music and Art and lived in cramped quarters with parents, siblings and grandparents—a fact of urban life that seems not to have changed for many, even when the ethnic demography changed from Jewish, Italian and Irish to African American and Latino. The shift is reflected in the book’s chronological structure and in the identification of different residential areas with their distinct class and culture—the South Bronx is not the West or the East Bronx and neither is Riverdale.
An entertaining collection that includes photos, it’s clear that nostalgia rules more than geography, especially as interviewees recall the days before television drove neighbors indoors. Read the book, if not just because all proceeds will go to organizations that benefit children in The Bronx but also because of fair play. As one interviewee says, “I’m sick of hearing about Brooklyn.”
Alda reads from Just Kids from the Bronx at the John Jermain Library’s annual luncheon fundraiser at the American Hotel in Sag Harbor this Sunday, December 6.