Talker of the Town

This is about the writer Michael Schulman, the current artist of the New Yorker‘s Talk of the Town pieces — a “miscellany of brief pieces — frequently humorous, whimsical or eccentric vignettes of life in New York — written in a breezily light style, although latterly the section often begins with a serious commentary” (Wikipedia). The great Talker of the Town was Lillian Ross, who wrote hundreds, but over a long career that began in 1945. Schulman has been at it only since 2006, but he’s already done over a hundred Talks; he engages with people easily and has mastered the combination of empathy and wry detachment that the form calls for, so we can probably just give him the laurel wreath now and anticipate the pleasure of Talks still to come.

(#1) The New Yorker’s PR shot of Schulman; note the sweet half-smile (he’s smiling in most of his photos), the informal dress, and the light facial scruff (a constant of his presentation of self)

Schulman caught my attention recently with a New Yorker piece about the career of Angela Lansbury that I reproduced on this blog so that I could reference it in my posting “Angela goes to dance camp”. Then in the most recent New Yorker (the 2/6/23 issue), with an extraordinary piece “What Became of the Oscar Streaker?” (“Ballad of the Oscar Streaker” in print).

My often fanciful gaydar pinged on the photo in #1 and the tone of his writing, so I went to his personal website. With fabulous, entertaining, and touching results.

On the streaker piece. From the magazine’s site:


Briefly: the streak was a bit of outrageous gay activism by a sweet and enthusiastic man (with a master’s degree in linguistics and lots of experience teaching EFL) whose life had been devastated because of his sexuality — Opel wrote a declaration

I am Robert Opel. I am an artist, a cocksucker and an anarchist. My life is my art.

He went on to hang with the leathermen (finally finding a place in that world), and then he was murdered by a druggie in search of money. It’s a deeply sad story.

Schulman at home. Well, honey, this is what we get on his own website:


The first paragraph of text is straightforward fact, all of it useful. The photo is a joke, presenting MS as a tough queen — think Emory in The Boys in the Band, as portrayed by Cliff Gorman in the 1970 movie:

(#4) The eyes! The hand gesture! The resolute, unsmiling mouth!

Schulman’s presentation of self. Well, MS is a public person, quite visibly engaged with popular culture and current events, so there will be videos of him talking. It turns out that photo #1 tells the truth.

On the HarperCollins Speakers Bureau site from 2017 there’s a video in which MS — billed as “Michael Schulman, New Yorker Writer, Meryl Streep Biographer, and Oscarologist” — is interviewed about Meryl Streep. And, as I expected, MS plays as sweetly gay, just adorable in fact. (No doubt he would hate being called adorable, but in addition to being perceptive and knowledgeable, he’s also funny and engaging, plus he’s just gay-acting enough to get easily pegged as queer.)

So what’s photo #3 doing? The text tells you a lot about the kind of person he is, but nothing in it says yeah, I’m gay, and it’s hard to see how to put that information into the text unobtrusively. But he will want that information to be out there somehow, because his sexuality is at least as important as the fact that he lives in New York (and is male and relatively young and Jewish, which you can also gather from #3); all these things — and more — color the kind of work he does and how he approaches it. (I think that It’s also important that the world see that LGBT+ people are everywhere, see them in positions of responsibility and achievement; but I don’t know if MS shares this sense of moral responsibility, though I suspect he does.)

So he chose to do it with a joke. I now have what I think is a better way to do it. Thanks to something that popped up on the Google search that led to #3: a wedding announcement in the New York Times  on 8/9/15 on-line:

(#5) The happy couple (touching photo by Chad Edgley)

Jaime Luis Donate and Michael Jared Schulman were married Saturday evening at the Pebble Beach at Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn. Ellen R. Birnbaum, a friend of Mr. Schulman’s family who became a Universal Life minister for the occasion, officiated.

Mr. Donate (left), 34, is an architect at Andrew Franz Architect in Manhattan. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon and received a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard.

His parents, Carmen Pons Donate and Luis I. Donate of San Juan, P.R., both retired from positions there with United States government agencies. His mother was a service representative with the Department of Veterans Affairs and his father was a financial analyst with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Schulman, also 34, works at The New Yorker magazine, as the theater editor of the Goings On About Town pages, and contributes to the Talk of the Town feature. He graduated from Yale.

He is the son of Nancy M. Schulman and Richard J. Schulman of Manhattan. His mother is the director of the Early Learning Center at Avenues: The World School, an independent school in Manhattan. His father is a litigation partner in the Manhattan law firm Duval & Stachenfeld.

(Here we learn that MS is not just a resident of New York, but a patrician New Yorker. Like, in linguistics, the late Geoffrey Nunberg; Geoff turned out to be a precious resource on the language of upper-class New Yorkers, upper-class consultants for sociolinguistic studies being very hard to come by.)

I would put that wonderful wedding photo on my website, with a caption like “Jaime Donate and Michael Schulman in their 2015 wedding photo”. That should do the trick just fine, and this photo shows MS in the persona we see in the videos (and might induce from his writing).

One Response to “Talker of the Town”

  1. Bill Stewart Says:

    Thanks for this. I felt certain he was gay when I read about Robert Opel, but didn’t look further at the time. The writing about Opel really showed us a dynamic person, not bland history or icky sensationalism.

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